How to Answer “What Is Your Greatest Weakness?” (With Examples)
Answering well requires walking a tightrope. If you don’t talk about anything that sounds like a plausible weakness, you come across as disingenuous or, worse, deluded as to your lack of shortcomings.
A good answer shows that you’re self-aware and able to critically analyse your skills. It also shows that you’re willing to address your weaknesses and that you can remain calm under pressure.
Understand that they’re asking for your weaknesses but take note of how exactly they posed the question. Tailor your response accordingly and it will come across as off-the-cuff, confident and fluent.
Being able to adapt to the questions you are being asked is an important interview skill. It not only demonstrates that you can deliver a good answer, but that you can think on your feet and have good communication skills.
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Relevant. You should choose a weakness relating to relevant professional competencies. Answering with something like “I just don’t do enough exercise” sounds like you’re dodging the question.
Fixable. One of the most important parts of answering this question is to get across the idea that you actively work on your weaknesses. This means that your weakness needs to be something that you could feasibly improve through personal effort.
It is useful at this stage to have a thorough look at the job description. Pick out all the key skills and requirements and make sure that the weakness you choose does not apply to any of them.
For instance, if the position requires lots of teamwork and regular interaction with management, a good weakness to use might be that you find it difficult to stay motivated in roles where you feel isolated, or those in which you can’t learn from those around you.
That’s still a genuine weakness, but it’s one that’s largely negated by the role you have applied for. It also gets across the implication that you like the way their company works and would feel motivated there.
If the job involves thinking on your feet and using your initiative, your weakness could be that you become frustrated when you are expected to adhere to strict protocol at all times. This is still a plausible weakness and something that you can work on, but for this role, it could become a positive and suggests that you are well suited to the job.
It’s important that for each weakness you prepare to talk about, you have a relevant example ready to help you describe your weakness and demonstrate how you attempted to overcome it.
Perhaps you’ve completed a relevant course or joined a class or group. You might be getting help from a mentor or advisor, or have found tools that help you to correct your weakness on your own.
Finally, try to provide some concrete evidence of improvement. If leadership is your weakness, perhaps you have recently started managing someone and received positive feedback. Or if you have been improving your time management, describe how working more efficiently has impacted positively on a particular task or project.
In some respects, someone that overthinks can be perceived to be unsure of themselves and their decision-making. You may be delaying your decision-making because you are scared of facing the consequences of your decisions.
This weakness could be particularly concerning to an interviewer so, if you really want to mention this at interview, make sure you show evidence of self-reflection and mention the steps you are taking to address this or how you have begun to use it to achieve a positive outcome.
Overthinkers could also be seen as careful perfectionists that take the time to consider all aspects of a decision so they don’t miss anything. This is not really a weakness, it may be seen by the interviewer to be a veiled attempt at presenting a positive as a negative.
I don’t have much experience working directly with clients so my client-facing communication skills definitely need some work. I’m much more comfortable digging deep into the data and providing the analysis, rather than talking it through with a client.
However, I realise that experience working with clients directly would be a big help to the way I present my analysis so I’m very keen to improve that aspect.
Why Do Interviewers Ask These Questions?
“All interviews are about getting to know somebody,” says Muse career coach Angela Smith, founder of Loft Consulting. “I know some people feel like the interview is trying to trip them up or put them in an awkward position, but at the end of the day it’s really about getting to know the person so that you can make the best decision that you can,” she adds. “When I ask those questions, that’s where I’m coming from.”
In this case, the actual strengths and weaknesses you bring up probably matter less than how you talk about them. “I’ve done a ton of interviews over the years and when pressed for it, I can’t really remember the answers,” Smith says. That doesn’t mean the questions aren’t important at all, it’s just that what an interviewer is evaluating likely goes deeper than which specific strength or weakness you cite. They’re trying to understand what kind of employee you’d be and how you’d carry yourself in the role.
“For me it’s: Are they honest? Do they have self-awareness? Can they own their stuff in a professional and mature way? Is this someone that we can have growth and development conversations with? Are they going to hit a wall [when] it comes to giving them feedback?” Smith says. “How they answer that question really tells me the answer to all of those other things—and those are the things that matter.”
5 Tips for Talking About Strengths and Weaknesses in an Interview
1. Be Honest
One of the most important things to get right when talking about your strengths and weaknesses in an interview setting is honesty. It might sound trite, but it’s also true. An answer that sounds genuine and authentic will impress, while one that sounds generic, calculated, exaggerated, or humblebraggy will do the opposite.
A boss doesn’t want to hire someone who can’t recognize and own what they bring to the table as well as what they need to work on. You’ll be a better employee if you can understand and leverage your strengths and acknowledge and learn from your weaknesses. So you want to show in the interview that you’re capable of that kind of self-reflection.
2. Tell a Story
Here’s another cliche you shouldn’t discount: “Show, don’t tell.” Anyone who’s ever taken a writing class—whether in seventh grade or graduate school—has heard it. You should keep it in mind when answering just about any interview question, and it’s certainly helpful here.
“Anytime you can have a real-life example or a concrete example, it’s a good idea. It just helps to contextualize the response a little bit,” Smith says. “We just understand concepts and situations better with a story. So if you can tell a story that supports your thesis, then it’s always helpful.”
Talk about a time your strength helped you achieve something in a professional setting or when your weakness impeded you. For example, if you’re talking about how you’re calm under pressure in a fast-paced environment, you might tell the interviewer about that time you delivered a revamped client proposal after a last-minute change of plans. If you’re admitting that your weakness is presenting in front of high-level executives, you might start by briefly describing the time you got so nervous presenting your plan for a new marketing strategy that you weren’t able to effectively convey your (thorough and pretty brilliant) approach and your boss had to step in and help get the plan approved.
Not only will sharing a real example make your answer stand out, but it’ll also make it sound thoughtful and honest and highlight all those other characteristics interviewers are actually looking for.
3. Remember to Get to the Insight
An answer that’s genuine and includes an illustrative anecdote is a great start, but it’s not complete until you add some insight. This goes for both strengths and weaknesses but looks a little different in each case.
When you’re talking about a strength, the last beat of your answer should tie whatever skill or trait you’ve been discussing to the role and company you’re applying for. Tell the interviewer how that strength would be useful in this particular position at this particular company.
So going back to the revamped client proposal example, you might add, “Since things move quickly at [Company], this would allow me to come in and earn a new team’s confidence and foster a trusting team culture while also ensuring we’re all hitting our goals and delivering high-quality work.”
In the case of a weakness, “tell me how they’ve grown from it or what they’ve done to accommodate that or what they’ve learned from it,” Smith says. “Really showcase your growth trajectory, your learning curve, what you’ve done as a result of the awareness of that weakness,” she adds. “It gives you an idea like if I hire this person and they’re here, this is the kind of problem solving or growth that I can expect to see from them.”
So if you were the candidate with the presentation snafu, you might talk about how you sat down with your boss to make a plan to improve your public speaking skills, and how the next time you had to present to the execs you knocked it out of the park.
4. Keep It Short
You don’t have to devote half the interview to these answers. You can keep your response relatively brief and focused on one or two strengths or weaknesses, depending on how the question was phrased. To add to our list of overused-but-handy phrases: Think quality, not quantity. Don’t dive in and rattle off a litany of things you think you’re good or bad at without explaining anything. Instead, narrow it down and go into detail.
5. Don’t Sweat It So Much
While you definitely want to prepare and do your best to nail your answers, try not to stress too much. “Don’t panic,” Smith says. “I have never known an employment decision to come down to how someone answers those questions,” she adds. “It’s just one data point connected with a whole bunch of other ones. So don’t give it too much weight.”