What is your Greatest Weakness?

A question that we are all asked in an interview is “What is your greatest weakness”. I remember early on in my career somebody advising me that I should use this question as an opportunity to present a strength but wrap it up as a weakness. One of the answers that I bet a lot of us used at one point or the other, I know I have used it, is; “I am a stickler for perfection, I sometimes take additional time to make things perfect. I am working on this aspect though. I am trying to finish my work a few days ahead of my deadline to have some extra time if I need to make things perfect.” Or, some bullshit along those lines. But seriously, how many of us sit down and think what our weaknesses really are?

If you are really taking time to think about your weaknesses, that to me is a big leap forward because now you are developing self-awareness. At this point, the word “weakness” doesn’t apply anymore and you move into the zone of “areas to improve on”. Compared to weaknesses, “areas to improve on” has a lot more positive connotation to it and in fact presents us with an encouraging opportunity to learn and improve. Recently, I have been thinking about this question a lot because of a couple of reasons: One, I have been actively looking into things I could personally improve on. Second, I have been interviewing to recruit a senior member for my team and I am seeking team members who are good at both giving and receiving feedback.

And, no I do not ask anybody, What is your greatest weakness in an interview. Instead, I ask, what is some of the recent feedback you have received and what was your reaction? All I am looking for is an honest answer. To understand a person’s style of giving feedback, I ask; How do you provide code review comments to your peers (yes, this is a form of feedback in software engineering), Did you ever have a chance to mentor/coach a junior member of the team, tell me about that experience. Again, these questions will need personalized and honest answers. As we grow in our careers, giving feedback is an important leadership quality one has to develop. But, before we get to that, its even more important to develop self-awareness and have courage to recognize the areas that you need to work on. Knowing the areas to improve on and showing vulnerability is a great leadership quality to have.