Why Your “Biggest Weakness” Isn’t Being a Perfectionist

Q: “So what would you say is your greatest weakness?”

A: “It would have to be that I am too much of a perfectionist. I work too hard and I am not satisfied until the job is done. ”

Wow.

For years, job applicants have been wussing out of the “biggest weakness” interview question by answering that their biggest weakness is that they are too much of a perfectionist. Being a “perfectionist” is a bad answer.

Interviewers Are Not Morons

Candidates seem to think interviewers are stupid. They seem to think that they outsmarted the question by saying that their biggest weakness is that they are too hard workers.

But interviewers are not stupid, and that answer is so overused that it is essentially its own joke. It is a bad, cliché answer that everyone uses and is never true.

How to Answer Weakness Question

The best way to answer a biggest weakness question is to say a weakness that is actually a weakness, but one that everyone can relate to. Not long ago we had a list of several biggest weakness answers that are acceptable, but you can make up your known. The key to answering these question is to:

  • Say a weakness that is only a small, barely important weakness.
  • Follow up that weakness with what you are doing to improve.

You’re not outsmarting the interviewer by claiming you are a perfectionist. If you really want to impress the interviewer, you need to come up with a unique answer. Cliché answers are only going to harm your chances of getting the job.

Take Away Interview Tips

  • You are not a perfectionist.
  • If you were a perfectionist, you’d know why this is a bad answer.

Show Me Where on the Doll the Interviewer Hurt Your Ego

Most hiring managers use a number of different interview tactics in order to judge your candidacy. Knowledge based interview questions are designed to see how much you know. Wild card interview questions are used to see how well you think on your feet. Logic based interview questions are designed to see if you have problem solving skills.

The type of interview question most candidates dread, however, are questions that ask you to look at yourself in a negative light. These questions come in two forms:

  • Weakness Questions
  • Stress Questions

Stress questions are considerably less common. They are designed to literally insult you to see your reaction. The interviewer will listen to an answer, then respond with “Really? That’s your answer? Are you sure you don’t want to try again?” The interviewer may love your answer, but asks it in that tone to see if you get flustered. Stress questions are uncommon enough that we will ignore them for the purposes of this post.

Weakness Questions

Weakness questions are far more common. The interviewer asks you to point out flaws about yourself, in order to see what you can come up with as a response. Examples of weakness questions include:

  • What is your biggest weakness?
  • What is your fatal flaw?
  • If we choose not to hire you, why do you think that would be?

As implied, the interviewer wants to hear you say something negative. Or at least, they want to see how you handle a question designed to make you look like a worse candidate. Answering these questions seems difficult, but is actually fairly simple.

What the Interviewer Wants to Hear

Any time you experience a weakness question, the goal is not to provide them with any information that would cause them to want to seek out another candidate. Rather, the goal is to give them something that no interviewer is going to hold against you. Also, you must always be confident about your candidacy. At no time should you act as though you are not the person for the job. You need to be confident that you are the right candidate. Modesty is not acceptable.

How to Answer

Each individual question is going to have its own type of answer, so rather than provide a general “how to” for answering weakness questions, let’s look at good answers for the examples above, and show what they have in common.

Q: What is your biggest weakness?

A: “My greatest weakness is probably that when I have a great idea, I sometimes do not feel free to share it in a public forum. I’d prefer to bring it up separately to my supervisor in private, and by doing so I make it harder for others to build on my ideas. I am currently working on being more open during company meetings with my thoughts and strategies.”

Q: What is your fatal flaw?

A: “I am always looking to improve myself, so I do not believe any flaw can be truly fatal, because that would imply that I cannot learn to do the tasks successfully. However, I would say my greatest weakness is that I sometimes do not feel free to share my great ideas…” (etc.)

Q: If we choose not to hire you, why do you think that would be?

A: “I am confident that I am a great fit for the position, so if I am not hired it would likely be because I did not do an adequate job explaining why I am right for the role.”

Commonalities

All of these answers have the following in common:

  • They are all positive.
  • They are all confident.
  • They are all of minimal importance.

None of these are going to harm your candidacy and you are showing off the confidence that the interviewer wants you to have.

Whenever you face a question about your weaknesses, or a question that asks you to say something negative about yourself, don’t give them an answer they can use or act as though you might not deserve the job. Show them you deserve the job and only supply them with information that is barely considered a flaw, if at all.

Take Away Interview Tips

  • Be confident.
  • Give them nothing they can hold against you.

List of Ideas for “Biggest Weaknesses” That Aren’t Weaknesses

You have several weaknesses. You are lazy, you are uncoordinated, you smell like cheese and you have a tendency to fall asleep on your desk and drool on important paperwork. For obvious reasons, you can’t tell the interviewer. These things need to stay between us and you. So when the interviewer asks you to come up with a biggest weakness, you need to supply them with an answer that satisfies their curiosity but doesn’t prevent you from getting the job. “I show up late” or “I have a tendency to punch my interviewers in the face for no reason” are both bad. So what weaknesses are acceptable answers for the job, and why?

Always Qualify Your Weakness

Before we begin, it is important to remind you that whenever you give a weakness, you should qualify it by what you have done since to ensure it doesn’t happen. For example “My biggest weakness is that I fart a lot when I’m nervous. I have since been taking Bean-O and working on my ability to hold my flatulence.” No matter what weakness you claim, always mention what you are doing to change it.

Examples of Biggest Weaknesses

  • “I’m a perfectionist”

While we are placing this answer here, it is important to tell you – this answer is terrible. It’s just terrible. This is the type of answer you give when you are clearly BSing the interviewer, and they’re going to pick up on it. Don’t give this answer. Only give this answer if you forget all of the others. Your biggest weakness is you like things to be perfect? Please. It won’t kill your interview, but it’s not a satisfactory answer.

  • “I have a tendency to keep quiet in large meetings.”

This is a great biggest weakness. Everyone experiences this feeling. There are people talking all around you and you don’t feel welcome to speak yourself. Employers will understand, and the weakness is not something that will kill your interview unless you are applying for a job as a meeting supervisor.

  • “Sometimes I talk to myself when I work which can disrupt nearby staff.”

This is a great weakness, because it doesn’t imply anything negative about your work, only that you might make noises when you work. It implies you are actively working and lost in thought. Not a bad weakness at all.

  • “Sometimes when I am actively engaged in a project, I can miss some of the noises around me. I have been told that I missed phone calls before because I was staring so intensely at the screen…”

Again, this type of weakness is essentially saying “I work too hard” without that perfectionism BS. Add a “I have since been turning the volume on my office phone louder in order to ensure that I hear it ringing” and you are all set.

  • “I have a few food allergies that make it hard to have business meetings at restaurants.”

Again, this is a weakness that has simply nothing to do with the quality of work, and more to do with something no one cares about and many people can relate to. Obviously you should actually have one of these allergies and not be lying about it, but if you have one that’s a perfectly good out.

  • “Sometimes I write emails that are longer than they need to be when I’m worried the person might not understand the email.”

We’ve all been there, and if we haven’t been there, we’ve received emails from people that are like that. Qualify the statement with “I am working on being more brief and to the point” and you are all set.

Only Use the Ones That Don’t Affect the Job

Weaknesses that may affect the job should not be listed. For example, if your job is going to involve non-stop emails, maybe you don’t want to use the email weakness example. As long as you choose one of the weaknesses above, you should adequately answer any “biggest weakness” questions, because none of the weaknesses will affect the quality of your work or your viability as an employee.

Take Away Interview Tips

  • Give an actual weakness.
  • Make the weakness extremely minor.
  • Qualify the weakness with what you are doing to change it.

Difficult Interview Question: If We Don’t Offer You the Job, Why Do You Think That Would Be?

It’s not fun when someone forces you to say bad things about yourself. It is as though they are asking you to harm your own self esteem. They are saying “hey, I know you like most things about yourself, but I’m going to need you to point out to me where you suck.”

Luckily, despite how difficult the question works at first glance, this is one question that is not that hard to answer. Rather than point out a weakness in your skills, experiences, etc., you should give a confident answer like the one you will see below.

Bad Answer

“I think if you don’t hire me, it will probably because I don’t have much experience working with program X, which I know is a considerable part of the role. I also do not have as much work experience as the other candidates.”

Good Answer

“I would not have applied for this job if I was not confident I was a great fit, so I suppose if you choose to go another route it was because I did not adequately communicate why I am the right person for the position.”

Here, you confidently state that you are perfect for the job, so that the only reason they do not hire you is because you didn’t do a great job explaining those qualifications at the interview. This is a much better answer that should score you some good points with the interviewer and will not point out your “flaws.”

Take Away Interview Tips

  • Be confident.
  • State that you must not have explained your abilities well enough.

Difficult Interview Question: What Would You Most Like to Improve About Yourself?

Questions about an applicant’s weaknesses are extremely common in job interviews. They are so common that they play a role at almost every interview in some form. Yet they may be asked in different ways, and when they are asked in different ways, you can answer them differently.

How to Answer

Improving yourself does not just have to be about biggest weaknesses. It can. It easily can. So if you want, you can provide a biggest weakness answer and you will ace the question. However, you are being asked about where you would like to improve, not what you are worst at. So you may also want to give an answer about how you would like to improve many things (even if they are not negative), as evidenced below.

Bad Answer

“I wish I was a better bowler. Spinning that ball down the lane. Oh man, that’s sweet right there. Sweet.”

Good Answer

“I would like to improve in every facet of my life. No matter how much I may excel at a particular skill or task, I believe I can always get better, and would like an opportunity to gain new experiences that will help me become better at anything I undertake. Does your company offer any extended training courses that I can take advantage of?”

Here you turn it around on the interviewer, making it a question about what they offer rather than a question of what you are bad at. Remember, a standard “biggest weakness” answer as described multiple times on this and other websites is an acceptable answer, but you may also use an answer like the one above if you like.

Take Away Interview Tips

  • “Biggest Weakness” answers are fine (weaknesses should not be too bad)
  • You can also turn it around on the interviewer.

Interview Question: What Are Your Two Greatest Weaknesses?

Now you’ve done it. We’ve discussed “greatest weaknesses” in the past. Thanks to the Internet, most people now say “My greatest weakness is that I’m a perfectionist. I work too hard…” That answer blows. Really, it’s just awful. It’s become so overused that it’s a cliché, and most interviewers are going to roll your eyes if you try to pull that off.

Thanks to people trying to pull off the “perfectionist” answer, hiring managers have gotten smarter. Now, rather than ask what your one biggest weakness is, they want you to give two, so if you want to BS your way with the “perfectionist” answer, you are still forced to come up with another one on the fly.

How to Answer

The “perfectionist” answer is terrible. Don’t use it. Instead, try to focus on flaws that are barely flaws. Some examples are:

  • You do not speak up in meetings.
  • You try to get work done quickly.
  • You often forget names (if this won’t affect your work)

These are real weaknesses, so the interviewer is going to be listening to your answer without rolling their eyes, but they are not very bad, and, as always, you follow them up with what you are doing to change it.

Bad Answer

“My biggest weakness is that I am a perfectionist. I put so much effort into my work that it can feel consuming. I need to learn to relax. Also, I’d say my second weakness is that I make terrible interview answers. I often think that I am being clever by using ‘perfectionist’ as a greatest weakness but the reality is I’m being lame and clichéd.”

Good Answer

“My biggest weakness is that I tend to not speak up at large meetings when I feel I have a great idea. I have been working on sharing more freely at company meetings. I also often find myself working quickly, and while I have yet to make any mistakes, I am starting to slow down in order to ensure perfection.”

There you go. Weaknesses that are really weaknesses but also not really that bad. That’s a good answer, and one that the interviewer is far more likely to respect. Dear “Perfectionist” people: Stop ruining it for the rest of us.

Take Away Interview Tips

  • If you were really a perfectionist, you would know why that answer sucks.

Difficult Interview Question: What is Your Fatal Flaw?

Lots of interview questions are interesting and useful for the interviewer. The “biggest weakness” question is a great one for seeing which candidates are prepared to answer difficult questions about themselves and how well they think on their feet.

The “Fatal Flaw” question is not one of those questions. The fatal flaw question is a bad question. It is basically asking you “Why shouldn’t we hire you, and you better give us a real reason!” Nothing productive can come from the question. Still, some hiring managers ask it anyway. Great.

How to Answer

There are a couple of choices. The first is simply to spin it into a “biggest weakness” question and ignore the “fatal flaw” aspect of it. That’s not a bad idea. Refer to how to answer weakness questions to see how to answer this interview question. If you are certain they are looking for a true “fatal flaw” or you were already asked the “biggest weakness” question, this may be the one time that you can act as though you are perfect. See below.

Bad Answer

“I have not completed my college degree. But I am educated and capable of doing the job, as you will see by my qualifications and work history.”

This answer is too defensive.

Good Answer

“I am not perfect, but I do not have a ‘fatal flaw.’ If there was any skill I lacked that would prevent me from doing the job to the best of my ability, I would continue to work on that problem so that I could adequately complete any task at hand.”

It’s a risky answer. You might want to stick with a biggest weakness answer. Still, if you are certain they are looking for a true fatal flaw, don’t give it to them. This is an interview question that is designed to cause good candidates to hurt their own candidacy. It’s a bad question.

Take Away Interview tips

  • Provide a biggest weakness answer instead or
  • Proudly claim that none of your flaws are fatal.

Q&A – What Are Your Greatest Strengths and Weaknesses?

We’ve gone over how to discuss your greatest weaknesses before. It is one of the most difficult questions to answer. Most people that try to answer it run into two problems:

  • Real Weakness – if you provide a real, bad weakness, you make yourself look worse to the interviewer. There is no reason to point out your serious flaws.
  • Load of Bull – You can give an answer that isn’t really a flaw, but if you do that you look like you’re lying. For example “My biggest problem is that I work too hard.” Really? Is it?

You will need to provide something that really can be a flaw.

Greatest Strengths and Weaknesses

Sometimes the employer is going to ask you about both your strengths and weaknesses. To answer this question, you need to do the following:

  • Focus mostly on your strengths.
  • Use a real weakness but explain how you’re fixing it.

These are best seen in sample answers.

Bad Answer

“My greatest strength is that I am a hard worker. I am dependable and always on time, and I have great communication skills. My biggest weakness is that I am a perfectionist and spend a long time working on projects to try to ensure that they are perfect in every way.”

There are a lot of problems with this answer. First, your strengths are a bunch of clichés. This is possibly your best chance to talk about all of the amazing things that you know and the ways that you would rock at this job, and you wasted it on meaningless statements anyone can use. Second, your weaknesses is barely a weakness and it is roughly as long as your strengths, without discussing how you fixed it.

Good Answer

“I am proficient in a number of programming languages including HTML, PHP, C++, Java and AppleScript. I have generated over 200% excess revenue for two separate companies through cost cutting programming efficiency and I have leadership experience with a team of five IT professionals working on some of the most popular iPhone apps online. As for weaknesses, I have a tendency to remain quiet in large meetings, but I am working on speaking up when I feel I have ideas to share.”

See the difference? You identified some key, interesting strengths, and barely touched your weakness, only stating a weakness that isn’t really that big a deal and showing that you are already working on changing it. This is a much better answer.

Take Away Interview Tips

  • Use real, interesting strengths.
  • Use a weak weakness and explain how you are going to change it.

Additional Links

  • Monster greatest strength and weakness article