Personally I love this question. Why? Because it gives you a chance to shine and share your personal and professional
growth muscles. Assuming you’ve turned a weakness around at some point in your career history, that success, when paired with this template, will enable you to knock this interview answer out of the proverbial ballpark.
First, complete the following exercises. Then plug your responses into the answer template below. Feel free to reword as needed to employ your content and make the result sound genuinely like you.
“What’s Your Greatest Weakness” Answer Ingredients
- Choose a weakness that once threatened you, your team, or your work performance but no longer does so.
- List 3 ways this weakness had a negative impact on you, your team, or your work performance.
- List 3 consequences these negative impacts could have produced on you, your team, or your career if you had ignored them.
- What steps did you take to address this weakness and avert these negative consequences? List 5 to 10 of your specific action steps in order.
- What specific positive changes did your interventions spawn?
- In what 2-3 ways has this weakness end up benefiting your leadership or career?
- How do you feel about this weakness all of these years later?
“What’s Your Greatest Weakness” Answer Template
One of the greatest weaknesses I faced in my early career was (insert #1). (#1) was a problem for me, in that it caused (insert 1 to 3 negative impacts from #2). If I had not taken action, (#1) would have caused (insert 1 to 3 consequences from #3).
Instead, I strategized a personal development plan spanning (insert several self-improvement steps from #4). These action steps turned the situation completely around and enabled (insert 1 to 3 positive changes from #5). While I had not planned or expected this, (#1) actually benefited my career by (inserting 2 to 3 benefits from #6). Ultimately, I feel (#7) about (#1) for leading me to make these substantive changes in my work life.
“What’s Your Greatest Weakness” Sample Answer
Since it always helps to see a true-life example, here’s one paraphrased from an executive client of mine:
As a rapid thinker, I found that my decisive problem-solving approach sometimes intimidated members of the first team I ever led. This caused some of the less confident members of my department to clam up and refrain from contributing their own ideas and suggestions. This was not at all the environment I wanted to cultivate; had I allowed this situation to continue I have no doubt that team performance would have suffered. I might even have lost my job; I certainly would not have earned the promotions I later went on to experience.
Determined to change my leadership style, I sought out permission to take a 360 evaluation at work. I also pursued leadership assessment and coaching on my own and participated in every leadership training option offered through my company. I asked for specific feedback from members of my team and began implementing a range of team-building, creativity, and decision-making activities in our department meetings.
My department’s personality began to shift and the more quiet members began to contribute more in meetings and brainstorming sessions. Several staff came forward with brilliant ideas I immediately championed with my manager. Within the next 5 years nearly half of my team was promoted at the company and the employees who remained in my department later followed me on my subsequent promotions within that company and others.
Looking back now, I’m grateful that my rapid thinking and decisive problem-solving style initiated so much personal and professional growth. I’ve learned to embrace my growth edges and support my team in doing the same. The result is performance that earned my department #1 ranking out of 34 teams nationally for the last 3 years.
So what’s your greatest weakness and what gold was it hiding?