9/4/14

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 (71)

Best Response
9/26/12

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.

WSO's COO (Chief Operating Orangutan) | My story | My Linkedin

PM me if you're traveling to Buenos Aires in 2016 (I live here) :-)

9/26/12

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

"After you work on Wall Street it's a choice, would you rather work at McDonalds or on the sell-side? I would choose McDonalds over the sell-side." - David Tepper

In reply to oreos
9/26/12
Oreos:

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

I have to agree with you there. To me that word makes it seem like you're letting whatever problem get to you

9/26/12

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.

9/26/12
9/26/12

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.

9/26/12

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.

9/26/12

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
9/26/12
Oreos:

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.

9/26/12

@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
Omnia

9/26/12

Do people still ask this question beyond entry level interviewing? Insane.

9/26/12

@ 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 Febreeze
9/26/12
Febreeze:

kryptonite.

Nice. If they are going to throw you a softball... might as well hit a home run.

9/26/12

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...

9/26/12

great thread 'rells, next drink's on me.

I usually just say I'm a perfectionist. I get frustrated when I know the team could have done better..

9/26/12

Does humour work?

Interviewer: So... What would you say is your biggest weakness?

Me: A combination of social awkwardness, arrogance and stupidity... *Smiles*

Interviewer (not amused): Thank your for taking the time to speak with us today. Good luck in your future endeavors.

In reply to bankerella
9/26/12
bankerella:
Oreos:

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.

"After you work on Wall Street it's a choice, would you rather work at McDonalds or on the sell-side? I would choose McDonalds over the sell-side." - David Tepper

In reply to jr253
9/26/12
jr253:

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

"After you work on Wall Street it's a choice, would you rather work at McDonalds or on the sell-side? I would choose McDonalds over the sell-side." - David Tepper

9/26/12

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."

9/26/12

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:
What would P.T. Barnum say about you?

MY BLOG

In reply to SirTradesaLot
9/26/12
SirTradesaLot:

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.

That's a very good question that I've never thought to ask. Think I'll steal it.

9/26/12

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

Ugh the FBI still quotes the Dow...
-Matt Levine

9/26/12

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

9/26/12

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.

9/26/12
9/26/12

Greatest weakness ---> large breasted women

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

9/26/12

Just say "Generally I have trouble lying" Then outline why this interview question is the hardest for you to answer because the status quo is bullshit.

9/26/12

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.

9/26/12

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.

9/26/12

My answer is I suffer from intellectual insecurity, meaning I am always trying to learn more.

9/26/12

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
9/26/12
Febreeze:

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
9/26/12
bankerella:
Febreeze:

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...)

9/27/12

I feel angry when an old foreign looking associate bitch asking me questions other than "you want extra soy sauce with that?"

9/27/12

my biggest weaknesses? definitely bacon...

Robert Shaw
Recruiting Consultant
Lakeshore
Denver, CO

9/27/12

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
9/27/12
808:

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
9/27/12
AndyLouis:

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

9/27/12

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

The Auto Show

9/27/12

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.

9/27/12

I ignore the question and redirect toward what I'm working on improving.

In reply to Relinquis
9/27/12
Relinquis:

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:
What would P.T. Barnum say about you?

MY BLOG

In reply to SirTradesaLot
9/27/12
SirTradesaLot:

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
Omnia

In reply to SirTradesaLot
9/27/12
SirTradesaLot:
Relinquis:

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
9/27/12
SirTradesaLot:
Relinquis:

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.

Touche ... +1SB

In reply to BatMasterson
9/28/12
Financier4Hire:

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.

9/30/12

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

9/30/12

Thunder and grass

9/30/12

biggest strength: rock and water

9/30/12

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.

9/30/12

I actually agree w bankerella on this. Not to beat a dead horse but I've been on both sides of the interview table. I definately don't want to hear some BS about how you have a low GPA, gap in resume, lack experience, etc....that sh*t is obvious and I'm interviewing you despite those "flaws". I 1.) don't want to hear a BS answer about a minor weakness and 2.) would write the candidate off immediately if he/she turned it into a joke.

Every firm, industry has its own culture, etc. so that sh*t may fly sometimes but I want an honest answer and second the self-awareness....I want to hear a real weakness and how you work to overcome that, etc.

To OP, I don't know if you're just starting your career so you may or may not have a ton of work-related experience to relate to the interview but college students should at least be self-aware from group work, etc....more experienced professionals can answer this w work experience. I would respect a professional w 20 years experience that actually answered this Q honestly.

Then again, I work for a RE investment firm....but even as a former banker and PE guy, I just want an honest answer. If a 22 year old answered "I work too hard" or "I'm a perfectionist" I would end the interview immediately. Bottom line is, it's a legit question and you have to give a legit answer.

2/19/13

I know this will make me sound like a "total NOOB" but the answer I usually went with is "I'm a perfectionist, and that does take out a large chunk of my time because I re-read all of the models and emails several times, to make sure an error didn't somehow slip in" but judging by your post, you actually do highlight a personal weakness. Do you think I'm going the wrong way about the answer?

2/19/13

wonder if it's possible to answer the question with a completely left field response and make them laugh to break up the bullshit a little bit; then answer it a bit more serious after they cease guffawing

"Everything comes to those who hustle while they wait."
-Thomas Edison

In reply to WreckEmFinance
2/19/13

WreckEmFinance:
wonder if it's possible to answer the question with a completely left field response and make them laugh to break up the bullshit a little bit; then answer it a bit more serious after they cease guffawing

See my prob with that is.. If the interviewer seems like a cool person sure, but if you get a geezer that evidently has no sense of humor that will fuck you.

In reply to TooBigToFail
2/19/13

TooBigToFail:

See my prob with that is.. If the interviewer seems like a cool person sure, but if you get a geezer that evidently has no sense of humor that will fuck you.

I've had experiences on both ends of this spectrum. Interviewed at a top BB (GS/MS) a few years back and met with two mid level guys that were a blast, having fun and laughing all around. The third guy stepped in and asked for a weakness so I hit him with a joke. He proceeded to bend me over the table and have his way with me (verbally).

I usually go with a solid answer that is a real weakness but an understandable one. For instance in that same interview with some other people (before the laughing commenced) I answered that "at my prior job, one of my biggest strengths became a weakness that I had to alter. I usually set early deadlines for tasks so I have plenty of time to go over them before they're due. Suddenly I was trying to do this with a team of 5-7 people reporting to me however I was being unrealistic and inconsiderate of their other duties by expecting early deadlines to be met. It took a while but I was able to adjust this and am still improving with new situations, it just takes some understanding of what others' responsibilities are like."

Now that I interview a lot of others candidates, I prefer asking "Describe one time that you've failed". I find that this one more directly forces a real weakness out of the candidate instead of getting some BS answer about their "willingness to die for the cause" is somehow a weakness.

"Money was never a big motivation for me, except as a way to keep score. The real excitement is playing the game." - Donald Trump

2/19/13

Serious question, whatever happened to bankerella?

In reply to HOVA
2/19/13

HOVA:
Serious question, whatever happened to bankerella?

She graduated from high school.

"I like money (as do most females) but love is...great :)"-student
"Perhaps you've failed to take into account my hidden assets"-007
Omnia

2/19/13

During 'my story', I mention how multiple shoulder surgeries from football forced my to withdraw my enlistment from the military my senior year of HS. The only interview I was every asked this question I responded with "My shoulders". It got a few laughs and we moved on. If they don't laugh I'll quickly follow up with some actual response.

"If it were easy, everyone would do it"

2/19/13

As has been pointed out up-thread the real reason people ask this question is to see if you are self-aware. The best way to respond to these is to talk about how you have overcome a previous weakness...e.g. over the past one of the areas that I have sought to improve in is X. In order to do this, I have done A,B,C.

As a hiring manager, despite the fact that it is an overused question, I do look to see how self-aware someone is and the way you answer this question tells me a lot about you, how you interact with others and your EQ. A variation on this question that I have used recently is "what did your most recent performance review say were your greatest areas for growth?" The best answers in my opinion are those in which the candidate is honest but at the same time the candidate tells me how they have sought to improve upon their development areas (let's face it, we all have something to improve on and I am generally not going to ding someone for telling me they need to work on something...unless they bring up something that is 100% critical to their ability to perform the job that I am hiring for). The worst answers are ones in which candidates try to BS me, don't talk about how they have tried to improve or can't articulate a true weakness (e.g. telling me something glaringly obvious like my GPA sucks).

I recently asked this question to a candidate and he basically responded by saying that in his last review he did not have any areas of development and that he was a top ranked analyst in terms of overall stack rank and comp and that he could provide references from his prior employer. This answer basically tells me that this guy is clueless, arrogant and has no self-awareness or EQ. This answer alone got him dinged...despite the fact that technically he was the best candidates. In my world you have to have the ability to do the technical work but if you don't have the soft skills you won't be successful. For example, this answered told me that this guy likely doesn't understand how he comes off to others and let's say he is trying to get buy in for an acquisition from our leadership team he is likely not going to be aware enough to maneuver internal politics without alienating people.

In reply to harvardgrad08
2/19/13

harvardgrad08:
As has been pointed out up-thread the real reason people ask this question is to see if you are self-aware. The best way to respond to these is to talk about how you have overcome a previous weakness...e.g. over the past one of the areas that I have sought to improve in is X. In order to do this, I have done A,B,C.

As a hiring manager, despite the fact that it is an overused question, I do look to see how self-aware someone is and the way you answer this question tells me a lot about you, how you interact with others and your EQ. A variation on this question that I have used recently is "what did your most recent performance review say were your greatest areas for growth?" The best answers in my opinion are those in which the candidate is honest but at the same time the candidate tells me how they have sought to improve upon their development areas (let's face it, we all have something to improve on and I am generally not going to ding someone for telling me they need to work on something...unless they bring up something that is 100% critical to their ability to perform the job that I am hiring for). The worst answers are ones in which candidates try to BS me, don't talk about how they have tried to improve or can't articulate a true weakness (e.g. telling me something glaringly obvious like my GPA sucks).

I recently asked this question to a candidate and he basically responded by saying that in his last review he did not have any areas of development and that he was a top ranked analyst in terms of overall stack rank and comp and that he could provide references from his prior employer. This answer basically tells me that this guy is clueless, arrogant and has no self-awareness or EQ. This answer alone got him dinged...despite the fact that technically he was the best candidates. In my world you have to have the ability to do the technical work but if you don't have the soft skills you won't be successful. For example, this answered told me that this guy likely doesn't understand how he comes off to others and let's say he is trying to get buy in for an acquisition from our leadership team he is likely not going to be aware enough to maneuver internal politics without alienating people.


I generally agree and this is why I think 'I lack self awareness' is the silver bullet answer. Yes, let it sink in.

EDIT: nevermind I already answered this. I really do lack self-awareness.

adapt or die:
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2/19/13

What about mentioning procrastination? Or is that too honest? Or too common?

A long time ago a mentor asked me what my biggest flaw was that I wanted to change. He then proceeded to laugh and say that if that was my biggest worry, then I had no worries.

But to this day, I still feel its my procrastination that's kept me from getting a perfect GPA, learning that new language, or or catching up on my professional development.

"It's not that I'm so smart, it's just that I stay with problems longer." - Albert Einstein

2/20/13

ive always said physical imperfections..to then relate to my running of camp hope and making changes

I eat success for breakfast...with skim milk

9/3/14

I don't think it is wise to say I'll get "impatient""frustrated" with difficuties...After all your interviewer has survived these difficulties, and they has no responsibility to show sympathy or agreement to you.

9/4/14

I usually answer that question by saying my weaknesses are always changing because I am constantly working to improve those weaknesses. Then I talk about some weaknesses that I had when I first started college, and tell how I made conscious efforts (implemented a plan) to improve them, and demonstrate an example of how in 2nd - 4th year it worked. Then I finish with, "I feel it's important to realize that everyone has weaknesses, but more importantly, for people to be constantly making efforts to reduce the impact of their weaknesses, or potentially even turn them to strengths."

In reply to Febreeze
9/4/14
9/4/14

I think it is very important to give an honest answer to this question. No, don't tell the interviewer that you have a weakness for mud-pit wrestling, but something that shows you are very introspective and self-aware. Giving a former weakness doesn't count either. This is an opportunity for you to build a relationship of trust with your interviewer, because whether you realize it or not, most of the time, they can tell when you are giving a BS answer or not.

Past example (really happened):

Interviewer 2: You seem to be polished in your answers and very confident.
Interviewer 1: Please tell me your greatest weaknesses.
Me: Well, although it may seem that I am very confident in my answers, on the inside, I am very nervous and shaken up when being put on the spot. This has been a weakness of mine always growing up. Acknowledging this, throughout university, I would always volunteer to speak and the like in order to get over this "stage fright". Nowadays, I may be able to cover up the fact that I'm nervous, but on the inside, it is still a very hard thing for me to do.

I went over the top and even listed another weakness (sometimes I get too focused on work and forget that as part of a team, it's important to sometimes just ask your co-workers how their days are going and build that other side of the relationship).

Which leads me to my next point: make sure to always answer the interviewer's questions, but don't be afraid to go over the top and give a little extra. This turns the interview into a conversation rather than a straight-up Q&A.

Lastly, DON'T REHEARSE YOUR ANSWERS. Sure, having your "go-to" answer is okay, but it is important to get a feel for the situation and to adjust your answer accordingly, in both tone, verbiage and length.

In reply to TooShort
9/4/14

YES. So long as 'you' really mean it, I don't see any flaws with this type of response. The specific example you gave makes a lot of sense to me and I think it would be compelling to the interviewer (as it may well have been!). I would SB you if I could.

"I will tell you how to become rich. Close the doors. Be fearful when others are greedy. Be greedy when others are fearful."
"If you win a gold medal in the Olympics, my bias would be you should quit swimming that day."

9/4/14

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9/5/14
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10/21/14
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