How to Handle the Interview Weakness Question

Questions This Guidance Answers: 
  • How do I answer 'what is your weakness' question?
  • Is a weakness a strength?
  • What's the right answer to 'tell me about a failure'

Mark recently blogged about the crazy advice being given - by the Wall Street Journal! - about how to handle the perennial interviewing question, "Tell me about a weakness."

He was stunned by how wrong some of the suggestions were, as well as the implication that a clever interviewee could trick the interviewing manager into accepting a non-responsive answer.

We think it's funny how many folks think that "they" can fool "their" interviewer, but of course, if "they" were the one "interviewing", why, "that would be different". Yeah right.

In this cast, we share one of the best interviewing answer templates you'll ever hear. It's simple, elegant, easy to deliver, and surprise, surprise: it directly answers the question.

  [Play in Popup]

Extra Content
    Manager Tools Personal License
    Interviewing Series
    First Job Fundamentals   

Great podcast, thanks. Made me think of

Great podcast, thanks. Made me think of a university friend at a 'milkround' interview who replied to the weakness question with "Chocolate and Marlboro lights". She did not get the job.

Another very helpful topic..for both

Another very helpful topic..for both sides of the interview table. I can't believe the number of job seekers who have not prepared for this question. They know it's going to be there, why havn't they preformulated as response, and practiced it. This question, along with "Do you have anything else you would like to tell us?" have to be thought through, you know they're coming be ready.

Thanks for all the great information.


Thanks for another excellent podcast!

Thanks for another excellent podcast! I especially find value in remembering that a weakness is not a character flaw, merely an area of self-improvement. Good stuff.

As a manager, I have no direct budget responsibility. My department head manages the budget by exception, looking at anything “unusual” each month and requesting adjustments if necessary (e.g., travel expenses look out of line, so keep an eye on travel).

I have requested to get more involved in the budget process without success. So, to get at least some exposure in this area, I have managed my group’s expenses by tracking travel, entertainment, training, etc., all the while not knowing exactly how much we have to spend (I figure I will find out soon enough). This approach helps me develop some sense of corporate budgeting and address the weakness.

I hesitate mentioning this gap in my managerial experience. At the same time, I do not want to hide it. A lack of budget management experience would not get shared if a position requires that skill. In other situations, do you feel this would qualify as a meaningful weakness? Do you think this type of admission would tend to work against rather than for me?

Your work on MT always provides great insights into HOW TO behave as a more effective manager. Continued thanks for your efforts!

Indiana- Ouch. I admit that


Ouch. I admit that sometimes humor CAN work... in this case, that answer might have flown* with a quick PROFESSIONAL follow-up. But humor alone comes across as a shield for non-preparation.


PS: Today, in the US at least, implying you're a smoker in an interview is a bad idea.

Jeff- Thanks for the kind


Thanks for the kind words!


MStael- I think that's a great


I think that's a great answer, provided one of your caveats is that it's a function of the budget control processes at your firm that they are not shared to your level.

Works great for me.


I have been listening to the MT

I have been listening to the MT podcasts for quite a while now, and I think they are very useful. Thanks a lot!

Regarding the Weakness Question, in NW-Europe it’s for most people quite easy to mention as a weakness a lacking language skill.
Assuming your not applying for an interpreter vacancy at the EU, it would fit quite easily your recommended reply structure.

For example:
“Periodically I’m confronted with customers with whom I have to speak French. Though my French is OK, it is not fluent enough to assure an effective discussion. But still, I’m following an intensive course and have asked Walloon colleagues to speak French with me. I’m sure in 6-12 month I will have improved much.”

Still this doesn’t sound to me as the answer that will make the difference…. Also because deep-down inside I want to mention something more substantial, but also trickier.

It goes something like this ( bit lengthier so I’ve kept it as short as I can):
“A while ago I got swamped in ToDo’s. I improved considerably by a strict priority list, but still I felt too many opportunities got forgotten.
In search of solutions I therefore broadened my focus, and took notice of similar issues or worse in other part of the company. As such I helped push a CRM and are now working on its implementation for our commercial dep. .. I’m sure in 6-12 month WE will have improved much.”

… well in fact, the second part of my reply could very be preserved as using a strength as a weakness. Also the CRM stuff is no guarantee that MY weakness will be solved (deflective)…?

Darn, this is harder then I thought.

This is my first MT response, so forgive me for posting such cheesy suggestions, but, but,… Oh no, “lack of confident” is best not mentioned as a weakness, is it?
Anyway, would appreciate any reply on these two/three options.

Hey, everybody! Loved this

Hey, everybody! Loved this podcast.

The perception I get when a person fails to answer this question effectively, is that they don't know themselves very well and wouldn't be completely honest when reporting on projects or relationships with customers. It's not only naïve, but plain immature, to me.

I am amazed at how many people seem to be taken by surprise by the question. Granted, I've interviewed people mostly for entry level positions... still, I expect candidates to be candid and have thought about it in advance.

Keep up the good work!

Hi guys, should not this episode

Hi guys,

should not this episode also be part of the Interviewing Series? If just for having the stuff in one place in iTunes :-)

noger, Of course ... good point!


Of course ... good point! We'll add it.


Mike and Mark, If this is part of the

Mike and Mark,
If this is part of the Interviewing Series, shouldn't those who purchased it be able to access the slides?

richboberg, It's not part of the


It's not part of the Interviewing Series product, but perhaps it should. Regardless, I think you raise a fair point ... I'll see if I can't resolve that concern.

[Update 2/28/08: You'll now find the Interview Weakness show and slides in the Interviewing Series product. Due to limitations of the authorization system, please note that you'll need to access the slides from Interviewing Series page itself.]


Mike, Thank you very much!

Thank you very much!

There was a cast about the question on

There was a cast about the question on leadership style a while back that should go with the series as well. I added when I backed them up to CD but they could fit very well.

Hi Mike, The slides appear in the

Hi Mike,

The slides appear in the RSS feed, the show does not.

loubrady, I'd love to help you out.


I'd love to help you out. The show is in the feed. What feed are you looking at and how are you trying to access the show (e.g., are you using the Members-only feed and what software/RSS reader are you using)?


I am using itunes - the members only

I am using itunes - the members only feed.

loubrady, Try this ... using the


Try this ... using the disclosure triangle next to the show in iTunes, collapse the podcast. THEN, holding the Alt/Option key down, click the triangle again. That should reload the RSS feed and restore any shows that were deleted in iTunes, purposely or not.

I suspect that will do the trick for you.


that worked.

that worked. thanks.

Unfortunately, the article containing

Unfortunately, the article containing bad advice was not only published in the Wall Street Journal, it's all over the web:

Victor- Seriously, this is just


Seriously, this is just mind-bogglingly bad advice. When we see stuff like this, and we see it spread, about all we can do is say, "makes the competition easier".

I am going to try to make more time in the future to address stupidity when I read it under the banner of respectability, like WSJ or Fortune.



Weakness Twist

I was given a twist on the standard weakness question that threw me for a loop.  I thought I'd post my hindsight analysis here for reference by others.

The interviewer made a general statement about my references, but then asked what they would say was my greatest weakness.

I was thrown out of balance, mumbled something stupid, and then didn't recover well for the next part of the question, "What are you doing about that?"  I was thankful when she went on with a different line of questioning, but the interview ended quickly, so I'm pretty sure nothing will come of it.  So... I might as well learn something from it!

Looking back, I should have side-stepped the secondary point of the question, "What would they say..." by saying, "I could only speculate, but a weakness I've recently identified is..."  and then go into my prepared answer.


Realistic Tips!

It was a good idea to listen to you guys, I'll be having an interview later and being reminded to have a structure with the answers helped a lot. 

This site is in my favorites starting today!