Job interviews are nerve-wracking enough, and the question “What are your weaknesses?” often adds to a talented candidate’s concerns. It’s a difficult question to answer and often feels like a trick to candidates who only want to share their best qualities and achievements.
You want to go in, putting your best foot forward, talking about accomplishments, achievements, and strengths, but you know this question is coming. No one wants to discuss weaknesses, but it is an important piece of information for employers.
Do you have an upcoming interview? Let’s explore this commonly asked interview question to see what value it holds for employers and how you can answer it like an expert!
Why Does a Hiring Manager Want to Know Your Weaknesses?
It’s rare for a candidate to have an interview that leaves out questions regarding strengths and weaknesses. Questions about things you can improve have been a part of the interview “script” for several decades. And no one is cutting it anytime soon. It’s part of the fabric of the interview, and it does have value for both job seekers and hiring managers.
Essentially, the question offers a hiring manager insight into how self-aware you are. Your answer lets them know how familiar you are with your limitations and areas that need improvement—we all have those—and what steps you’ve taken to address and improve them.
Ultimately, you can show your awareness of your abilities or lack thereof and your commitment to self-improvement. It’s a big win because you’re sharing that you’ve learned something new or enhanced your skills, which lets the hiring manager know that you’ll stay vigilant in the position with their company. If there’s something you don’t know or understand, you’ll do some basic problem-solving and figure it out or ask for help from management or a team member.
The answer you give also highlights what you think are your best qualities—like your willingness to improve shortcomings or take on new challenges—so you can apply them to the open position.
While this is possibly the most uncomfortable job interview question, there are some alternative wordings you might encounter. To either minimize the discomfort the question “What are your weaknesses?” provokes or to catch candidates off guard, many hiring managers have come up with alternative questions or wordings.
These tweaked questions essentially have the same effect, asking you to demonstrate your self-awareness, problem-solving abilities, and willingness to take the initiative to improve.
Here are a few alternative questions you might encounter to help you brace yourself and prepare for them:
- How do you respond to failures?
- Do you feel you need to make improvements to be successful in this position?
- Are there some things you would like to improve professionally?
- Do you feel like you can learn from mistakes?
- What other professional areas do you feel you need to improve?
- How do you rate your ability to do this skill?
- How do you typically manage disagreements or conflicts with team members?
Any variation of these questions provides you with an opportunity to demonstrate your self-awareness, but their wording takes away the blunt and disarming effect of the “what are your weaknesses?” question that feels so intimidating.
It’s a far more positive way to find out the same information. Even better, it allows you to offer a narrative about a scenario versus stating a weakness and needing to undo the confession quickly. Most of us end up feeling like we’re trying to backtrack when discussing our weaknesses.
How to Answer “What are Your Weaknesses?” Job Interview Question
Now that you know why hiring managers want to know about your list of weaknesses, let’s get into how you should talk about yours during the interview and provide some sample answers.
But before we go over our tips on how to answer, it’s important to remember that all your interviewer is really looking for is an answer that includes humility, self-reflection, and demonstrates self-awareness. They’ll also consider how your weaknesses will balance out with the rest of the team and what areas they can help you in if you’re hired.
Lastly, know that there is no wrong answer to this question. There are, however, a few basic guidelines you should follow to answer this interview question effectively.
Let’s go over them.
While there is not necessarily a wrong way to answer “what are your weaknesses?” there are definitely some red flags you’ll want to avoid if you want your answer to be taken seriously in a job interview.
First, don’t list a weakness that is specific to the position for which you’re interviewing. For example, don’t say “I’m new to web design and I’ve never had formal training” if the job you’re interviewing for is web design. Similarly, don’t say “I’m not good at public speaking” if the interview is for a position that doesn’t require public speaking.
Also, make sure to avoid insincere answers. It’s easy to give an obvious answer like, “I tend to procrastinate,” or “I’m not very good with computers.”Hiring managers are looking for more than that. When you answer the question, they want to know what pushes you to make changes in your life instead of continuing with “bad” habits.
After all, if you don’t understand why you’re procrastinating or why you’re not good with technology, you’ll have a difficult time staying motivated and overcoming these issues.
Your answer should be honest, specific to the position and company culture, and demonstrate self-awareness on your part about your areas of improvement. The best way to do that is by focusing on what pushed you towards improving yourself.
Everyone has a weakness. When you say you “don’t have any weaknesses,” you’re not being honest with yourself about your own flaws.
They know that everyone has strengths and weaknesses. Hiring managers are looking for someone who will be truthful when they make mistakes or need help in certain areas. So, instead of saying you don’t have any weaknesses or over exaggerating your flaws, you can follow a simple two-step formula to effectively answer this question.
A Simple Two-Step Formula
Now that you know some do’s and don’ts on how to answer “what are your weaknesses?” you can use this simple two-step formula to complete your answer.
- Step 1: The first step is to give your honest answer (like we mentioned earlier, it’s perfectly normal to have some flaws).
- Step 2: Next, focus on what pushes you towards self-improvement and use specific examples of how your experience with your weaknesses helps you better yourself in the future.
For example, if a hiring manager asks you what your biggest flaw is and you respond by saying that you “suck at time management,” this isn’t going to give him or her much insight into how well you understand why you struggle. They want to know what actually happened and how you changed your habits as a result.
A better answer would be something like, “I used to stare at a computer screen for hours and feel really overwhelmed at the end of the day because I hadn’t gotten anything done. I took a class on effective time management and discovered how taking short breaks every hour and setting small deadlines for myself helped me get more done in less time.”
This answer is thoughtful and lets the interviewer know why it’s important for you to improve in this area so you can be more productive during the workday.
The key is to take the time to understand why you might not be good at something, what techniques have worked for you in the past, and how those experiences motivate you going forward.
This simple two-step formula gives your interviewer a well-rounded answer to a tough question and takes the pressure off you.
Examples of Weaknesses for a Job Interview
From sharpening your writing skills to becoming more detail oriented to improving your public speaking, we’ve complied a handful of examples for you to draw from and can use in your own interview.
Remember to use examples that are relevant to the job description and company culture, so you can easily transition into talking about how these shortcomings have motivated you to improve your strengths.
Here are a few examples of weaknesses that could work well in an interview setting:
Hard skills, or technical skills, are abilities that you use at work, like balancing a budget. Other examples of hard skills include computer skills, software programs, creative writing skills, math skills, financial literacy, and coding languages.
If you’re applying for a position in the medical field, your biggest weakness could be that you’re not as familiar with the latest medical tests.
Once you’ve been hired for the job, though, this can easily be an opportunity to show how driven and determined you are by reading up on your new responsibilities and working closely with your supervisor to catch up. This example shows an interviewer that you’re willing to learn and improve your overall knowledge.
“One of my biggest weaknesses is that I’m not very familiar with some of the new medical tests or procedures. But I am a very hard worker and I’m really driven to learn new things on my own. In my previous job, I often shadowed doctors to learn how certain procedures are performed. I think that this experience really helped me improve my knowledge, and I’m looking forward to doing the same thing here.”
Soft skills, or interpersonal skills, are the character or personality traits that refer to how you work with others in a group setting or workplace environment. They help you fit into the corporate culture, gel with your co-workers, and create long-term relationships with clients or patients.
Examples of soft skills include communication skills, time management skills, problem-solving abilities, collaboration strategies, leadership skills, organization skills, empathy towards others, and enthusiasm for your work.
For example, if you’re applying to be an accounting analyst at an investment management bank, you might say that one of your biggest weaknesses is that you struggle with patience around others.
This can easily be transformed into an opportunity to showcase how understanding, open-minded, and empathetic you are by talking about a time when you had to deal with a difficult co-worker and what strategies you used to work together more productively.
“I sometimes struggle with patience, whether that’s a slow cashier at the grocery store or when my co-workers make silly mistakes when we’re in crunch time. I’ve found that it’s important to take a deep breath and ask questions before I jump to conclusions.
During my time at [company name], I encountered a colleague I didn’t always share the same perspective with, and this occasionally hindered our collaborative efforts.
Instead of ignoring the problem, I brought it up in our weekly meeting and suggested some strategies for us to use to communicate better and get our work done more efficiently. I think that this made a huge difference, and I really feel like we all improved as a team because of it.”
The first item to note here is that you don’t want to tell your interviewer that you have a bad work ethic. No one wants to hire someone who doesn’t work hard. However, if you’re applying for a job that requires certain physical abilities, you can always say that your biggest weakness is that you are not as strong or athletic as other people.
This could be translated into an opportunity to show how determined and hardworking you are by talking about how this has motivated you to train more strenuously or become involved in competitive sports.
“I’m not as strong or athletic as other people, so certain physical jobs can be difficult for me if I don’t train properly. At my previous job at [company name], we had to move product from the loading dock to store shelves. It was definitely a challenge, but it always motivated me to work harder and improve my endurance.
I started picking up extra shifts to improve my stamina and sometimes even went to the gym during my lunch hour. I think that this really helped me improve as a worker and I’m excited to take those skills here.”
If you’re applying for a leadership role, it’s important to provide a few examples that show you’re a good team leader and can advocate for your team member’s needs. No leader is perfect, and it isn’t a bad thing to acknowledge some areas where you can improve.
This could easily become an opportunity to show off your leadership qualities by explaining how you have managed to overcome this obstacle and provide examples of your skills as a leader.
For example, if you’re applying to be a project manager at an engineering firm, you might say that one of your biggest weaknesses is that you sometimes struggle with delegating tasks to others.
“I sometimes struggle with delegating tasks to others, but I’ve realized that it’s essential for growing a company or team. In my previous job at [company name], we had so many new staff members that I quickly got overwhelmed with managing everyone’s schedules, projects, etc.
This made it harder for me to manage the whole team and get new projects completed on time. Since then, I’ve taken a lot of steps to improve my leadership. I’ve worked with different team members to create scheduling tools that make it easy for everyone to see what they’re working on and when.
I also made sure to ask everybody for their ideas about how we can improve our workflow, which really helped them feel more involved in the company’s decisions.”
If you’re applying for a job that involves working with others outside of your company, it’s important to address any possible conflicting interests.
This could be translated into an opportunity to show how good you are at resolving conflicts in the workplace and being fair in tough situations.
For example, if you’re applying to work in an advertising firm, you might say that sometimes your loyalties to different clients could come into conflict with each other.
“I think it’s essential for any company to consider all sides of an argument before making a decision, and this means considering the needs of their clients as well. Unfortunately, this created some issues in my previous job at [company name].
Different clients would sometimes have conflicting needs, which could put me and my team in an awkward position. My team and I learned how to handle these situations very professionally though. We always found a way to balance everyone’s interests and come up with the best possible solution for our company.
It’s a good thing to consider these conflicts before they arise. I’m excited to apply all of my strong communication skills and resources from [previous job] toward the needs of your clients.”
3 Additional Examples of Weaknesses for a Job Interview
Maybe none of the previous weaknesses apply to you. If that’s the case, we have some additional examples of professional weakness examples to help you prepare your own answer:
- Public speaking
If you struggle with procrastination and have a history of missed deadlines, this could be a good answer:
“I sometimes find it hard to start a project when it requires a lot of steps and deadlines. I often keep putting things off for later and in the end, the task gets pushed back so many times that it’s even harder to get started. Since then, I’ve recognized this as an area where I can improve.
I’ve started by breaking up the project into smaller tasks and setting deadlines for each one. Once I finish a task, it feels good to check it off my list and this keeps me motivated to keep working toward completing the whole project.”
If your public speaking skills could use some work, try crafting a similar response:
“I used to be really shy when I had to give presentations. I found it hard to look people in the eye and would usually just focus on one person at a time.
Since then, I’ve worked with different team members to improve my communication skills. I taught myself how to keep looking at everyone during my presentation by practicing different eye contact techniques.
In my previous job at [company name], I was able to give a presentation to all of the department heads and received some great feedback from them.”
If you’re not detail oriented and need to improve your organizational skills, here is an example of a good response:
“I used to struggle with keeping track of all the ongoing projects at my last job. Every time one of my team members asked me where something was, I felt so embarrassed because I didn’t have a good answer for them. I realized that if I wanted to succeed in this career, organization is really important – it allows you to keep track of all your tasks and deadlines.
Since then, I’ve looked for different options that will help me stay organized at work, like using a planner or an assistant. I’m really excited to use what I learned in my previous position toward developing more efficient systems for your company.”
How to Answer the “What Are Your Weaknesses?” Job Interview Question
We all know that every interview invariably comes with a list of challenging and uncomfortable questions, but you don’t have to face them without preparation.
In fact, these types of challenging questions are the best chance you’ll get at really standing out from your competition and proving that you’re worth hiring. To answer “what are your weaknesses?” effectively, just follow the simple two-step formula laid out in this post.
First, think of an honest answer. (Remember, this is also a test of how self-aware you are). Next, take a deep breath and think about all the things you’ve done that have pushed you toward self-improvement and helped you put your best foot forward. Make sure you give concrete examples of how you’ve worked on your weaknesses and what the results were.
Now that you know how to answer the “what are your weaknesses?” job interview question, it’s time to take on your next interview and land that job offer!
For more advice on how to answer common job interview questions, check out these posts:
- Why Do You Want to Work Here? (How to Answer)
- How to Answer, “What Other Companies Are You Interviewing With?”
- How to Answer, “What is Your Greatest Strength?”
- How To Answer “Tell Me About Yourself” in Your Next Interview (With Examples)
- 7 Common Personality Interview Questions and How to Answer Them