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."
Perfect Way to Answer What is Your Greatest Weakness?
While there is no one right answer, there are definitely WRONG answers. For example, you don't want to touch on points that are critical to working in your profession. For example, you don't want to say - I "don't like working with others" or "struggle with quantitative analysis."
You want your weakness to be qualitative and fairly easily fixable.
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'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 someonde they're (regardless of rank) wrong has increased dramatically.
Still need help figuring out a weakness - check out some examples below:
- Struggle with delegation
- Tendancy to spin your wheels without asking for help
- Often get lost in the details and forget the big picture
Also - CNBC shared a good guide with tips on how to answer this question.
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