Interviewers are asking this more and more:
“What do you need to improve?” or “What areas need improvement?”
These questions are similar to “What’s your greatest weakness?” but a little more open-ended (which means you can really run into trouble if you don’t know how to answer properly).
Fortunately, I’m going to walk you through exactly how to answer questions about what you need to improve, and mistakes to avoid when responding.
Here’s how to answer “what areas need improvement?” when employers ask in your interview.
First… don’t give some cheesy answer like “well, I work too hard sometimes, so I need to learn how to take breaks and not work so much”.
No hiring manager will be impressed with that. When hiring managers ask interview questions about areas of improvement, they want to really hear something legitimate that you’d like to improve and feel you could improve upon.
Also, don’t name anything that’s vital to the job. For example, if this is a supervisor position, don’t say you need to improve your communication skills or get better at delegating tasks…
Those are vital pieces of a supervisor’s role, and the hiring manager is going to have serious concerns about your ability to lead if you give that type of answer when they ask about your areas for improvement.
That’s essential stuff for being a good supervisor and they’re less likely to hire you if you say you’re lacking in those areas!
You can choose something you’re already pretty good at, but still trying to improve even more. You can choose something that you learned a long time ago but haven’t used in recent jobs very much.
You can name something not directly related to your work but something you’re passionate about learning. For example, maybe you’re an Accountant but someday you’d like to be a Team Leader, so you’d like opportunities to improve your leadership. You could suggest that you’d like to lead a meeting or project to begin, just to build out that skill set over the long term.
Let’s look at some example answers and this will start to make more sense…
I’ll put that Accountant example above as the first example.
Now that we looked at the big mistakes to avoid when sharing areas for improvement in the interview, and how you SHOULD answer, let’s look at some word-for-word sample answers to make sure you’re ready.
“As a Staff Accountant, I don’t get to lead very often, at least not formally. In the long run, I’d love to start taking on more responsibilities as a leader. This could be leading meetings or projects, mentoring or training newer team members, and other tasks like that. I enjoy the hands-on accounting work and that’s still what I want to be doing, which is why I applied for this position. However, I haven’t had much chance to lead yet in my career, so I’d say that’s an area for improvement or something I could get better at.”
In this example, you’re naming something specific you could get better at, but making sure not to name something that’s vital to the day-to-day work in this job. You’re also showing that you’re ambitious and motivated to learn more in your career, which is always a good thing.
Just make sure you always sound like you’re interested in doing the day-to-day work, or core work, that the job involves. If not, you could cost yourself the job offer!
That’s why I’m saying, “I enjoy the hands-on accounting work and that’s still what I want to be doing,” in the example answer above.
“I’m working on improving my skills with some project management and organizational tools and technologies right now like ___ and ___. As I take on more and more management in my career, I’ve realized if I become an expert in project management software, it will make me and my team even more productive. So I’m trying to go from ‘good’ to ‘great’ in these areas.”
In this example, you’re naming something you’re already pretty good at, but want to improve even more.
Note that sometimes employers switch things up and ask a more direct interview question like, “how can you improve your work performance?”
This example answer above works great for that question, too. So if they ever ask for something directly related to your core job, that you still need to improve, follow this formula…
…Pick something you’re already good at, but want to become an EXPERT in.
Now let’s look at one more example of how to answer, “what areas need improvement?”
“In my last job, I spoke with a lot of customers on the phone and became quite good at it. However, a few other people on my team were responsible for most of the emailing when it came to customer service, so I’m a bit rusty in this area. I think email communication is really vital in customer service because one or two wrong words can lead to the message being interpreted incorrectly. So I’ve been working on reviewing and brushing up on some of the best methods for making sure customers are satisfied with email communications.”
This sample answer is an example of naming a real weakness or something you honestly feel needs improvement… which is another perfectly fine way to answer this interview question.
We’ve now looked at three example answers, each taking a slightly different approach:
Now before we wrap up this article, there’s one final step you should put in ANY answer you give…
Whatever skill or weakness you say you’re trying to improve… and whatever answer formula you follow above… you should talk about what you’re working on right now to improve in this area.
I can’t stress this enough. There’s such a big difference between saying you need to improve something in the future, and saying you’re doing it already.
The interviewer is going to be a lot more excited if you show you’re taking initiative to improve your skill set right now… even before you begin the job!
You never want to sound like you’re waiting for a company to hire you before you start addressing a weakness! That’s not going to get them excited about hiring you. In fact, that’s a mistake that’ll cost you many job offers.
So to conclude, name a real area of improvement, but make sure it won’t create doubt about your ability to do the job. Then, wrap up by talking about what actions you’re taking to improve this weakness, and how you plan on addressing it.
As a final recap, here are the ALL steps we covered in this article…
Biron Clark is a former executive recruiter who has worked individually with hundreds of job seekers, reviewed thousands of resumes and LinkedIn profiles, and recruited for top venture-backed startups and Fortune 500 companies. He has been advising job seekers since 2012 to think differently in their job search and land high-paying, competitive positions.
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