Go into almost any job interview and you're extremely likely to be asked to talk about your perceived weakness. Most job seekers find job interviews never-wracking but there is no interview question that strikes fear into the heart of interviewees that the "greatest weakness" question does. In this blog post, we'll provide interview tips to help you effectively respond to this sometimes daunting interview question. Preparing an honest answer with self-reflection shows self-awareness and your motivation to improve. Take the right approach, and you can share a weakness without undermining your qualifications or attractiveness for the role. Read on for strategies to thoughtfully reflect on your weakness. Follow our advice and ensure your answer shows you are an employee with a growth mindset.
Why do interviewers ask about weaknesses?
Read most other blogs or articles about why interviewers ask about your biggest weakness and they'll probably tell you, they do it because it helps the interviewer learn more about your work habits and personality. And or they're trying to establish where you stand as regards the required skills described in the job description. We're here to tell you that for some interviewers that may be true, but other interviewers recognise that whatever you say, is entirely subjective. It may not in fact reflect reality. However, what all interviewers are looking for in your answer to this job interview question, is that you have strong self awareness and that you are committed to your self improvement. Your interviewer is looking for three key things in your answer 1) you are honest 2) you are self aware 3) you are focused on self improvement.
Strategies for talking about weaknesses for job interviews
Don't deny you have any weaknesses
Most job seekers understand that they need to have a concrete example to talk through. That said I have had a real life example where a candidate has claimed to not have any weaknesses. The very fact that you've decided to research this topic, tells me you're not likely to make the same mistake. But just in case, I'll be clear ALWAYS have an answer ready.
Choose between a Technical weakness or a Leadership weakness
The first step in developing your answer is to decide if you want to talk about a weakness in your technical skills or your leadership skills. For example, a graphic designer may admit to a weakness in a particular design tool, such as Adobe Illustrator a Marketing Manager may admit to a weakness in project management skills or data analytics.
By Leadership skills, I mean your work style or something like a character trait. For example, someone may choose to share that they have difficulty working in group settings because as an introvert they struggle with social skills. Or someone might share that their weakness is meeting deadlines in a fast paced environment
Avoid talking about anything in your personal life. Although what you chose may meet the goal of honesty, self awareness and focus on self improvement, it risks falling into territory that may be inappropriate to share at a job interview.
Don't pass your weaknesses as strengths
There's lots of advice out there (mainly from people who have limited experience of being the interviewer or Hiring Manager), that you should share your weakness and then reposition it as, in fact, a strength. This is a terrible strategy which we strongly advise against.
Trying to frame a weakness as a strength or positive trait is one of the biggest mistakes you can make when answering this question. It makes you seem disingenuous or even dishonest because you're essentially avoiding the question. Interviewers are not stupid, they're reading the same social media content you are and they can easily see through this type of ploy. They're looking for honesty, self awareness and that you develop strategies for self improvement. Presenting your weakness as a strength only demonstrates you have none of these characteristics. Self-reflection and owning your own growth plan are key skills for professional development. Framing a weakness positively suggests you're incapable of self criticism and you're not going to take responsibility for your own growth. This destroys your credibility.
Trying to present a weakness as a strength can come across as manipulative, it seems like you’re trying to fool the interviewer. This raises red flags about your integrity. Interviewers want candidates who take responsibility for their development areas rather than those who deny them or try to wheedle their way around them.
Admitting a genuine weakness requires vulnerability and shows maturity. It demonstrates you aren’t afraid to acknowledge weaknesses and are committed to overcoming them. This builds trust. The interviewer will respect your honesty and ability to have difficult conversations.
It may sound strange, however, it is true that answers that look genuine and authentic impress versus those that seem generic, calculated, overstated, humble bragged. You are an effective employee if you are self-aware, have a reflective inner voice, recognize your strengths and take care of your weaknesses. You need to show your self-reflective nature during interviews to make it a reality. If you're really not sure what your strengths and weaknesses are try using a scoring system or asking a trusted colleague.
Provide an example of how you've worked to improve upon your weakness or learn a new skill to combat the issue
We mentioned at the start that employers are also looking for you to be someone who is committed to self-improvement. They want employees who will lift the overall quality of the business by lifting the overall quality of themselves. Whether it's action you've taken after constructive feedback or if you identified the need just from your professional maturity, they don't care. If you can show you've been taking action and will continue to, you'll impress them.
How to talk about strengths and weaknesses in a job interview
Even though I've advised you not to try to spin your weaknesses as strengths, there is still a way to answer the question that enables you to talk about what you are good at.
The idea goes that usually if we are weak at something, it's because there is a direct and counter thing that we are extremely good at that causes the imbalance. In your interview, when you're asked this question, the ideal is that you can provide examples of the weaknesses and strengths, so that the interviewer can understand the driver of the weakness and be impressed by the strength.
For example, you might be extremely detail oriented and that's your strength but being so focused on the detail you might not be good at seeing the big picture, which becomes your weakness. Adding this reference to your strength in your interview answer avoids the trap of a disingenuous answer that tries to spin or sidestep admitting a weakness, but allows you to highlight something that the interviewer may find valuable.
Make good use of the job description
The job description is your key to understanding what the team is looking for. The best answers are introspective and honest as well as being ones that don't cause alarm to hiring managers. You want to make the interviewer understand that your strength plays well into what they're looking for but that your real weaknesses won't materially impact your work performance with them. Make sure the weakness you choose won't prevent you from succeeding in the job. “A lot of job seekers will do a cursory glance [at] a job description and then apply, without ever thinking about or referring to the job description again,” says Jenniffer Fink from The Muse.
Practice your answer beforehand
Practice can never be perfect, but it can definitely improve. Although you can't be 100% sure that an interviewer will ask you about your weaknesses, it is likely. You should learn how to respond and practice it by telling someone else or by recording yourself and watching it back. It's OK to stutter and get anxious but you need an honest and concise response. You may look unprepared or worse, lie to yourself when you ramble too long.
Best Answer for What is your weakness?
The best answer for weaknesses is to make a sandwich. Start by saying what your key strength is, then explain how this strength drives opposing weaknesses, and then show how you are actively working to improve.
Below we provide examples which you can use as a sample answer to inspire you. Check out the following examples:
SAMPLE ANSWER 1- What is your biggest weakness?
I am deeply committed to delivering high quality work. I want everything that comes out of my team to be at the highest quality of rigour, thoughtfulness, accuracy and presentation. With this absolute commitment to quality, I recognise that leads to a hesitancy in delegating tasks because of my concerns about others delivering low quality work. I sometimes hold on to too many tasks because I want to ensure their quality of delivery. I recognise this means that sometimes my team don't get to work on tasks that might stretch them and I'm not focusing on the most important tasks. Plus I know it's not good for my work life balance and risked missed deadlines. I've actively been working on this and have a process where I track tasks and score them on a matrix of importance and quality risk level. This data-driven approach helps to move my thinking from the emotional to the rational and makes it easier for me to get comfortable delegating tasks.
SAMPLE ANSWER 2- What is your biggest weakness?
I'm a bit of an introvert, which means I work independently really well. I have a strong work ethic which means my manager can give me almost any piece of work and I'll get my head down and deliver it. I really enjoy being able to focus and find ways to maximize productivity for myself. But on the flip side of this is that I'm not so comfortable in team building workshops or at public speaking. This doesn't affect me too much in my current role, but I realise if I want to become more senior, where I'd need to lead meetings and present to leadership, I need to get more comfortable with these soft skills. So for the past 9 months, I've been taking part in the Toast Masters organisation. It's a group where people get together and practice public speaking. I'm learning a lot about effective communication. By developing effective communication skills, I'm finding I'm growing in confidence. I've volunteered for a few tasks that require me to use presentation skills as a way to keep practising. O feel I've improved a lot, although it's still not something I find comfortable, but I'll keep working on it.
SAMPLE ANSWER 3- What is your biggest weakness?
I believe I have high emotional intelligence and strong people skills. I can very often read a room or an individual and understand what motivates them or what is bothering them. This means I'm often the person team members come to for support, or to help them think through issues before they take action. But based on my past experiences I recognise having this strong emotional intelligence sometimes makes the hard conversations one sometimes has to have with people as a manager, very difficult. It doesn't come naturally to me to give difficult to hear feedback and I often carry a burden of guilt when I have had them. I've been working hard to learn strategies to address this. I can't change the level of empathy I have but a mentor of mine taught me a strategy that has really helped. The strategy is to create an alternative persona for yourself so that the conversations aren't being had by you, but a version of you with a better set of skills to manage the situation. I know it sounds strange but it really works. It's a strategy that I'm very intentional about and will continue to be.
For more advice on how to answer other tough interview questions, check out our blog "Tough Interview Questions and Answers"