3 Alternatives for “What’s Your Biggest Weakness”

We have all heard this question in a job interview, either when interviewing for a job as the candidate or we have asked it as the interviewer. Indeed, “what’s your biggest weakness?” or sometimes, “what are THREE of your biggest weaknesses?” is still one of the most commonly asked questions in job interviews. It is so common that many recruiters and hiring managers just keep asking it in the interviews without ever stopping to think of its purpose.

The problem with this question is that it doesn’t really provide us with any useful information about the interviewee. Are we seriously expecting the candidate to share with us, someone they have just met for the first time, their greatest weakness? Not even their families and closest friends may be aware of what the person considers as their greatest weakness but we think that they will confide in us? I don’t think so. The answer we will receive is most likely going to be made up as no one is really going to share their greatest weakness when interviewing for a job and also often times rehearsed beforehand due to the fact that the same question is being asked in most job interviews. Thus the answer provides us with zero helpful information for the hiring decision.

In addition to the uselessness of the information gathered, asking this question may also sabotage the candidate experience. If the organization is committed to workplace happiness, then the recruiters and hiring managers should be focused on creating positive candidate experiences. The candidate experience will either set the basis for the employee experience if the candidate joins the team or in the case they don’t, they are still likely to speak about their experience to others, thus impacting our employer brand. Needless to say, inquiring about a person’s biggest weaknesses is not going to contribute to a positive experience.

Now, I know what some of y’all are thinking: “But I ask that question because I want to see how well the candidate knows themselves.” or “I need my employees to be able to know their weaknesses so that they know where they need to improve.”. And I hear ya. That, indeed, is something that will help you to make the hiring decision. I don’t believe that most interviewers who ask candidates about their greatest weaknesses have bad intentions at all. However, there are other ways to frame your question to make sure that you are actually gathering useful information while keeping the tone of the interview positive. Here are three examples of what you could ask instead:

When is the last time you developed a new professional skill or improved an existing one? What was the skill? How did you go about developing/improving it? What was the outcome?

Here you are gaining knowledge on how well the candidate knows their areas of improvement and also how they have developed in those areas. By framing the question this way, you are more likely to get honest answers and create a better experience for the candidate because you are focusing on the person’s development (positive) rather than inquiring about their weaknesses (negative).

If you could change one decision that you have taken in your career so far, what would that be? What would you do differently now?

All of us have made mistakes during our careers. This question can help you understand what the candidate has learned about their mistakes. Note that I am not mentioning the word “mistake” here which would be negative the same way as “weakness” is.

Considering the requirements of this role, what do you think would be the biggest challenge for you? What steps would you consider taking to overcome this challenge?

Here you are focusing on how the candidate believes they will perform in the role they are currently interviewing for. If they already know what will be challenging for them AND have thought about how they will tackle that challenge, you may have just found your new superstar.

“What’s your biggest weakness?” is a poor interview question that rarely provides us with useful information or helps us create positive candidate experiences. By framing your question differently, you are more likely to get honest answers, avoid the over-rehearsed ones, and make your interviewee feel more comfortable, thus creating a better candidate experiences. Do you have any other go-to questions for understanding a candidate’s self-knowledge and drive to improve and develop themselves? Share in the comment section below!

Alejandro Escamilla

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