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Mod Notes (Andy): this was originally posted on 9/26/12

Interviewer: "So... what's your biggest weakness?"

To be honest, I think the biggest weakness question is one of the most bullshit questions you can get during an interview. But people keep asking it, so you’ve got to have a strategy. There are some shops/industries where the best strategy is truth. In most banking/PE interviews, not so much.

My favorite way to answer the biggest weakness question is to imagine the interviewer at their job and think about what they would relate to most strongly. Then I build an answer starting with, “I get impatient/frustrated when....”

You want to pick a problem that is endemic to the industry and essentially unsolvable. One of those things people just have to live with.

You want them to think, “Yeah, that frustrates me all the time too.” It sends the signal that you’re at least aware of the challenges, which puts you ahead of many candidates.

So say I’m talking to a VP. VPs spend their lives as the axis between senior bankers and analysts/associates. If they ask what my biggest weakness is, I might say, “I get a little impatient when things take longer than I think they should. That would be fine, except it turns out the timeline I have in my mind for something is usually pretty optimistic. This is something I’m aware of and working on. So ideally in the future all my expectations would be realistic and I would do a good job of communicating them to the senior guys so there are no surprises.”

Say I’m talking to an associate. Then it might be: “I get a little impatient when I need to teach people who are new to the game. Coaching’s important, and in order to build a strong team I know we need to get people up the curve quickly. In the past I’ve occasionally let coaching slide in order to hit a tight deadline, but in the future I know I need to make time to teach people how to do something rather than churn it out quickly myself.”

Say I’m talking to an analyst. “I get a little frustrated sometimes when managing multiple projects, each with separate deadlines, work flows, models, decks, and teams. Some people seem to be able to do it all in their head, but me, I’ve found I need a pretty strict system to keep everything on track. Let me tell you how I do it....”

Of course, this is what I say to myself in my head: "My biggest weakness is that I get really fucking impatient when fielding bullshit questions. Like this one. Next."

What's the best/worst way you guys have answered this question? SBs for the best story.

Comments (70)

  • AndyLouis's picture

    Quote:
    David: So, let me ask you a question right off the bat. What do you think are your greatest strengths as a manager?
    Michael: Why don't I tell you what my greatest weaknesses are? I work too hard. I care too much. And sometimes I can be too invested in my job.
    David: Okay. And your strengths?
    Michael: Well, my weaknesses are actually... strengths.
    David: Oh. Yes. Very good.
    Michael: Thank you.

  • Scott Irish's picture

    Not quite on topic with your interview question, but I once interviewed at a valuation firm when I got out of the military and they asked a shitload of technical questions I didn't get and hadn't ever studied. This was back when "Friends" was still on TV or had been recently cancelled, and at one point in the interview, I told my interviewer I felt like Joey Triviani trying to answer the questions,

    No idea why I said that, but the female director sitting across from me bore a freaking hole in my soul with the look she gave me. So that didn't go too well.

  • Bruce Wayne's picture

    I thought weakness is supposed to be a "skill-related" thing? Being frustrated is simply your feelings, not how capable you are at doing something.

    e.g. Being frustrated at coaching new people is your feeling; unable to coach new people because I lack communication skills is a weakness. Obviously, I'm not gonna say I lack communication skills in an actual interview. Just an example.

  • jr253's picture

    I’m a bit older than some of the junior mist makers on this board so I’ve gone through the recruiting process (nightmare) at a number of firms (IB/PE/other institutional investors) and while I think some of OP’s examples are good, they’re generally BS and most experienced interviewers will recognize that. Obviously you don’t want to say “I’m not detail oriented” or “I’m socially awkward” since analysts have to be attentive and no one wants to work 90+ hours with a weirdo.

    I’ve fielded this question by saying an analysis as part of my MBA program evaluated students on a number of different personality traits and I ranked at the extreme low end for allocentrism (yes, it’s good to throw around MBA jargon at any chance). In other words, I tend to think others are motivated by the same things I am – profit, nice risk-adjusted return, etc – and I have to work extra hard at understanding others’ motivations. I try to address this by over-communicating, blah blah, and although I sometimes struggle with it, it’s a weakness that I’m aware of, blah blah.

    Kid you not, most interviewers eat that sh*t up.

  • BTbanker's picture

    I usually say that I have a hard time telling people what they are doing is wrong, so I usually just fix it myself, but it shouldn't be much of a problem in banking because there are so many intelligent people.

    Or you could say...

    I'm too good looking, and all the females in the office get distracted, so they can't focus on the task at hand. In other words, HR doesn't call people back as soon as they should.

  • In reply to Oreos
    bankerella's picture

    Oreos wrote:
    personally, i feel "fustrated" is a bad word to use.

    The point of this question is that you have to say something negative about yourself. It can be a weak negative, but it must be negative.

    Let's be MECE about this. The weakness will be either internal or external/behavioral. Choosing a behavioral weakness shows a lack of self-control. People who can't control their behavior aren't even ready yet to start working on internal processes. So I advise you to go with internal.

    If you go with internal, it's going to be either cognitive (how your brain works, how you perceive) or emotional (how you feel). It's very hard to fix a cognitive weakness. (You can't cure stupidity.) Also, banking/PE have strong biases against people with cognitive weaknesses. So I advise you to go with emotional.

    Within the realm of possible emotional weaknesses, only a few are banker-friendly. You need something endemic, mild, and productive. Frustration and impatience fit the bill.

    Everyone in banking/PE is dealing with frustrations every day. (Anyone below VP who says otherwise is lying.) It's something everyone can relate to. So it's not off the wall to say that you've felt it in the past and that you're working on the perfect approach/response.

    Perhaps you noticed that each example outlines the mitigation approach as well as the weakness? You would obviously never just say that your weakness is that you get frustrated, full stop.

    You'd say, "I sometimes get a little frustrated when I face X difficult situation, and what I do to manage/mitigate that situation is Y." What you're showing there is that you have experience managing the tensions that arise during tough situations in banking.

    I personally would be much more worried about a candidate that has never felt severe frustration before. Those poor bastards start running around with deer-in-the-headlights stares about six weeks in.

  • BatMasterson's picture

    @jr253 Nice: allocentrism

    You need to realize some of the banks you're interviewing with likely have your psychological profile if you've already taken those "personality" type of tests. They are designed to gauge your level of cooperation, teamwork, ambitiousness, work-life balance, etc.

    How do you stand out?

    Good answer: I always look for the fool proof solution. Since there is no fool proof solution, you'll stand out as a perfectionist, someone who's always trying to better things up

    "I like money (as do most females) but love is...great :)"-student
    "Perhaps you've failed to take into account my hidden assets"-007
    Storm: Orig Mix
    Oscar Wilde -Ballad of Reading

  • jr253's picture

    @ relinquis

    Ha, yes, I’ve been asked it for more recent opportunities even though I’m more experienced….most acknowledge that it’s a pretty stupid question for someone with a few years experience but they like hearing what people have to say.

  • In reply to bankerella
    Oreos's picture

    bankerella wrote:
    Oreos wrote:
    personally, i feel "fustrated" is a bad word to use.

    The point of this question is that you have to say something negative about yourself. It can be a weak negative, but it must be negative.

    Let's be MECE about this. The weakness will be either internal or external/behavioral. Choosing a behavioral weakness shows a lack of self-control. People who can't control their behavior aren't even ready yet to start working on internal processes. So I advise you to go with internal.

    If you go with internal, it's going to be either cognitive (how your brain works, how you perceive) or emotional (how you feel). It's very hard to fix a cognitive weakness. (You can't cure stupidity.) Also, banking/PE have strong biases against people with cognitive weaknesses. So I advise you to go with emotional.

    Within the realm of possible emotional weaknesses, only a few are banker-friendly. You need something endemic, mild, and productive. Frustration and impatience fit the bill.

    Everyone in banking/PE is dealing with frustrations every day. (Anyone below VP who says otherwise is lying.) It's something everyone can relate to. So it's not off the wall to say that you've felt it in the past and that you're working on the perfect approach/response.

    Perhaps you noticed that each example outlines the mitigation approach as well as the weakness? You would obviously never just say that your weakness is that you get frustrated, full stop.

    You'd say, "I sometimes get a little frustrated when I face X difficult situation, and what I do to manage/mitigate that situation is Y." What you're showing there is that you have experience managing the tensions that arise during tough situations in banking.

    I personally would be much more worried about a candidate that has never felt severe frustration before. Those poor bastards start running around with deer-in-the-headlights stares about six weeks in.

    good answer but i feel personal weakness is too weak. fustration is an emotion which is on the road (without sounding too Yoda) to anger etc.. Further, it can be read as a sensitivity along the lines of: "hey, my feelings are effected by others beyond my control [slight hiperbole]". Hence, i'd always go with a "compared to others" or a general weakness that we all share, such as public speaking or speaking one's mind which is a skill that is learnable. such skills/weaknesses can be evolved easily through work experience or extra curriculars. i mean through my time in the work place my ability to stand up, tell someone they're (regardless of rank) wrong has increased dramatically.

    .

  • Fundamentally Undervalued's picture

    i always say something along the lines of: I sometimes become a little impatient when I'm explaining something to someone and they either don't understand or don't agree with me. I sometimes forget that other people think differently and have different views, so I expect them to understand at the same pace that I did if I am walking them through a problem and solution...or to agree with me on a viewpoint...since it makes sense to me.

    probably not the best one out there...

  • In reply to jr253
    Oreos's picture

    jr253 wrote:

    I’ve fielded this question by saying an analysis as part of my MBA program evaluated students on a number of different personality traits and I ranked at the extreme low end for allocentrism (yes, it’s good to throw around MBA jargon at any chance). In other words, I tend to think others are motivated by the same things I am – profit, nice risk-adjusted return, etc – and I have to work extra hard at understanding others’ motivations. I try to address this by over-communicating, blah blah, and although I sometimes struggle with it, it’s a weakness that I’m aware of, blah blah.

    Kid you not, most interviewers eat that sh*t up.

    love this

    .

  • duffmt6's picture

    I usually go with:

    "Where do I start, really? I'm a 24 year old analyst with 6 months of banking experience because I was too lazy/unmotivated to figure out the whole finance recruiting thing while still in undergrad. My firm hasn't had much (any) deal flow since I joined the firm, so my experience with real world modeling and execution is relatively non existent. I spend a ton of my work day on WSO/Dealbreaker/ESPN/You name it and can be a cranky in the morning. Oh and I consider Guinness to be one of the major food groups and have an issue with nasty hangovers. What was the question again?"

    "For I am a sinner in the hands of an angry God. Bloody Mary full of vodka, blessed are you among cocktails. Pray for me now and at the hour of my death, which I hope is soon. Amen."

  • SirTradesaLot's picture

    I've asked a number of people, "What are you good at?". You would be surprised at how few people answer that well for such a softball question.

    adapt or die wrote:
    What would P.T. Barnum say about you?

    MY BLOG

  • Gangnam Banker's picture

    What if you truly are an elitist? Can you spin that around as being a man of high standards and selectivity?

    There's no time to be bored. I'm so busy doing the horse dance...

  • valdotkom's picture

    Actually, I don't take this question too seriously.
    As an answer, I recently said that my orientation skills were bad, especially since Apple released its Maps app.
    The guy laughed.
    I'm waiting for his answer now..
    I think they just want to see how spontaneous and unique you are

  • monkeyshines's picture

    bankerella is the man. hands down. regardless, I wasn't offered a consulting position i interviewed for, and after I asked for feedback, she said, "I have someone who can bring experience to the table immediately, I don't think you'd have trouble, but it's valuable to have it immediately. your skills da da da da bullshit"

    During the interview, I let her know my weakness was a lack of experience, being a new college graduate. I thought it was a bit crafty, but ultimately I was dinged. She was also very amazonian. That is all.

  • Accrual King's picture

    Greatest weakness ---> large breasted women

    "You lose money chasing women, never lose women chasing money"
    -Nas

  • arguewithatree's picture

    I've actually said variations of these answers before and they have never worked out for me. I once told an analyst that my biggest weakness was I used to have difficulty doing menial work, but overtime and through my last internships I had learned the importance of mindless tasks and understood how doing these tasks perfectly results in your superiors trusting you with more advanced tasks. I've also used the multi-tasking example. I actually got yelled at by the first analyst for my response. He was potentially just a dick, but I've learned to give responses that have very little to do with banking instead. Now I say I get too caught up with understanding every small detail and have trouble seeing the big picture.

  • Cmoss's picture

    I always respond "chocolate....or icecream"

    It's a great icebreaker, the interviewer typically cracks up a little bit and then i give my pitch about my opportunity areas.

  • Febreeze's picture

    Not sure if this is something that would be passable, what do you guys think?

    Remember in Pulp Fiction, how Uma Thurman's character asks "In a conversation, do you listen or wait to talk?" and Travolta goes "I wait to talk, but I'm trying to listen more."

    That would be my answer.

  • In reply to Febreeze
    bankerella's picture

    Febreeze wrote:
    Not sure if this is something that would be passable, what do you guys think?

    Remember in Pulp Fiction, how Uma Thurman's character asks "In a conversation, do you listen or wait to talk?" and Travolta goes "I wait to talk, but I'm trying to listen more."

    That would be my answer.

    I'd respect that answer.

  • In reply to bankerella
    Febreeze's picture

    bankerella wrote:
    Febreeze wrote:
    Not sure if this is something that would be passable, what do you guys think?

    Remember in Pulp Fiction, how Uma Thurman's character asks "In a conversation, do you listen or wait to talk?" and Travolta goes "I wait to talk, but I'm trying to listen more."

    That would be my answer.

    I'd respect that answer.

    Enough to stir my old-fashioned? (whatever that means...)

  • 808's picture

    I don't even answer the question that was asked. I pick a weakness I used to have, then describe and quantify what I did to turn that weakness into a strength. It's an interview - I don't want to talk about my weaknesses; I want to talk about my strengths. It answers the real question, which is "Are you self-aware"? The logical successor to being self aware is acting on that self-awareness - i.e. improving yourself. That is what I want to be talking about.

  • In reply to 808
    bankerella's picture

    808 wrote:
    It answers the real question, which is "Are you self-aware"? The logical successor to being self aware is acting on that self-awareness - i.e. improving yourself. That is what I want to be talking about.

    Stellar point here. The question really is, "Are you self-aware?" I hadn't noticed that before. Thanks.

  • In reply to AndyLouis
    Art.Vandelay's picture

    AndyLouis wrote:
    Quote:
    David: So, let me ask you a question right off the bat. What do you think are your greatest strengths as a manager?
    Michael: Why don't I tell you what my greatest weaknesses are? I work too hard. I care too much. And sometimes I can be too invested in my job.
    David: Okay. And your strengths?
    Michael: Well, my weaknesses are actually... strengths.
    David: Oh. Yes. Very good.
    Michael: Thank you.

    Beautiful memories from the good ol Office days. +1

  • huanleshalemei's picture

    How I approach this question largely depends on the interviewer. If the connection is good, I might be a little emotional.

    The Auto Show

  • In reply to SirTradesaLot
    BatMasterson's picture

    SirTradesaLot wrote:
    I've asked a number of people, "What are you good at?". You would be surprised at how few people answer that well for such a softball question.

    TradesaLot is correct. A question that is more often asked than the weaknesses one is "Why should we hire you". It pops out much often.

    How would you answer that ? Especially knowing there are dozens, if not hundreds, of jacks you're up against.

    "I like money (as do most females) but love is...great :)"-student
    "Perhaps you've failed to take into account my hidden assets"-007
    Storm: Orig Mix
    Oscar Wilde -Ballad of Reading

  • In reply to Relinquis
    SirTradesaLot's picture

    Relinquis wrote:
    Seriously folks... do NOT answer this honestly. This isn't confession. This is a pitch to get them to hire you so you can get paid. Certainly don't get emotional. Give the "how I overcame a minor weakness in the past" spiel that a previous poster (808) had suggested.

    Interviewer: What's your biggest weakness?

    Me: I'm not self-aware. To be fair, I guess I'm aware of the fact that I'm not self-aware. So, maybe it's not as big of a weakness as I thought. It's been something I've been working on.

    adapt or die wrote:
    What would P.T. Barnum say about you?

    MY BLOG

  • In reply to SirTradesaLot
    bankerella's picture

    SirTradesaLot wrote:
    Relinquis wrote:
    Seriously folks... do NOT answer this honestly. This isn't confession. This is a pitch to get them to hire you so you can get paid. Certainly don't get emotional. Give the "how I overcame a minor weakness in the past" spiel that a previous poster (808) had suggested.

    Interviewer: What's your biggest weakness?

    Me: I'm not self-aware. To be fair, I guess I'm aware of the fact that I'm not self-aware. So, maybe it's not as big of a weakness as I thought. It's been something I've been working on.

    Nicely played.

  • In reply to SirTradesaLot
    Relinquis's picture

    SirTradesaLot wrote:
    Relinquis wrote:
    Seriously folks... do NOT answer this honestly. This isn't confession. This is a pitch to get them to hire you so you can get paid. Certainly don't get emotional. Give the "how I overcame a minor weakness in the past" spiel that a previous poster (808) had suggested.

    Interviewer: What's your biggest weakness?

    Me: I'm not self-aware. To be fair, I guess I'm aware of the fact that I'm not self-aware. So, maybe it's not as big of a weakness as I thought. It's been something I've been working on.


    Touché ... +1SB

  • In reply to BatMasterson
    CasualFriday's picture

    Financier4Hire wrote:

    Good answer: I always look for the fool proof solution. Since there is no fool proof solution, you'll stand out as a perfectionist, someone who's always trying to better things up

    I think this one can be viewed poorly, too. Perfectionists can get paralyzed when things aren't 'perfect'. Professionals in fast-paced environments (like banking and PE) where quick decisions often have to be made with incomplete information might view this characteristic negatively.

  • philosophizingphilosoraptor's picture

    It doesnt necessarily have to be a personality weakness - you can just repeat an obvious weakness of your resume, and then give explanations for it, making this a bonus explanation question.

    i.e., "I have low GPA" ---> because I was working two jobs, etc
    "I have no internships" ---> I realized banking was for me late, wanted to explore other options, etc

    If you can avoid making it about your personality, so much the better, because personality wise there is just no good answer...

    To the starving man, beans are caviar

  • bankerella's picture

    Disagree. When I ask this question, I'm not asking for a resume weakness and I won't accept a resume weakness as an answer. I've got their resume right in front of me and I can be the judge of that, after all.

    A pansy-ass answer like "My biggest weakness is that I have no internships" is going to 1) irritate the interviewer and 2) make them ask it a second time.

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