In many articles directed at supporting people with answering the famous interview question

"What is your greatest weakness?",

the suggestion usually is to follow some kind of "WAR" approach. I.e. state the "w"eakness, the "a"ction and the "r"esult of the action used to overcome it. But, by such an approach, it would not be a weakness no longer, since it was overcome?!

So, should one actually state a weakness that one has not yet overcome? Because, if I was an HR guy, I would say "Hm, mkay. So you overcame that weakness. So, what weakness did you not overcome yet?"

  • Neither have I, but from a purely logical pov, I find the suggestion, e.g. youtube.com/watch?v=u_VdMHGQnZU, illogical. – TMOTTM Mar 30 '14 at 21:56
  • I believe this is pretty much the same question as workplace.stackexchange.com/questions/20338/… – Jeroen Vannevel Mar 30 '14 at 22:02
  • @JoeStrazzere Sure, it's a game. But, I am convinced HR want's to know who I am, and I have no problem with that. But the suggested approach to this question just doesn't make sense to me. – TMOTTM Mar 30 '14 at 22:20
  • @JoeStrazzere: yes, certainly considering the two top answers (one of which is yours) begin with That version of that question is not my favorite. (..) I find it easier to answer something like (..) "What's your biggest weakness?" and When an interviewer asks "Why shouldn't we hire you?" she might be looking for you to talk about your weaknesses. – Jeroen Vannevel Mar 30 '14 at 22:23
  • Hey TMOTTM, and welcome to The Workplace! I'm a bit unclear on what you're question is here. As explained in our help center, "You should only ask practical, answerable questions based on actual problems that you face." What is the problem you're facing? Are you worried that answering with the WAR approach won't work? If not, why not? If you can edit your question to make it clear what the issue is, you'll get much better answers. Thanks in advance! – jmac Mar 31 '14 at 0:14

Just because you've found an effective way to compensate for something doesn't mean that it isn't a weakness. I think it's still a perfectly valid response, and I agree with other answers in that I, too, have been in many, many interviews with that question asked and not once did they say "no, that's not a valid answer".

If you can find a better way to do it, though, by all means do so. There are, as always, two things you want to avoid.

  • "I am an alcoholic." "Truth be told, I'm a bit of a kleptomaniac." "I don't necessarily see this as a weakness but I was fired from my last job for attempting to pass out union leaflets." Don't provide an actual, current, tangible reason why the company won't want to hire you.

  • "I am just too talented at what I do! Is that a weakness???? LOL" This is actually probably worse than providing some kind of minor, untreated weakness ("sometimes I find it hard to tolerate fools gladly, especially in long meetings") because it tells the interviewer that a. you read a really crappy interview book that told you to say that, and b. you lack the ability to self-reflect and figure out what you do that's sub-optimal. (Actually, in the particular case of the example I gave, I'd give "c. You're arrogant.")

Stating you have a weakness and then discussing your current action plan to change it does not mean you no longer have this weakness. It means you have a lesser version of it, maybe (any interviewer worth their salt can read the "I don't suffer fools gladly but I feel felt found X which helps me" as "I still don't suffer fools gladly but I'm working on it"), but it's still there. To some extent, I feel like if you don't approach this from the standpoint of "here is how I am working on this" then the interviewer is left to decide that what you stated isn't even something you consider a weakness or else that you are barely a couple steps removed from those folks who lack the ability to see personal weaknesses at all. If you discover something is wrong with your behavior, don't you attempt to change it?

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Hm, mkay. So you overcame that weakness. So, what weakness did you not overcome yet?

I've been on a lot of interviews in my career, and I've never heard that question. Beyond that, I've never heard of anyone saying they were asked that question, either. (So if you land an HR job, let me know...)

Interviewing is a sales game (and often isn't logical). You are selling yourself by attempting to convey your strengths and the attributes you hold that would make you a good candidate for the position being filled. Talking about existing weaknesses should be avoided when you can, and finessed when you cannot.

If you are pressed (perhaps by your future self in an HR role), you could answer with a weakness you hold that won't be important in the role for which you are applying. ("I'm not the most physically gifted person. I would never even think of running a marathon." - when you are applying for a desk job).

Personally, I'd go the standard route. Talk about a weakness that you have learned to overcome, or talk about a weakness that might be more likely to be perceived as a strength ("I hate being late.")

Whatever you do, don't say "I have no weaknesses". That will be seen as either arrogant, or confused about the question.

I think asking "what is your greatest weakness" is a poor interview question - one I never ask. But in this game, the interviewers are mostly in control, so you have to be prepared for their rules.

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  • 1
    +1 for "is a poor interview question". I could not agree more Joe. It always comes across to me as lazy and slightly perverse. In my current job, I was asked to list 5 weaknesses in my final interview. I had 3 stock answers gathered from reading websites on how to answer the question (I knew they would ask based on insider knowledge) and one of the interviewers turned to the questioner and said "are you insane??? 5???" before saying "just one will do...I've never been sure what we are supposed to gain from your answers other than watch you squirm when answering it".... – Mike Mar 31 '14 at 10:44
  • ...We sometimes forget the interviewers are human too! – Mike Mar 31 '14 at 10:45
  • @Mike That interviewer deserves some credit for being that "real":) – TMOTTM Apr 1 '14 at 9:34
  • @Mike Thanks so much for that link, that was a great input and I forwarded it to many collegues – TMOTTM Apr 3 '14 at 9:06

So, should one actually state a weakness that one has not yet overcome?

It really depends on why the HR person is asking that question. Because the question isn't actually as dumb as it appears at first: One part of the so called "emotional intelligence" model is having a realistic opinion of one's strengths and weaknesses. If you ever had to work with a colleague (or, worse, a boss) who thinks he's very good at something, but really isn't, then you know why.

A person who has a realistic estimate of his strengths and weaknesses, on the other hand, is far easier to work with, because he knows when to argue his view, and when to say "I would have done this differently, but you're better at this, so let's try your way first, so I can learn something."

So, if the interviewer who asks this question knows all this, then the best answer would really be an honest estimate of your strengths and weaknesses. Because she won't base her hiring decision directly on the weaknesses you tell her, but will instead try to evaluate your skills and weaknesses independently and then see how well they match with your own self-estimate. Don't tell that interviewer an off-the-shelf WAR answer like "I used to be bad at X, but then I worked real hard and now I'm the best at it" or an equally vacuous "sell-a-strength-as-a-weakness"-style answer (like "I'm too much of a perfectionist"). Not only will she have heard that answer a dozen times before, you'll also fail the "realistic self-estimate" test.

Unfortunately, there are also interviewers out there who don't know that background, and think the point of that question really is to find the candidate who has no weakness. And IMHO they fully deserve the candidates they get. So you shouldn't feel to bad if they don't hire you.

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So, should one actually state a weakness that one has not yet overcome?

IMO yes, you should do exactly that. I think that more often than not, this sort of question isn't really designed to discover your weakness in terms of your potential job duties, but to assess your honesty about yourself and your shortcomings.

This is particularly true if it's an HR interview, as opposed to a technical interview etc - i.e. an interview to assess your actual skill-set.

I have met with this question in interviews, and I generally answered quite honestly and concisely, which seemed to make a good impression, although sometimes the interviewer was a bit taken aback by my ability to be so forthcoming.

The inevitable follow up question will be: "So, how do you see that affecting your job here and what are you doing to overcome that weakness?". At that point, again, lay it out clearly - don't try to finesse and bs around - just make sure that you do have some good, clear, honest answers for those questions.

Such an approach will often leave an impression on potential employers that makes you stand out among other candidates who come up with standard WAR answers. It is indeed somewhat risky, but IMO it is worth the risk, particularly with respect to technical positions: I have landed two or three good jobs because I impressed them as being a "straight shooter" - "this is not someone who is going to 'yank our chain' ".

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A weakness is a relative term. Someone can have a weakness, but still excel better than others. A student can get straight A's in all her classes, but math can still be a weakness. Maybe she has to put more time, energy and effort.

Also, as others have said, you can over-come a weakness, but it may not come easy. People who struggle with public speaking may have to work much harder which takes time away from other things and the stress can have adverse affects.

Because to claim something is a great weakness, but admitting you do nothing about it is a huge weakness.

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