How to Answer "What Is Your Greatest Weakness?"
RobertHalf and Alison Doyle, Balancecareers 369 Times 264 People

The lack of skilled IT workers is hurting the deployment of emerging technology, according to a new survey from Gartner. In areas from cloud to cybersecurity, this crisis is expected to last for years to come.

“Tell me about your greatest weaknesses,” trips up many job candidates, and it’s no wonder: How do you tell an interviewer about your shortcomings without sounding like you’d be hopeless on the job?

It’s tricky, but it can be done.

What the Employer Really Wants to Know

When you’re asked about your weaknesses, the employer wants to know whether you are qualified to do the job. The hiring manager is also looking for indicators that show you’ve been able to learn new tasks and handle new challenges. So, this question is an opportunity to show that you’ve got the right assets for the job.

How to approach the question

Ultimately, you want to discuss your weaknesses in a job interview in a way that helps you gain ground rather than lose it. Keep in mind that what hiring managers really want to know is how you handle adversity on the job.

To start, think about the limitations that have challenged you at work. It’s a good exercise to make a list of your known shortcomings, and one way to gather material is from past performance evaluations and notes from supervisors about areas for improvement.

You also want to make sure to research the employer and the open position. Thoroughly review the job posting before the interview so you don’t identify something as a deficiency that’s essential to the job.

Reread the job description so you know what attributes and abilities are critical to the performance of the job. Those hard or soft skills shouldn’t be on your weakness list. Everything else is fair game.

Examples of weaknesses on the job

Do any of these weaknesses ring a bell? Note that these aren’t good choices for your answer if the job requires specific skills in these areas.

  • Inexperience with specific software or a non-essential skill
  • Tendency to take on too much responsibility
  • Nervousness about public speaking
  • Hesitancy about delegating tasks
  • Discomfort taking risks
  • Impatience with bureaucracies

Ways you can improve yourself to address a weakness

  • Take a class or get training.
  • Discover tools, such as apps, to track your time, schedule breaks or collaborate more smoothly.
  • Work with a mentor
  • Engage in volunteer work to build a skill.
  • Join professional groups or industry associations.

What to avoid in your answer

Don’t go overboard. It’s important not to talk too much about your weaknesses or what you need to improve. You don’t want the interviewer to perceive you as a candidate who isn’t qualified.

Don’t say that you’re perfect. Your first reaction may be to say, “I have no weaknesses, and nothing will keep me from doing a great job.” But no one’s perfect, and hiring managers know that.

If you respond to this question with an enthusiastic denial, the interviewer will probably write you off as someone with a lack of awareness or someone who is overconfident or unable to understand and learn from their mistakes. It’s important not to come across as arrogant or dishonest.

Hiring managers are also wise to responses that attempt to frame a positive trait as weaknesses in a job interview. Classic examples include “I’m a perfectionist,” “I’m competitive,” and “I just work too hard.” Interviewers are on to these stock answers, but you can use them by adding details relevant to the job to show you’ve put real thought into it.

How to answer this question

Even though the question is about weaknesses, your answer should always be framed around the positive aspects of your skills and abilities as an employee.

Once you’ve established your weakness, craft a response to put it in the best positive light. Always emphasize the positive, avoid negative words like failure or inept; talk about how you’ve transformed your weakness into a strength and show how you recognize where you need to improve and take steps to better yourself.

How do you do that? Here are three suggestions:

Option 1: Discuss Non-Essential Skills

One approach to answering this question is to analyze the key skills and strengths required for the position you are interviewing for and then come up with an honest shortcoming that is not essential for success in that job.

Let’s say you’re not a strong writer, and you’re applying for a job as a graphic designer. The job description emphasizes the need for production design skills and specific software experience but doesn’t mention anything about content creation. So you could answer the question about weaknesses in an interview like this:

“I’ve always been on the design side of things and haven’t had much experience with content development, so I’d say that’s a weakness for me. However, I’m a quick learner, and I believe I could improve my writing skills if I ever needed to for my job.”

Option 2: Mention Skills You Have Improved

Another option is to discuss skills that you have improved upon during your previous job or that you are actively working on improving. This shows the interviewer that you’re committed to self-improvement.

Begin your answer by talking about where you started and the steps you took to improve, and then highlight the outcome. Here’s an example:

“Although I always met my deadlines, I used to have a problem with procrastination, and I’d end up working really long days as a deadline approached. I decided that I needed to deal with the issue, so I took classes on project management and time management. I learned how to organize my days and attack bigger projects in manageable chunks. Now, I put together a plan as soon as I get a new assignment, and I often beat my deadlines.”

If you use this strategy, be sure not to mention anything that you improved upon that would be critical to the position for which you are interviewing, as you don't want your qualifications for the job to be questioned.

Option 3: Turn a Negative Into a Positive

Another option for answering is to turn a negative into a positive. Frame your response in a positive manner so that whatever you portrayed as needing improvement is seen as an accomplishment rather than a weakness.

For instance, you could say something like, “I hold myself to very high standards and sometimes put too much pressure on myself. I’ve learned to recognize when I’m starting to do this, such as spending a little too much time on bigger projects like quarterly reports, and I’m usually able to keep myself in check.

Or perhaps you find yourself with an attention to detail that leads you to triple-check every item on a spreadsheet and proofread every email you send twice without compromising on timeliness.

Regardless of what you say, it is critical to indicate that you are mindful of this trait and capable of preventing it from interfering with your productivity.

Why is the weakness question important?

Like most common job interview questions, “What are your weaknesses?” can be challenging to answer. But it’s not just an obstacle to clear or a pitfall to avoid. It’s an opportunity to show the employer how you can learn from constructive criticism, how you’re willing to make changes when you face challenges, and how you can pick yourself up and dust yourself off when you fail. Any employer would count those things as strengths.


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