“What is your greatest weakness?” is one of the most common interview questions asked by employers. But if you’re unprepared, this question can feel like a trap – after all, what’s the right weakness to have?
Fortunately, with some practice, you can nail this difficult interview question and turn it into an opportunity to show your interviewer that you’re self-aware and actively working on your weaknesses.
Why do interviewers ask “what are your weaknesses?”
Similar to the prompt “tell me about a time you failed,” interviewers ask “what are your weaknesses?” to see if you’re honest, self-aware, and willing to improve on areas where you struggle.
Similar to its more positive cousin, “what are your greatest strengths?”, this interview question asks you to reflect on what skills and qualities you have to offer companies. However, when asked about weaknesses in a job interview, many people freeze up.
This is understandable because you don’t want to admit to any weaknesses that might make you look bad during an interview. However, answering this question isn’t as hard as you might think, and what matters most is how you present your answer.
Here are a few tips for discussing your weaknesses in a job interview:
How to answer “what are your weaknesses?”
The following steps will help you think of a great answer to “what are your weaknesses?” that demonstrates your value as a candidate:
1. Choose a weakness that won’t impact your ability to perform the job
The key to answering this question effectively is to choose a weakness that you can acknowledge and explain, but that isn’t crucial to your ability to do the job. To make sure the weaknesses you bring up aren’t vital to the job, check the job ad and identify what skills they’re looking for.
Once you’ve identified what skills and qualities the company is looking for, you should ask yourself questions to identify your own weaknesses, like the following:
- How have I failed in the past, and what have I done to improve on these failures since?
- Did my past managers criticize any part of my work in my past roles?
- Are there aspects to a job I dislike doing in general?
If you’re a recent graduate or you’re still in college and applying for an internship, you can think of the following:
- What did I struggle with during my studies?
- Did my professors criticize anything in particular in my work?
2. Choose real weaknesses for your job interview
Don’t lie about your weaknesses or use a cop-out answer like “I’m too much of a perfectionist.” Not only will this show you haven’t put thought into the question, but you’ll also come across as insincere.
Instead, you should be upfront about an area that you’d like to improve on. Ideally, talk about a soft skill that you want to improve. Soft skills are the attributes and personality traits that passively influence your work, like your organizational skills or teamwork skills.
Soft skills are harder to measure and don’t directly impact your ability to perform your job, making them a great answer to “what are your weaknesses?”
Here are a few examples of good weaknesses you can talk about that focus on your soft skills:
- I’m too impatient
- I get competitive about my work
- I think I’m too critical of others
- I’m too honest when I communicate with coworkers
- I have difficulty delegating tasks
- I struggle with procrastination
- I have trouble multitasking
- My time management skills aren’t very strong
- I lack organizational skills
- I struggle with public speaking
- I try too hard to please everybody, even if it’s not possible
3. Show how you’re working to overcome your weaknesses
Once you’ve identified your weaknesses, you should explain how you’re working to overcome them.
For example, you could tell the interviewer that you:
- have asked for feedback from your previous managers and consciously work on your weaknesses
- completed or are enrolled in a course to gain more knowledge
- regularly practice improvement techniques
Give a concrete example of how you’ve struggled in the past with your weakness and how you overcame it. If the interviewer frames this question as a behavioral interview question like “tell me about a time you conquered a weakness”, use the STAR method to help you craft a strong response.
The STAR method gives employers additional context about the:
- Situation you faced
- Task you were involved in
- Action you took to complete the task
- Result from your action
The result of the actions you took should be positive because this shows you were proactive in overcoming your weakness. However, if the story you tell happens to end on a less successful note, that’s okay too – just make sure to explain how you’ve learned from this experience.
Here’s an example of how to use the STAR method to explain how you’ve worked to overcome a weakness:
Situation – Thanks to a lot of dedication and effort, last year I was promoted to marketing manager. Because we were a small team, the learning curve wasn’t too steep and I felt like I was progressing well in my new role.
Task – However, being a manager suddenly meant I had to lead presentations to our directors and pitch to new clients. While our small team meetings weren’t so bad, I was a nervous wreck as soon as I had to get up to speak in front of the higher-ups. Honestly, my first month was a complete disaster and we were barely getting any new clients.
Action – To fix this issue, I decided to delegate client pitching to one of the best public speakers on my team for a period of 2 months, and in the meantime, I started partaking in weekly Toastmasters meetups to practice public speaking. I also hired a coach for intensive sessions to get rid of my stage fright and improve my body language and enunciation.
Result – Thanks to those various exercises and a lot of practice, when the 2 months were up, I had become much more confident in my public speaking and was able to get through important presentations without breaking a sweat. I still get nervous in front of a very large group of people, but I’ve been able to land some big clients for my company since.
Good example answers for “what are your weaknesses?”
Here are some great sample answers you can take inspiration from if you’re ever asked “what are your weaknesses?”:
“Since university, I’ve always been a little hard on myself when it comes to my work. I always want to do my best and sometimes that can lead to me taking on more than I can handle. This often led to taking on more work than I could realistically complete without pulling all-nighters.
After I saw that the quality of my work was slipping and I was falling behind on some important projects during my internship, I decided to take fewer courses and focus on just a few things at a time instead of trying to do everything. By changing to more realistic expectations I was able to improve the quality of my work and focus more on improving my interpersonal skills and task delegation.”
“Impatience has often been something I struggled with. As I tend to finish my work pretty quickly, I would easily get annoyed when colleagues would lag on a team project. In my last job, this impacted my relationship with my coworkers which led me to first ask my manager to assign me projects I could complete on my own.
However, I knew I had to work on my interpersonal skills so I enrolled in a course to cultivate patience in the workplace. I’ve also started taking stress management classes, both of which help me manage my impatience and learn to focus on other tasks to fill up time.”
“Sometimes I get so caught up in details that I lose sight of the big picture. I’ve learned over the years how to stay organized and focused on my priorities, but I still have a hard time letting go of minor details that don’t really matter in the long run.
To address this weakness, I regularly use checklists and prioritize tasks so that I can always focus on the most important things first. Additionally, I work closely with my team to make sure we’re on the same page to effectively communicate our goals on a specific timeline. With these methods, I now rarely get caught up in details and have improved my time management skills as well.”
“I believe I have two weaknesses when it comes to work: I often have difficulty with my time management skills and I’m also not very technologically literate. I sometimes have trouble adapting to new software programs and it used to take me a while to get the hang of it. In my current job, we recently changed CMS software, which considerably slowed me down. However, I knew my slowness was impacting my work negatively and decided to take an intensive training course to get up to speed.
Now, whenever upper management lets us know they’ll be adding new software for our use, I immediately sign up for an online course to be operational quickly. While I’m not perfect, I’ve seen improvements in how quickly I can organize myself and do my work now. I also try to stay up-to-date on new technological developments so that I can more easily adapt to new software programs.”
“To be honest, I’d have to say multitasking and humor are my weaknesses. I love cracking jokes and interacting with my colleagues. Things were usually fine in my previous job until we started getting big projects simultaneously, and I realized not only that my productivity was decreasing from lack of focused attention, but that I was distracting my colleagues from their work as well.
When we didn’t meet our KPIs for the first time, I knew I had to be more focused. Now, instead of tackling 3 or 4 tasks on different projects at a time, I prioritize them by importance to do deep work. By focusing more on my own work, my teammates have also been more productive. Now, I try to reserve my best jokes for our break times and happy hours.”