Investment Banking Tough Interview Questions: How To Answer the “Greatest Weakness” Question
Barack Obama: I don’t think there’s… a flaw that would hinder my ability to function as president. I think that all of us have things we need to improve. You know, I said during the primary that my management of paper can sometimes be a problem.”
–Pre-Election Interview Between Barack Obama and Katie Couric
Ah, the “greatest weakness” interview question.
If even Barack Obama couldn’t come up with a good answer to this one, what hope do you have?
It’s one of the most difficult and controversial questions in interviews, but if you follow the guidelines here you’ll at least be able to give a better response than Obama – and you’ll land an offer or 2 in the process.
This question – and its many variants, such as “What are your 3 greatest weaknesses?” and “What constructive criticism have you received?” – is a silly one to ask in interviews because:
- 90% of the time interviewees give non-answers that tell you nothing about their abilities.
- The other 10% of the time, they give a legitimate weakness or say something ridiculous that sinks their chances, even if they could actually do the job well.
But that doesn’t mean you won’t get the question anyway – bankers, after all, are from rational.
It’s arguably the toughest “fit” question to answer because:
- Unlike your response to the “Walk me through your resume” question, there’s no template you can follow.
- There is no consensus on what a “good” answer is.
- If you say something stupid or inappropriate, you might get dinged on the spot.
There are 2 schools of thought on how to answer the weakness question in interviews:
- Give a BS answer like “I work too much” or “I’m too much of a perfectionist.”
- Give a legitimate weakness, like saying that you sometimes lose focus when working on extended projects, or that you have trouble delegating work to others, and then show how you’ve been working to improve yourself.
Which One is Correct?
Neither one – or at least, neither one is the best way to answer this question.
Giving a non-answer like the examples in #1 won’t necessarily sink your chances, but the interviewer may stop you mid-sentence and call your bluff, or tell you that you should give a real weakness rather than a fake one.
Some suggest that you should give a non-answer like this because the “weakness” question is just a test of your BSing abilities, which are critical in banking.
I don’t agree with that because the entire interview is a test of your ability to spin the facts and make yourself look better – there’s no need to ask a question like this just to test your ability to spin.
Giving a legitimate weakness that affects your ability to do the job could go either way – occasionally the interviewer will appreciate how you gave a real weakness, but more often than not they will doubt your ability to do the job if you say something that hits too close to home (e.g., you have poor attention to detail).
And the last thing you want to do in an interview is plant a seed of doubt in the mind of the interviewer.
What NOT to Say
As with fashion, cover letters, and grades (bankers like to weed out people with negatives), this question is more about avoiding a bad response than giving a good one.
You should avoid non-answers, answers that show a lack of self-respect, joke answers, and legitimate weaknesses that impair your ability to be a banker:
- “I work too hard!” (non-answer)
- “I’m a perfectionist and expect too much of others.” (non-answer)
- “I go to a non-target school. / I’m not a finance major.” (lack of self-respect)
- “I have chronic back pain / other physical problems.” (TMI)
- “I can’t multi-task well.” (please give up on being a banker right now)
- “I’m not good with numbers.” (you will get tossed out of the interview)
- “I’m too shy.” (this just sounds weird)
- “I have no weaknesses!” (non-answer / joke answer)
- “I voted for [Name] / I’m [Religion Name] religion” (this shows poor judgment)
You may think these sound ridiculous, but I’ve heard variations of everything here mentioned in real interviews and mock interviews.
I know someone will now leave a comment below and say that they gave one of these answers in an interview and it actually worked – and that may happen sometimes, depending on whether your answer was just bad or really bad.
If the interview is going well and you’ve been joking around and talking about non-work-related topics for awhile, your chances of getting away with a joke answer go up.
But you must make sure that your delivery indicates that it’s a joke – if you say it completely straight-faced and don’t laugh afterward, they may assume you’re serious when you triumphantly shout, “I have no weaknesses!”
Unless you’re extremely skilled at interviews and reading people – and if you’re a university student, there’s a 98% chance you’re not – I would stay away from these answers and try a different approach instead.
Criteria for “Less Bad” Answers
There’s still no good answer to this question, but there are answers that are “less bad” than others.
Here’s what you need for a solid answer:
- Your weakness has to be legitimate – no perfectionism, chronic back pain, or claiming that you have no weaknesses.
- But it can’t affect your ability to be an investment banking analyst or associate – so please don’t say that you can’t work long hours, that you easily forget about details, or that you have trouble working in a team.
- And it also has to be something that you’ve been actively working to improve.
Take Me to the Examples, Please
Most advice stops here and doesn’t present sample responses you could give in an interview. So we’re going to fix that by providing not 1, but 3, example answers you could give.
Before you leave a comment saying, “OMGWTF that answer is stupid!!!!” realize that none of these answers is perfect, or even “good” – rather, they are “less bad” alternatives to the really bad answers above.
“Sometimes I Get Too Hung Up on the Details and Don’t See the Bigger Picture.”
The main problem is that this could come across as a non-answer depending on how you phrase it – there’s a thin line between “getting lost in the details” and “working too hard.”
If you want to use this one, you need to give an example of how this affected something real – you were so focused on getting the numbers perfect in one part of the project that you didn’t pay enough attention to the live presentation and lost the audience’s attention in the beginning since you weren’t organized.
But since then, you’ve been working to better allocate time and keep your presentations organized.
This one is good because it’s legitimate, or at least quasi-legitimate, and it doesn’t hurt your ability to be a banker as much as poor attention to detail or inability to multi-task would.
The main downside is that some bankers will see this one as BS and ask you for something real – at which point you could go into a specific example like the one above, or give another sample response here instead.
“I Don’t Have Much / Any Investment Banking or Finance Experience.”
Some bankers will see this one as a non-answer because no one entering the field has experience – but plenty of incoming bankers have had internships before.
The bigger risk is that it may come across as “too real” – so you need to follow-up and talk about how you’ve been getting up to speed and learning a lot on your own, via friends, training programs, and other sources.
You could also point out while no one has full-time experience, some people have had internships where they learned the ropes.
You have to be really careful with the wording because you don’t want to discount yourself – don’t say, “I was an engineering major and not a finance major, so everyone else knows more than me.”
Say, “I haven’t had as much finance experience as other people, so I’ve been working to get up to speed and learn more on my own.”
There’s a subtle difference between this answer and the “I’m not a finance major” one in the Responses to Avoid: the answer here relates to experience, which is at least partially beyond your control, while the other one relates to your major, which is more within your control.
“I’m Not Good at Public Speaking.”
This is a legitimate weakness that hurts your ability to advance in some fields of business – like sales or executive positions – but which is not critical for entry-level investment banking roles.
You do have to communicate via email, on the phone, and in-person all the time as an analyst or associate – but you rarely, if ever, present to large audiences in-person.
Once again, some interviewers may call your bluff and say it’s not a real weakness because public speaking is not critical as a banker – in which case you can use one of the other suggestions above instead.
For this one you should also mention something more specific than “not being good” at public speaking – you get too nervous, you go on for too long, or you don’t properly allocate time – and then say how you’ve been improving (practicing, classes, Toastmasters Club, etc.).
One-Time & Non-Recurring Questions and Footnotes
You won’t always get the exact “What’s your greatest weakness?” question. Other variations include:
- “What are your 3 greatest weaknesses?”
- “What are your 3 greatest weaknesses? I know the first 2 will be BS, so give me 3.”
- “What would your friends say about you?” (Strengths and weaknesses)
- “What flaw do you have that could hurt your ability to do this job?” (The Obama question)
None of these is much different or more difficult than the original question.
Explaining your strengths is easier than giving your weaknesses (give a strength that’s highly relevant to IB, like quantitative ability, and then a specific example of when you used it), so there’s not much to say there.
For the questions where you’re asked to give multiple weaknesses, you could give 2 “non-answers” for the first 2 weaknesses, and then give a real weakness for the last one – if they expect you to do that anyway, you might as well play along.
You might get called out on the “Obama” weakness question if you say something like public speaking, so be prepared with something that’s more relevant to banking, such as lack of experience.
Your Greatest Weaknesses?
So what’s your greatest weakness?
Hopefully your answer doesn’t start with “None” or include “the management of paper.”
And you might just get the offer, even if you still can’t win a US presidential election.
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The subsequent link to the Fashion article seems to be broken, I’m interested in how to avoid the common pitfalls of how one should dress for interviews and for the internship. I’m mostly interested in the male scenario, because I am one, and would like to avoid embarrassing myself.
Unfortunately, we no longer cover that topic (fashion in IB). We may write new/updated versions of the articles in the future.
Hi Brian and M&I Team,
Great advice, and the relevant content in the interview guide is even more insightful.
I used the “decision making” answer for this question, but I changed it a bit and said “sometimes cant make decision on time like I often spend too much time checking numbers and take longer than others to give decisions”. Is that legit?
And that’s actually my real weakness. I often spend time on single number and miss ddl.
I think I said “give conclusions” rather than “give decisions” in the sentence. Just to clarify. Sorry.
Yes, that could work, but maybe frame it as “too much hesitation” or not being able to work quickly enough under pressure or something like that.
I’m an international student in Canada and applying to the big 5 Canadian banks.
Should I give a real weakness by mentioning that I’m a non-native English speaker? And then I will say that I have put in efforts to improve by studying slang terms, language shadowing, listening to Bloomberg radio, etc.
Thanks in advance!
That is not a good weakness because you can’t “fix” it at this stage. Better weaknesses:
“I’m not always good at delegating tasks, so sometimes the workload isn’t divided evenly among team members.”
“I sometimes take too much time to make decisions, or I second-guess myself, which makes it take longer to complete tasks.”
“Sometimes I don’t speak up even when I’m sure that someone else on the team or a superior has made a mistake or overlooked something.”
Your weakness has to be real, but not too real (i.e., don’t say you’re bad at math) and also something that you could conceivably fix. We need to rewrite this article, actually.
Hi Brian, I have 2 weakness answers that I want to choose from, for my corporate banking analyst with a Big 5 Canadian Bank. My prior experience is an internship with a long short equity fund.
1. Great attention to detail is both a blessing and a curse for me. It is a blessing because while working through financial models, one small mistake can cause the models to be out of balance. However, in a fast moving environment such as corporate banking, having a big picture view of priority is also important. These two things can be conflicting at times. That is why I believe I will benefit from working in a structured environment such as a big bank.
2. My biggest weakness is not having prior experience with a big bank. However, I’ve tried to partially overcome this weakness by reaching out to other corporate banking analysts, at your firm and competing firms, to learn as much as possible about the industry and the role.
My my thoughts are these, #1 is a truthful answer for me, and it does reinforce the idea of preferring big bank VS a boutique environment. Downside is will they think you gonna miss deadlines?
#2 seem the safer answer because they gave me an interview regardless. But obviously also a big non-answer, because they already know what my experience is.
Which one do you think is better?
#1 is better, but maybe frame it more like, “Sometimes I take too long to make decisions because I scrutinize the details too closely – so I’ve been working to improve my ability to make quick decisions when needed.”
How would being too private fare as an answer? In my country of origin, it would be considered a serious weakness -even in the workplace-, as the culture is such that you one is perceived as uncommunicative if you choose not to share personal information with others. On the other hand, I do not see how it could hinder work performance, or be considered too serious a weakness. My worry is that it might be culture-specific, and could be perceived as a “BS answer”.
Yes this can potentially be a good answer. I’d also include your “solution” to it – how would you go around your “weakness”?
What if my reply for this question would “My greatest weakness is that I exhaust myself too much. Instead of taking necessary breakes from time to time, i would go head on with the tasks at hand and as soon as i complete them i would ask for more. Although this may come across as actually being a good trait in this line of work, sometimes i take it to the extreme. Even if i get a deadline for a task for next week, i would try and do it straight away. This also means that i would come on weekends even if i dont have any other work. I believe that this my weakness because as my VP told me once that banking is more like a marathon, not a sprint. People need to have breaks, especially in banking, otherwise we risk burning ourselves out. I have been trying to do exactly that in my current long-term internship. Whenever i have free time, i would try to go and either relax and read or do something else to make sure that when i go back to work i can actually perform and will not burn out within the next half a year”
How’s that answer looking for you?
I’d shorten your answer to 3-4 sentences max. The gist of it is: You like to multitask and you tend to “overstretch” yourself at times. So there maybe times when you feel overwhelmed and can’t finish all the tasks you initially hoped for. However, you’ve realised this and made XYZ corrections to rectify this issue.
Is saying that my biggest weakness that I sometimes miss minor details because I like to see the big picture a bad thing to say?
I’d say this is a decent answer, though it can be improved. You want to make sure you talk about how you’ve been “rectifying” the problem because you don’t want to come across as someone who is not attentive to details. Talk about how you’ve improved.
Hi Nicole/Brian, I have an interview for S&T next week.
I was wondering of the following what you think would be more appropriate:
1) public speaking – b/c i’m esl, but i’ve attended many workshops to improve on
2) saying things too honestly that it sometimes gets too straightforward – (when asked a weakness question once, i asked back the interviewer if she really wanted me to answer the question or if I should say that I work too hard)
I think #2 is better to state in an interview, because it is a real weakness but doesn’t really matter for trading roles.
Hi, thank you for this article. it is very useful
I thinking to answer that answer with ” Im not to good in english” ( I’m interviewed in Indonesia, a country in south-east asia. The interviewer most likely will be indonesian people also)
is this will be a eligible answer?
thank you for your attention
You can just say that English is your second language so there are times when your communication skills can be improved.
Could you say that you are poor at creative writing? Or even lack imaginative story telling?
Yes but I don’t think this is as relevant and they may press you for more info i.e. what exactly is your weakness, they may ask?
I have been out of the interviewing world for some time and going back on the job hunt! I could use some feedback for the answer I came up with to “What are your weaknesses?”
When under pressure I sometimes tend to doubt myself and can overthink a final decision but I have been working on learning to trust my instinct and not to second guess myself because sometimes there are no right or wrong answers.
I can come off a little strong when I am requesting something from someone but I in no way demand or boss people around, and I have acknowledge that I need to soften my tone because others may percieve it wrong.
That is probably OK, it’s a decent weakness but may or may not be that relevant depending on the roles you’re going for. I think you’d have to also emphasize that being in a team setting helps you make those final decisions and avoid second-guessing yourself, which is perfect for this company because…. [Insert reason here and highlight the strength of the team.]
Cindy, the first part is decent. However, for the second part, I’d leave out “I in no way demand or boss people around”.
How personal can you be when answering the question?
I wouldn’t be too personal…personal enough that it is professional. Always talk about something work related.
I’ve given 4-5 interviews so far (unsuccessfully), and my answer to this question is that I tend to get lost in the little things, the little details and sometimes lose sight of the bigger picture. I am working to change this by giving a few minutes to plan out how much time needs to be given to each aspect of a project before I move on or re-strategize.
It’s a decent answer. I’m not sure how you conveyed yourself so it’s hard to say which question/which area led you to not perform well in interviews
All these interviews were between 2 firms. One said they have hired someone else. So I believe it was a matter of them finding a better suited individual for the position than me. The other one called me for yet another round. Waiting in their lounge right now! Interview in 15 minutes.
How about saying…My biggest weakness is that i tend to use a bit of sarcasm or pun in my sentences…this with a smile ????
This is not exactly “professional” – you need to talk about your professional weakness and be able to spin it so it seems like you’ve overcome that weakness and that it doesn’t really affect your work
I’m not an HR professional, but I’ve never had a problem with this question. The general principle that I follow is the following based on what makes sense to me in the logical spaces of my mind: Whenever you are asked to talk about your flaws, make sure they are flaws that are born out of lackluster habits or poor guidance, and not flaws born out of bad character. Never speak badly of your character. This distinction is crucial because when your flaws are born out of character (which we all have, but don’t want to talk about), they are extremely difficult to change, if at all. However, when your flaws are born out of bad habit or poor guidance, they can be changed, sometimes from one day to another.
Here are some of the things you can say in response to this question:
You can say that you could improve the way you manage your time. The way you manage your time could be following lengthy to-do lists, and you would like to evolve that into weekly planning, or perhaps eventually monthly planning to have a better vision of what you want to accomplish during the month. But that you find that difficult because things come up and you have to fit them into your schedule immediately, although you are working to improve your ability to predict these exceptions.
Another thing you can say is that you are sometimes perceived as introverted and disconnected from other colleagues because you are generally quiet in the workplace. But this is more of a misperception because during the first few weeks of work, you like to listen attentively and understand the way “things work” at the company, before actually giving opinions about procedures or trying to make helpful suggestions.
You could also say that sometimes it takes you longer to submit assignments because you like to think deeply about the different possible solutions before deciding on which path to take. You think this comes from academia engraining in your head the urge to find various solutions to the same problems. And that you think this urge may be a hindrance to your productivity in the long-run. But that you are trying to find the balance between acting quickly on business problems but also making sure that the decisions you are making are the most effective. You think that your ability to do this will come with more work experience.
You enjoy helping your colleagues with ad-hoc projects on your spare time, but find that most of the time they will keep asking you for more and more until you can no longer keep up with your own work. And that you find it difficult to say no sometimes. But you are working on the delicate balance between fulfilling your own job responsibilities, being available when your colleagues need you, and knowing when to put the “do not disturb” sign on your desk when appropriate.
Whatever you do, don’t say that you can be stubborn, or annoying, or a perfectionist, or that you get annoyed at people, or that you can be unethical “sometimes”, or that you are willing to lie if it helps the company. Hope this helps.
What about – I have trouble giving coworkers feedback because I’m scared of hurting their feelings? lol
Yes this is a decent one, though may not be as believable. They may ask you to elaborate or give another weakness.
I love your site, but this is the first article I thought you folks could have done better with — I thought some of the ones you shot down aren’t -that- bad, and that there could be some more room for diversity. Granted, it’s a very tough subject and you’re the expert here.
Would it be valid to say ‘I tend to be blunt at times, to the point of not being politically correct if I’m not careful’ ?
(I have a tendency to make off-color jokes. On the other hand, I like to think of myself as impartial and give compliments as often as put-downs.)
Anyway, I think it’s impressive you answer every comment. Thanks for the great site
Yes, Mario, this is a valid answer, though I’d also add how you’ve improved over the years so it mitigates the negative effect of your politically correct comment.
To be honest, its a horrible question that deserves good preparation.
Unless you’re lucky and the interviewer doesnt care too much for your answer and understands its a tough question, there are good chances you will not pass the interview if you fail to answer this properly.
I interviewed for a BIG 4 firm, it was actually my first serious interview ever out of university. The whole day of exercises went well. At the end of the day, I was exausted but the hardest part came: An interview with #1 and #2 of the local agency. These guys were extremely serious and seriously evaluating every answer I gave, there was no “winging it” or anything like that.
Then came the weakness question. Give us your top 3 strength and then top 3 weaknesses. Strengths I managed to wing it.
Weaknesses I honestly couldnt give a good answer. Again I was out of university and a total interview rookie.
The best I could say was the perfectionist line, which honestly to me sounded like a real weakness of mine at the time. The two directors seriously started arguing with me. One of them said “Thats not a weakness” with a serious air of contempt. I then seriously attempted to find other weaknesses, and ended up blurting out that I could be stubborn, which I think was the final nail in the coffin.
After a whole great day of interviews, decent/average numerical tests results, I am absolutely certain this was what made me fail. Its vicious and disappointing.
What about time management? Saying that led to subpar grades but over the last semester I achieved a 3.9 GPA , juggled through two banking internships and pledged a fraternity? Would that be a good way to spin it
One of my weaknesses is that I am too critical of things sometimes, how do i spin this into a strength?
You can just say that while you produce great work given your high expectations of yourself and others, you can be perceived as too critical at times. You realize that so you are [Talk about what you’re doing to “rectify” this in one brief sentence]
Could i say something along the lines of…” i am hesitant to ask for help” i have a phone interview for a position at target and i’m trying to find a good legitimate answer
You can say that you’re a very independent person and you like to rely yourself to find solutions to problems. While this is a good thing, it can sometimes be a con because of XYZ reason. And knowing that you’ve been taking XYZ steps to work on that
Would it portray me in a bad light to say that I put too much pressure on myself to succeed which causes unnecessary stress? When I have a lot of things on my plate like multiple exams, papers, work, and other commitments I push myself to succeed in everything and become incredibly stressed. In the end, I typically have been able to balance everything and achieve everything I set out too achieve, but I’m hell to deal with for the week or so where I’m feeling anxiety.
Yes it is a decent response. You may want to elaborate on how your weakness cause trouble in teamwork situations, how you’re aware of the consequence, and what you’ve been doing to “improve” your weakness.
No, this is a terrible response because it communicates that you lack time management skills and the emotional maturity to deal with the stress without it affecting the way you interact with others. Nobody wants to hire somebody that is unpleasant and easily irritable during peak workloads.
Thanks for your input!
Im going to attend interview for post of service engineer
Is this worth:
1)most of the time i dont prefer to speak in loud voice because when i speak louder i get stammering problem more(im a stammerer)
Try your best to speak slowly and calmly – you don’t need to speak too loud to get your message across.
How about: My biggest weakness is interviewing. I tend to sell myself short and not give a complete picture about how much I will be able to benefit the company.
This is too generic. You need to be a lot more specific and authentic. Try to come up with another weakness such as you can be impatient at times because you are a perfectionist and you expect things to be done effectively. Because of that, you can get impatient with people and this (list a short negative impact here). With the above being said, you’ve learned throughout the years and have learned to be more patient and understanding of peoples’ perspective (give an example here), which has really helped you in teams and allowed you to be a better team player.
This is just a rough guideline.
What do you think of the answer: I have a horrible sense of direction (it’s actually true). Do you think that it is too irrelevant, or that it actually indicates that my intelligence is not where it needs to be, considering directional senses are common among most? This answer could also be a point of a joke, or lead into a story about how I got lost somewhere, depending on how the interview is going.
I don’t think this answer is too relevant. You may want to talk about something else like your ADD/impatience etc.
I was thinking of using “I am reluctant to ask for help” as one of my weaknesses.
Some background: Up until the latter half of college, I didn’t make use of tutors, professor/teacher office hours, or study groups. This was partly because of pride and partly because it was just not necessary for me to get my work done. However, as the assignments became tougher in college (especially in my math classes), I found that I needed to utilize all my resources to work effectively and efficiently. So the lesson I learned is that it is better to get a bit of help from someone rather than struggle your way through a problem.
Would this work as a weakness?
Yes, though you can phrase it better. You can talk about how you realize accepting help allows you to utilize your strengths and work more effectively. You don’t need to mention about “struggling” through a problem.
My greatest weakness is that I have always been nervous speaking in public, but then, one day my supv ask me to please pass to the reception to help in person a guest with and issue. At the beginning I didn’t know where to start, I start to shake but later on, as soon I start to talk with the guest, I felt less overwhelmed and more confident and that’s surprises me very much, that I could did it on my own. What do you think??
You could say something like: My biggest fear (and weakness) is approaching strangers and confronting conflict. With the above being said, I realize that my fear was unfounded so I decided to overcome my fear. In this particular incident [List incident where you had to confront a conflict with a stranger, your guest], I was asked to deal with this guest by my supervisor. I [List how you solved the problem creatively for the firm and for the guest], and I realized that I am actually capable of resolving conflicts given my ability to empathize and understand with others. I am also a lot more confident in dealing with strangers given this incident.
The above is a brief answer I crafted on top of my head, I’d suggest you to take some more time to think about the above and craft your own answers using a similar guideline.
Thank You… I am going to modify it to put it in my Professional Portfolio.
Is saying: I tend to intensify the capacity of my projects towards the end rather than working evenly across the entire duration of the project? As such I get extremely exhausted after a project.
And also: I usually run out of time during presentations, I am currently, working on this by eliminating the unimportant and not so critical information in other to better managed my time and also ensure my audience is fully engaged and inspired.
Which one of the above is better weakness?
The second point is better because you haven’t addressed how you’re going to overcome your weakness in your first point. I think you can spin it better by saying how you love giving the best content to the audience during your presentations, and because of that you usually forget about and run out of time because you enjoy giving presentations (or working on a project) so much. As a result, you’ve learned to manage your time better by implementing the follow measures [List – XX]
I’m in the process of preparing for full-time IB interviews and was hoping to receive some feedback on my answer:
I would say my biggest weakness is that I tend to take on too much at once, biting off more than I can chew. Doing so has hindered my ability to complete projects effectively and in a time efficient manner. Recently though, I’ve been more practical in making judgements when it comes to taking on projects. I’ve learned to be more sensitive when it comes to understanding project expectations and the time commitments it may entail.
I’d rephrase the above as: You are a perfectionist and there are times when you take on too many projects at once, which can sometimes backfire because it can be stressful and can admittedly, lead to delay of your other (less important) projects on hand at times. You’ve realized this and made improvements by taking on and excelling in few projects, and communicating effectively and saying no to new projects when you think you have a full plate because you choose quality over quantity.
Thanks for the feedback.
Isn’t saying that you’re a “perfectionist” a bit cliche? I was thinking on the line of maybe “overambitious”. What do you think?
Maybe say that sometimes you have trouble prioritizing because you’re working on so many different things at once, same idea but more of a realistic weakness.
I have a superday coming up and I thought of going with these two weaknesses
1) Getting too hung up on details (using an example similar to your article)
2) I found myself relying too much on my strengths. I’m really good at working under pressure, however, relying on this has led me to leaving things to last minute, however, I’ve been fixing this by establishing deadlines for milestones and using these to put pressure on myself to meet them.
Let me know what you think
I think #2 is probably better, though either one could work.
I’m having an assessment centre soon and I found this post very useful. I was thinking of a possible answer to this question and came up with
” I think I’m a bit short and skinny ” and in this professional environment appearance might be important, especially if you want to impose authority when reaching a higher hierarchical level. And the improvement that is actually what I’ve been doing is working out. There’s nothing to do about height unfortunately.
What do you think?
That is a bad answer because you can’t do anything about height. Try using one of the examples above.
I am currently using the Interview Action Plan contained in the latest version of the IB Interview Guide. In the action plan, you list “difficulty delegating tasks” as a potential weakness to state in interviews. Would you mind sharing insight on some alternative weaknesses that may be suitable for someone interviewing for IB SA and Analyst roles? Thanks in advance!
Other potential weaknesses:
1) Sometimes you’re not good at following up on tasks even after you’ve submitted work.
2) You may not always allocate your time efficiently when getting work done, which can lead to mixed final results.
3) Sometimes you’re not always good at communicating what you’ve been working on to other members of the group.
I was thinking of saying I am a very competitive person. While this could be a positive attribute since it makes me strive to outperform it also has a weakness in that it can lead one to become frustrated easily. Do you think this answer is good?
Eh, it could work but it’s probably not the best answer because they want competitive people in IB.
Hi, I was wondering if the following is a good weakness:
I’m not good at taking blind orders. I need to know why I’m doing everything I’m asked to do. Usually, I can see the reasoning behind tasks that are assigned to me, so it’s fine, but if I don’t understand the point of a task, then I might just ask, “What’s the objective in doing this?” and bring up a discussion about it. If I still don’t see the objective in doing something in the end, I won’t be as motivated in completing the task.
You can leave the last sentence out
Hey ! I got an interview this week and I thought about an answer that I think might be good, but I would really use some feedback:
“I used to have the tendency to expect other people to have the same thinking process than I do. This led me be to be often frustrated when facing different ways of thinking. But I worked on it a lot, and especially since I made the foreign exchange program in Milan where I encountered so many different people with backgrounds ranging from Fashion to Engineering, I am able to understand different ways of thinking. And now I actually find it more interesting to speak with someone with a totally different way of thinking”
You’re more accepting of diverse opinion and open-minded than you were before. Decent answer; could be better.
Ok thank you a lot, I’ll try to phrase it more the way you did.
Nice Article, I have an interview next week for the manager position (Procurement). I feel scary for this question and sort out my real weakness to answer in the interview. I seek your help on this, my real weakness are as:
1.I am not good listener (But I am working on it’s improvement)
2. Sometime I become tough for the team, drive with tight rein
3. My too much involvement in the work is my weakness and strength at the same time (Weakness for my family and Strength for my Company)
2. You have really high standards. While you produce very high quality work, sometimes your high standard can come across as demanding to others
Thanks, what’s your sugesstions should I mention 1 & 3 as well
Listing one weakness is fine. Most interviewers only want one convincing weakness. If they ask for more, you can mention the rest though I’d probably rephrase them in a positive light
Reading your article helped me a bunch. Up until now, my answers to this question have all been quite lame and leave me less than confident to say it to a potentail employer. Then the lightbulb just went on and voila: I have come up with the perfect weakness. I have hefty volunteer experience that has given most of my milestones and best skills, but sometimes these are not taken very seriously by potential employers because I achieved them in a volunteer capacity rather than in a professional one. This is a true weakness. BAM! Feel free to use this as an example folks. Over-n-out.
What about presentation skills? When answering the question, I would say my presentation skills are not at the level that I would like them to be. I often see salesmen and high level executives give presentations and it’s almost as if they’re telling a story. They’re able to use many techniques and strategies that really grasp the audiences attention and that’s something I’m definitely in the process of improving.
That’s a good one, certainly better than some of the poor answers I’ve heard there before. Though they may say it’s not as relevant at the junior levels.
I’ve been working on this question and would appreciate a comment on this answer:
The overarching difficulty I have is keeping my strong personality in balance. Three specific situations are:
I am a problem solver, but then I tend to see things in negative light. Basically need to chill out more.
I am a hard worker, but tend to work-a-holism. So I have built more hobbies and fun into my life and maintain work-life balance
I am very careful with money, but tend to be parsimonious. So I budget money in the month to be generous with others.
Thanks for your time.
That’s OK but seems a little too much like the “I work too hard!” type of weakness… so may not be the best approach. Better to say something like your inability to delegate tasks effectively.
My bigest weakness is that i am a determined person.once i think to do something,i dont care about how much work,how much effort,how much enery goes to solve that problem.for which,in most of cases i make neglet to my family,friends even to my health.As i m a determined person that is my weakness.
n my 2nd weakness is i m so friendly.somewhere it is profitable for me,but most of the cases i consider that they are not so commited like me.As i m friend lover i always give more priority to them,for which i lost more time.
Ok, you might want to fine tune the above in interviews.
what would be the best answer for the question have you played any game in your real life?if yes then how will you bluff me??
I have never had this questions raised to me before. Readers might be able to help
My friends tell me that I’m a control freak, not towards people, but I want to control every situation, because I’m scared of unexpected things happen. I know an analyst should be good with dealing last minute changes, so it sounds not a good idea to tell that, but it’s honest and also has something to do being perfectionist. What do you think about this answer?
Sure. It sounds fine. Put it in a nicer way though. I’m sure you can figure how to do so
The best answer to the question, “What is your biggest weakness?” is:
“An intolerance of ill-conceived interview questions!”
You won’t get the job, but you’ll let the interviewer know that you’re onto their little game. Moreover, as this article suggests at the beginning, the “weakness” question *is* a very poor question for an interviewer to ask an interviewee. So much so, that I’d say that any organisation that see fit to ask this question is an organisation that you don’t want to work for anyway, so the above response will suffice.
Yes, but try saying that in an investment banking interview and you’ll be thrown out in about 2 minutes
My weakness is re-checking the works iv done.Though i know iv locked well both my bike and house,i go a few yards return and check whether its perfectly locked or not.My weakness helped in perfection of things.Im trying to overcome my weakness by being cool and more confident……WILL THIS WORK???
Not really. You have to be more specific and spin in with a business angle
I have been contemplating my weakness. I have my definite number 1 down and an explanation of improvement. My question is as a number two – does getting nervous making *impromptu* speeches in front of large audiences count as a weakness. In my school a several times during the year student had to attend school sponsored events. Occasionally, it would be interactive sessions such as interviewing. I was once called out of the audience to answer a question. I was scared as hell (albeit this was freshman year). I have joined a few clubs/org. and improved those skills (short version) since. Would this be a legitimate answer?
Sure but do try to say something that shows you’ve been working on your weakness though
Do you think talking about how you are love your family but you aren’t so great at keeping in touch with them through emails and phones is an okay answer? (that is my real weakness btw) And that I am working on, sparing 1 -2hrs a week emailing them?
No that is not a weakness. Weakness: traits/skills that do not come naturally to you (maybe you’re too stubborn, maybe you’re a perfectionist etc). But saying you’re not good at keeping in touch w ppl isn’t good esp in banking cause banking requires you to be on call 24-7
Would saying your weakness is that English is not your first language hurt your chance?
This is a common question which I just addressed w my client. Not having English as your first language is not a weakness. Don’t emphasize it. People will know when they interview you because most interviews are conducted in English. And if they have a concern re your English skills they will voice it, or ask questions about it. At that point, you can’t do much (so no pt in worrying) because English isn’t something you can pick up in a week or two. Focus on your strengths.
Hi, Could I say I am sometimes too driven with tasks that I neglect other aspects of my life? That it isn’t because I didn’t have time to tend to other stuff but just because that I am too focused. Could I also cite an example of a time i got sick when I worked too much and too hard, and how I know that sometimes taking on too much isn’t good?
See my previous response, which is copied and pasted here: P.S. While we appreciate your numerous questions on your resume, I’d suggest you to refer to our numerous resume templates & articles if you have other questions
my honest to god weakness in business is that I cannot delegate. I know this sounds like i’m a perfectionist but it’s true so it ends up hurting me because I take on more work than I can handle.
I think it’s because I am scared to trust other people’s judgment.
Anyway I can spin this to not look fake nor detrimental to me in an interview? Can I say I have a hard time delegating so i’ve been working on fixing it by playing more team sports and learning how to trust my co-workers (aka team-mates)
Just say you are a perfectionist– While you are a team player, you like to oversee and be involved in all aspects of a work project. You are v responsible but in some cases, you might be perceived as a “micro-manager”. You are learning to delegate tasks to others given your self awareness of the above. Ta!
Usually they are asking for weaknesses in your personal characteristics so public speaking/lack of experience in banking is too specific and the “too much into details” answer will be called as a non-answer. I realize that there is no good answer, but sometimes knowing these three will not help you enough. To be honest, I’m quite mad every time I get such a question and just want to say “I will now BS a bit, you will call my BS and we will move on, so let’s move on straight away”. Never did that though and used the BS approach with similar answers as you gave :)
Pick your poison.
I use something like “Well, I always get very excited by new ideas and brainstorming and sometimes my creativity runs away with itself. On some projects I find myself trying to build a beautiful intricate system with everything perfect, so much so that I end up chasing a rabbit or two. What I’ve done to counteract this is to make out my to-do list, set myself priorities and give myself set deadlines. “
That’s ok, I might down-play the creativity part a bit though because bankers don’t like creative people.
Brian – I’d just like your views on a couple of potential answers to this awkward question:
Something along the lines of ‘getting across in interviews quite how much I want this job’ and then how doing practice interviews at University has enabled me to be more coherent etc
The second one is to do with being super competitive/hating losing – surely this answer can lead into many other avenues of discussion, while not actually being a ‘real’ weakness?
??? I don’t understand the first question. For the second one about being too competitive, I would avoid that because they might then say, “So, you’re not a team player?”
Est, I think this answer would make you look clueless and were I the interviewer you’d be dinged. To say you are “lacking understanding of the devastating scope of such troughs” makes you look like you haven’t been paying attention to what has happened in the industry. The fact that you in fact don’t have experience working through that situation is not relevant – you still should know enough that you wouldn’t make this claim.
To Brian, great article. One really wonders why interviewers ask this though. Everyone hates to get this one and no one will answer in a way that gives real information of value – both of these facts everyone knows. So, the interviewer really is just wasting time.
What about responding to the question with a weakness that sounds legitimate (so it doesn’t sound like a non-answer) but when analysed more deeply, the pros outweigh the cons?
I’m 20 years old, and I think answering the question with “Because I’m young and have not worked through a major recession or global scale market crash like some of your other potentially older candidates I’m lacking understanding in the devastating scope of such industry troughs”.
This answer acknowledges a legitimate weakness I have (it not being my personal fault that i’m young though) while proding the employer to consider the benefits of hiring a younger employee vs an older one.
Obviously it shouldn’t be said in a patronizing tone as the senior employer may take it as offensive.
Yeah. You should have wrote this article.
I don’t think that’s a great answer because everyone entering the field has that “weakness.” It’s not a real weakness if it applies to every single person applying for that job… no 40-year olds can even become investment banking analysts.
So it’s not as foolish as one of the “bad” answers above, but I still wouldn’t give it in an interview. I’m not sure whether James below was serious or not, but it’s not a great answer in my view. And James: it’s “should have written.”
Nice Bryan. Good one.
I found that “I have trouble saying no and tend to take on too much” a good one – you can mitigate by saying that you’re now much better at managing people’s expectations and judging the time commitments of projects.
How do you think Lazard IBD or Lazard Restructuring compares with Goldman Sachs IBD in terms of experience and exit opportunities to PE/HF?
You generally don’t get as good access to the mega-funds coming from Lazard (at least in the US and Asia), so no. In Europe, maybe.
I have to agree with Brian’s approach. I never knew why this question was so difficult for me until I came on this site and bought the 400 Investment Banking Questions manual and came across Brian’s suggestion. That’s when I realized that this question has no good answers but if you stick to the public speaking option, it will do wonders for you. I used it for every interview I had since buying the manual, and it seemed to satisfy the interviewer enough to move on to the next question.
The first option, altough I like it, is used way to often. When I gave that answer, the interviewer pressed me for a “real” weakness. But when I responded with the public speaking one, I felt like a champ. The interviewer looked at me and nodded his head.
Glad to hear it
Excellent article. Too often I have given real weaknesses which have had led to negative results, despite the principles of “honesty”.
Here is something I would suggest as a weakness- say that you do not know a certain language.
It is real, it generally does not affect the analyst position, and it can be actively addressed (Rosetta stone, buying books, etc.)
Come up with a good reason why you want to learn the language (for future business?, cultural reasons?, etc.), and always make sure the language you pick is not required for the job!
I think that would work better in Europe or Asia than in the US – most positions there don’t require it.
I’m a junior who’s looking for some advice on choosing a summer internship.
1. Cornerstone Research(Econ/Litigation Consulting)
2. BAAM (Blackstone Alternative Asset Management, a hedge fund of funds)
Goal is to break into IBD FT senior year. I know an IBD internship would be better but am having trouble landing it.
Secondary goal is to consider working in these two firms full time and the possible exit opps going into top MBA and potentially PE/HF (long stretch but just planning ahead).
I would say #2 because of the Blackstone name and since it’s at least in finance rather than consulting.
Could you explain in more detail why it is bad to say you are from a non-target?
Because if anything, coming from a non-target should be a strength: you worked 100x harder than Princeton kids to get the interview and have proven that you can do whatever it takes to get in.
Also, a lot of times people say that to imply that they’re not from a wealthy background, which is another not-good weakness because it sounds like you’re trying to make the interviewer feel sorry for you. Yes, it’s harder to get in if you don’t have a privileged background, but if anything you should position that as a strength.
so far I’ve been using an answer along the lines of:
“Well.. my non-target background doesn’t impress people as much as an HYP education, but the fact i’m interviewing in front of you today shows, despite coming from _school_, I worked hard for this opportunity because this job really means a lot to me.”
do you think I can get away with that?
That’s OK but I would still go with one of the suggestions above (some good ones in the comments as well) and mention something like a non-finance background or not as much work experience rather than your school.
Thanks a lot for the feedback
Is accent a legitimate one? I mean you speak English well, but you have an accent b/c of being a foreigner? I notice there are a lot of foreign bankers in the States, and some of them have a very strong accent. So just wondering if saying so might get on their nerves.
I wouldn’t say that because it’s not a real problem as long as you are understandable.
Thank you for sharing your valuable insights on this tricky question Brian!
My best answer I’ve given in an interview was, “I’ve been told that I talk too fast sometimes–especially when I get excited about my work.” I said that because a) it’s true; b) it shows that that I have passion for my work and that I get excited and c) I noticed the interviewer was a fast talker as well. I think interviewing is very similar to sales…but that in the instance you are selling yourself. One of the skills salesmen try to hone is “mirroring” and its based on the tendency for people to like and feel comfortable with people who are similar to themselves. It’s more subtle than just saying “me too” to everything. Instead, you tend to try to mirror their body language and speak at their pace and tone. Of course it’s nice to find common interests and values as well (clues are all over their office which can tell you they are into sports, are a family man, etc.) But if you can even mirror their way of relaying ideas as well (analogies they tend to use, analytical, etc.), even better. But to get back to answering the weakness question, if you can read a “weakness” in them that they can relate to, I think that’s the best answer you can give.
That could work, though I think it’s a better response if you’re going for S&T (and mostly sales) positions since it’s more of a real problem there. But even in banking that could be a legitimate weakness as well.
I have an upcoming internship superday.
I have been thinking about my weaknesses and have thought of two legitimate ones.
1) I tend to procrastinate. Have been working on keeping an agenda, dividing long projects into different sections and setting myself specific dates for these sections to be completed.
2) I don’t know the in’s and out’s of all 3 financial statements as much as I would like. Have been looking at basic accounting books in order to solidy my base.
What do you think? Thank you
1) Could be OK but might be a little “too real” so you have to be really careful with the wording there.
2) I like this one, though again you need to emphasize how you’ve been learning a lot on your own. If you say this they will probably jump into accounting questions, so be prepared.
Why do you think 1) is too real?
How about tying to the sometimes taking on too much work at once, which at this point might be seen as a strength but sometimes causes me to procrastinate on some projects,, hence the agenda.
Because if you actually procrastinate a lot that will hurt you in banking. You need to jump on things ASAP or you will get screwed at the last-minute when 5 new assignments come in. Taking on too much work is a little generic / just a disguised strength so I wouldn’t necessarily recommend it.
How about wording it along the lines of “getting distracted’, but specifically not adding words such as “often” or “easily”?
I still think that’s less than an ideal answer.
Sorry, I’m watching the State of the Union and a bit distracted by the Obama references – we’re they meant to be pejorative?
I thought his effectiveness was his authenticness, which is difficult to fake, like those smiling muscles we don’t have conscious control without the accompanying emotion necessary to avoid obvious fake smiling.
Something like good interviewing is similar to good acting – you have to give it some authenticity – which is usually associated with some level of honesty and working from there you can usually produce good answers, or some such?
And if it isn’t pejorative then I apologize for the inference, it’s just I’ve been a big fan of the site, sharing it with others, because of the credibility of messages and messenger.
Um I think you might be reading too much into this. My point was that it’s a difficult question to answer even for the most eloquent speakers and calmest thinkers.
Having lived outside of the country since 2008, I didn’t even realize that today was the State of the Union speech so the timing was coincidental.
Sorry, my bad. I think it was because the email with the link to this article said a couple of other things that combined with the article…well you see what I mean.
Could someon give a percentage of people (rough estimate) who actually make it to the vice president position starting from the applicant position?
-how many people get the analyst job after applying
-how many people become associates from analysts
-how many people get laid off on the way
-how many get the vp position
This would be really helpful to me in considering my major. By the way your website is amazing and helpful!
Please pose this type of question in the relevant article, such as the one on promotion here: https://mergersandinquisitions.com/analyst-to-associate/ In the future we’re going to start deleting / moving off-topic comments
What about reverting to humor in team situations that may sidetrack the group?
That could work, a good example is key though.
Great article; indeed this question is one of the toughest and always comes up at interviews…
However I think that most of the time interviewers are looking for a weakness in a trait of your personality. saying that you’r not good at public speaking is too specific, too precise. I would rather say that i am too nervous use public speaking as an example of situations when i get nervous
Why do you discard the “being shy” as a bad answer? i think it’s a good answer, because it’s something that you’r not responsible for and on which you can work in order to improve.
unwillingness to delegate is also a good one
being a perfectionist is a good one but is way too common, and you absolutely don’t want to say what every candidate say.
The problem with saying something about your personality is that your personality is harder to “fix” than specific skills. Yes you might change over time but usually the change is gradual unless you have a dramatic incident.
“Being shy” just sounds odd because it’s not something you would want to tell someone new you just met… “Oh hi I’m so-and-so, and by the way I’m shy.” They may also hold it against you because shy people do not get ahead in finance, and even as an analyst you have to constantly hunt people down, be assertive, and get what you need from people who don’t like you.
Not an IB interview, but i remember giving the public speaking answer. The interviewer promptly shot me down and said – thats a skill, i am asking about you, your personality. Ouch!
What a coincidence. At one of my superdays, the md asked me what my favorite class is, and I picked a public speaking course and told a story about how I overcame the weakness in public speaking. He really liked it and I got the offer.
There you go, we have a winner
Very interesting article, I had an assessment centre myself last week and in one of the interviews I was asked: “What are your weaknesses?”
The three I had prepared were: 1. being a perfectionist (I really am), 2. unwillingness to delegate and 3. being shy.
In the interview I only used 1. and 2. and I was able to legitimately explain why I have very high standards, give an example of when this has caused a problem and detail steps I have taken to improve. This may not work for everyone though and my interview was going very well so the interviewers were already “on my side” and prepared to listen to my explanation without shooting it down straight away.
Anyway I got the offer, largely thanks to all the info and interview prep I have read on M&I. Thanks!!
That’s true, sometimes specific examples can overcome those types of responses
I really liked this article! Seems to be that this is one of the trickiest interview questions, and I like your choice of answers.
In the past, before interviews where I expected I might be asked this question, I thought about my real weaknesses (everyone has them, obviously) and then picked one that was A) less critical to the job I was interviewing for; B) could be presented in a way that wouldn’t put a quick end to the job interview; C) I was actively working on an improving. For me, one was that I get very excited by brainstorming, creativity and new ideas, so much so that I can sometimes chase a rabbit or two while on an undefined project. To counteract that, I’ve learned to give myself set deadlines, etc etc etc
In this vein, I’d like to republish the article above on my website, which is a career resource for young professional women. Is that possible? Thanks!
Um you can change around the content and publish it but you can’t copy it directly because search engines penalize duplicate content (I’m assuming you know this if you’ve been working online for some time).
Similar experience with me. Gave a non-answer, and then she asked, “I know your first answer was what you prepared for the interview, so give me another one that’s a real weakness”.
Yup very common to get that
At one of my superdays, a guy asked me for a weakness, to which I responded with a typical answer. Then he asked for another, to which I gave a similar type of answer. Finally, he asked me for a third, and I sort of blanked, so I told him that my 40 yard dash time wasn’t as fast as it used to be, and that I really needed to run more to get it back up to speed. He thought it was funny, and I managed to get a follow-up interview, although I’m not really sure how… Would not recommend that, though.
Hah good one. Legitimate but probably not critical to banking… unless you have to run a lot to drop off pitch books