Photo of how to answer "What is your greatest weakness?" in a job interview

How to answer “What is your greatest weakness?” in a job interview

As you move through your job search, you begin to see that there are a number of similarities from company to company. Most of the hiring processes follow the same structure. Typically, they start with a phone screen, which is done by a recruiter or HR team member. These are generally brief conversations, but you should still prepare for your phone interview.

If you pass the phone screen, typically you are given a technical or take-home challenge. This is generally done via a service like HackerRank for software engineers and data scientists, where the hiring manager can assess your technical skills and make sure you are a fit to move forward.

The last step is usually an onsite interview. For tech companies, this can be as long as a full day and include many technical and behavioral interviews with various team members, both on the team you are applying for and elsewhere. Many of these cross-disciplinary interviews are behavioral. The best way to ace your behavioral interviews is to prepare properly and practice the types of questions you will see.

Our best advice for behavioral interview preparation is to research the company so that you can add information about their mission, values, and products into your responses. When you get a good understanding of the company, you are ready to write down some answers to common behavioral interview questions so that you never freeze up in an interview.

One of the most popular behavioral interview questions is “What is your greatest weakness?” This question comes up a lot because interviewers are looking to gauge your emotional intelligence. Talking about your weaknesses in a job interview might feel hard because you are trying to impress the interviewer. Because of this, a lot of people answer this question with humble brags or with positive responses that don’t actually answer the question.

To help you even further, we wanted to give you some examples of how to answer this question. 

  1. Instead of saying, “Sometimes, I work too much,” try, “Sometimes, I feel like I need to work smarter.” 

Working too much or working too hard sounds like a humble brag and recruiters will see right through it. Instead, you can explain that you sometimes mistake putting in long hours for being productive and that you actually do better if you take breaks and you are not overworking yourself. Once you make this change in your initial response, you can go into how you are doing this and let the interviewer know that you are actually getting better results this way.

For example, you can say, “I thought I had to stay at my desk all day so I could be as productive as possible, but I was finding that the later in the day it got, the more I was making silly mistakes. It often felt like I had to go back over items the next morning and do the work twice because I was overtired. Now, I batch my emails throughout the day, which saves me time, and I create blocks in my schedule to take breaks, drink water, and step outside so I can stay refreshed throughout the day.”

  • Instead of saying, “I’m a perfectionist”, try, “I need to spend more time on the big picture, rather than the small details.”

A lot of people think saying that they are a perfectionist is a good response to this question because it is slightly self-deprecating but still has a positive spin as well. And because of that, recruiters are tired of hearing that answer. Plus, it’s still mostly a brag and it does not do much to explain why that is a problem.

That’s why we suggest explaining the issue behind “perfectionism” without actually saying that word. It’s a negative because you get caught up in the nitty-gritty and lose sight of the big picture. Tell a story about a time where this happened and then explain how you are working to fix this issue. 

For example, “When I am assigned large projects, I tend to get bogged down at the beginning making everything perfect and then I have to rush to complete it in time for the deadline. Now, I start by looking at the project as a whole and then breaking down each step, with a clear objective and deadline for each part. If I find I am spending too much time on one part and I am going to miss that smaller deadline, I move on so that I stay on track. Then, I can return at the end when I know I have time.”

  • Instead of saying, “I’m too independent,” try, “I need to be better about asking for help.”

Being independent is often a good thing and interviewers want to know that you can work on your own without having someone hold your hand. But, just saying that you are independent doesn’t give enough context into why this is a weakness. Instead, we suggest that you get specific with your response and focus it on asking for help.

Knowing how and when to reach out to your coworkers or supervisor for help on a project is extremely important to a good employee. If you are afraid to ask questions or get additional guidance, you can spend a long time spinning your wheels or you could do the entire project incorrectly and need to redo it. Explain a scenario where that happened and then how you are now understanding that reaching out is a good thing. 

With the above tips and response frameworks, we’ve seen fellows in our program double their interview performance scores.

Pathrise is a career accelerator that works with students and professionals 1-on-1 so they can land their dream job in tech. 

If you want to work with any of our mentors to get help with your behavioral interviews or with any other aspect of the job search, join Pathrise.

Apply today.

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