How to Answer “What Is Your Greatest Weakness?” in a Product Manager Interview
A job interview is the perfect time to put your best foot forward; whether or not you move on to the next round of the interviewing process — or even whether or not you receive a job offer — can depend on your ability to represent your strengths and skills in the best way possible. But what happens when that objective is turned on its head?
The classic question “What is your greatest weakness?” is a time honored staple in interviews, and a favourite of recruiters across many different fields. Product management is no exception! How you answer can make or break your chance at making a strong impression, so it’s important to plan accordingly
What Are Recruiters Looking for When They Ask About Weaknesses?
Why do Product Manager interviewers ask this question, and how can we approach this question successfully? No matter what you answer, it is important to keep in mind that your response must walk the line between being too honest and trying too hard.
Being too blunt or thoughtlessly personal about what your greatest weakness is can easily scare away recruiters. But clichéd answers such as “my greatest weakness is that I care too much” or that your greatest weakness is that you “work too hard” are more likely to make you seem fake and bland.
When a recruiter is asking you this question in a product management interview, they are not just asking you to tell them what you think they want to hear. Most often, what they are trying to do is get a handle on how self aware you are. Second, they might be trying to better understand how that self awareness translates to your work. To help illustrate this, we have outlined some basic templates below for two different approaches to answering this question.
Interview Answer Templates for “What Is Your Greatest Weakness”
1. The ‘Self-Aware” Template
The first template involves tapping into your self awareness and getting as much of a feeling for the culture you are trying to mesh with as you can. If you can come to know the crowd you are speaking to, you will be able to tailor your response to suit your audience accordingly.
For example, say that you are interviewing for a Product Manager position with a company based in the health and fitness tech industry. Knowing that the industry and the kind of people that it attracts are more likely to be fitness enthusiasts themselves, we can approach the question from the perspective of someone identifying a weakness in their training regimen. To align with this culture of goal-oriented, measurable self-improvement, a great strategy would be to highlight the areas that you have set goals in your own life to improve and the ways that you have gone about improving them.
To do this successfully, try to think back on a time that you found yourself being challenged to take on a responsibility that was outside of your knowledge base. Use this as an example of a shortcoming, and explain what steps you took to get yourself ‘conditioned’ and up to the task. This demonstrates a key product management skill; adaptability.
After all, if there’s a task to do and no one is available to do it, you can bet that the Product Manager will have to step up and play that role until someone can be brought in. The ability to learn something that has nothing to do with your core competencies is the hallmark of a good Product Manager and a flexible leader.
2. The ‘Shift the Focus’ Template
The second template for answering this question is a little more specific, and may be more useful if you have previous Product Management experience. The goal is to simply find a way to shift the focus from yourself to the weaknesses of the process or the systems that you were working with in the past. You never want to attach yourself to your weaknesses if possible. Remaining constructive, try to highlight your focus on troubleshooting a weak point of a team you worked with previously.
For example, maybe you were a part of a team that didn’t use agile methodologies, but you were able to research and find a way to adapt the framework for your team and get everybody on board. By explaining how you were able to take a grounded approach to improving together as a team, or improving a process that wasn’t serving the system, you are able to quietly make your own personal weaknesses on the job less relevant and really help to shift that focus to your own capabilities. It’s not about where you fall short, but how you respond in the face of challenge.
How to Strategically Position Your Greatest Weakness
Both of these templates share a common theme. The strategy is to appeal to this perspective of realistic self-awareness, so that you will be able to really shift the focus from the short coming on to the action you take to combat it. Just like prioritizing a product roadmap, you want to find a way to demonstrate that you are able to identify the areas that are lacking — and more importantly, the areas that are going to have the biggest impact on everything else.
The ideal is to really maximize the returns you get from your efforts to improve. Not only is it an invaluable ability to any product management team, but it’s also a great way to reframe a weakness as a strength!
With that in mind, you now have two templates for how to answer the question, ‘what is your greatest weakness’. Don’t let your greatest weakness be a poorly-delivered answer: Nothing kills an interview faster than sounding unprepared and unsure.
You can use these templates to adapt your own words and experiences into an effective answer and put something in writing. Prepare a rough outline of your response so that when this question comes up you will be able to sound thoughtful and prepared. Remember to try and keep it brief and to the point. You shouldn’t need more than a minute and a half to give your answer.
Get Ready to Crush Your Product Manager Interview
With common questions like these, there is no excuse for being caught off guard. You should expect this question in any interview, and if you go ahead and wing it you could be creating more pain and frustration than is necessary. Stop hurting your job hunt!
If you need help putting together your answer or have trouble figuring out how to apply these templates, do yourself a favour and schedule a free 30 minute consultation with us. Let one of our senior coaches take a look at your answer: we’d be happy to help.