How to Ask a Better “Greatest Weakness” Question

There are a lot of interview questions these days that get cliché answers. But perhaps none provide as much of a yawn as the “Greatest Weakness” question.

There was once a time when this question was tough – applicants would potentially share information that was damaging to their ability to win the position, and were judged by how quickly they could think of negative answers on their feet without costing them the job – but these days nearly everyone says “I’m too much of a perfectionist,” proving themselves wrong with such a boring answer.

The greatest weaknesses question is a good one – it’s one that can potentially challenge the applicant and get them to say something that gives you information you may not have received otherwise. But unless you find a new way to ask it, you’re often going to get prepared answers that tell you nothing about the applicant other than they know how to search the internet for ideas.

Asking a Better Question

In order to ask a better question about the applicant’s biggest weaknesses, we need to figure out a way to encourage more thought, trying to catch the applicant off guard so that they need to reconsider their answer. You can do that by mixing the question up slightly to make it more useful. Consider the following ideas:

  • What are your two/three biggest weaknesses?

There’s no reason to stop at one, and the vast majority of applicants have only prepared one. So by asking if they have two or three, you can potentially get them to think about a better answer and use the first answer as a throwaway.

  • What are your biggest weaknesses with regards to the skills necessary for the position?

Be more specific. “Perfectionist” and other planned answers rarely have much to do with the specific position. Force them to be more specific and you’ll find that they’ll have to think about their answer more and hopefully provide something better.

  • What are two flaws you have that may have us considering other applicants?

While this question may not necessarily get an answer that is similar to “greatest weakness,” it should force the applicant to decide whether or not they should say something about themselves. It is unlikely that they will use “works too hard” or “perfectionist” for this type of question.

A Question is Only as Good as the Answer

Questions at the job interview need to tell you something. You can ask the greatest question, but if the applicant doesn’t provide a great answer, the question goes to waste. Weakness questions are good questions, but too many applicants over-prepare for them and provide an answer that tells you nothing about their candidacy. Try mixing up how you ask the question, and suddenly it may become useful for you once again.