How to Answer 'What Is Your Greatest Fear?'

scared woman hands up

Behavioural interview questions are always tricky to answer as they put us on the spot. One of the most common questions that you may be asked is “what's your greatest fear?”, as your fears can tell an interviewer a lot about your character, abilities and how you cope in the workplace.

When preparing for an interview, keep this question in mind because unless you've got a good answer lined up, it could end up costing you the job.

Points to keep in mind

When you approach this question, there are a few things to keep in mind.

  • The interviewer is trying to dig up information that they feel is useful. Your fears could tell them a lot about how you approach your career, so consider this when choosing your answer. 
  • Keep your answer positive. It might seem that it can only be answered negatively, but answering this question effectively requires you to craft a sanguine answer.
  • Do not mention failure; this can make you look like a defeatist or an insecure perfectionist.
  • Be honest. If the interviewer senses that you are not being truthful, it will not reflect well on you at all.

How to answer the question

The key to answering any interview question is confidence. Be assertive in what you're saying. The following are a couple of tips and examples to help you with this question.

Example 1

Tell them nothing you don’t have to. If they have not mentioned your career specifically, choose a universal fear. There are many fears that are common across the population but do not choose an answer that is too off topic. An easy, understandable answer may involve family, for instance.

“To be honest, there is nothing specific that I fear. If I had to choose a fear, I would mention something happening to a family member. I feel as though this is a common fear. I am very close to my family, especially my father.”

There's a good chance that one of your family members taught you an important lesson or skill that you can relate to your career; if so, tie this into your answer. After you express this universal fear of losing a family member say something regarding the position you're after.

For example, you may be applying for an accountant position. You could elaborate on your answer with, “my father is amazing with numbers. He was an accountant himself and started my fascination with numbers and mathematics. It all began while I was in school. He would help me with my homework; he's the reason that I love math.”

You just turned a potentially negative answer into a highly positive response and, not only was it positive, but it related to your prospective position, too.

Example 2

If the interviewer insists on an answer, pick something that you can downplay a little. You can even focus on how you overcame the challenges involved.

Either way, choose an answer that allows for a positive spin. You want to end on a high note, after all, reflecting your skills and experience. 

“If I had to choose one fear, I would choose how nervous I get regarding presentations. I have never had any formal training on giving presentations, so that may be where my nervousness originates. However, my presentations have always been well received. I need to remind myself that I always feel more nervous than I appear to be.

I always prepare a lot for presentations, making sure that all the vital information is included. Perhaps I am hesitant in certain areas that I have not been formally trained in. Like I said, I have never had any issues in terms of the presentations I have delivered in the past.”

When being interviewed, make sure that you never give negative answers. You do not want to display any significant weaknesses about your abilities. An interviewer will be looking for answers that would hinder your productivity or ability to perform. You want to walk away from your interview feeling positive regarding your answers. Make connections to positive responses, allowing you to display your strengths.

Has this question ever tripped you up? Let us know…