How should you discuss your biggest weakness in a first interview?


One of the strangest and most confounding questions that you will ever get in a first interview – or at any other stage of hiring – is the question: “what is your biggest weakness?” Whether you’re looking for jobs in Ontario, CA or anywhere else – this is a tough one.

This question tends to throw people. First of all, it’s often paired with the more innocuous “what is your biggest strength?” It’s relatively easy for most people to speak to this – because if they’re smart, they’ve spent time building an elevator pitch for this specific purpose.

On the other hand, listing a “biggest weakness” just seems counter-intuitive. I’m supposed to sabotage myself, just because somebody is asking me a contrarian question?

In some ways, that’s the whole point of the exercise (which some would argue is actually pointless and more than a little condescending) – the idea is that answering a trick question like this shows how individuals deal with adversity – albeit in this instance, a kind of specific passive-aggressive variety.

The question “what is your biggest weakness?” is one that must be approached with caution. The smartest job applicants know how to throw out something genuine without really sabotaging themselves, giving the interviewer some “bait” so that the rest of the interview will work out well. You can’t just stonewall – that’s seen as a mark of weakness in and of itself. You’re supposed to remain calm under pressure and easily, comfortably provide a real answer.

In some ways, this question can actually prepare you from some of the more toxic work situations people experience on the job – the arbitrarily critical boss.

Some people are hard-wired to give criticism – and they’re going to do it regardless of what comes across their desks. Smart underlings have figured out, again, how to cast some “bait” – they may include minor spelling errors to feed the boss’s need for critique so that the supervisor in question doesn’t end up asking for an entire rewrite.

Some of the best answers to the million-dollar question of a person’s greatest weakness walk this same line. A candidate might respond “my greatest weakness is my inability to give up on something” knowing that perseverance is, in many cases, a real quality that employers like.

This puts the ball back in the interviewer’s court. The interviewer might come back with a scenario where perseverance is actually bad, and the interviewee should then qualify the statement to say that of course he or she could triumph over this character flaw as needed.

It’s a delicate dance – the real test is how comfortable you can be answering random questions and navigating the contours of an unusual conversation. So whatever you choose to say – keep your cool, and stay ready to steer the ship of conversation in the appropriate direction.