Now, you may be under the impression that the “What is your greatest weakness?” interview question is your chance to slip in another great quality that makes you perfect for the job. You may have a playbook of sharp-witted, positive answers to every single interview question prepared, including the negative ones. However, attempting reverse psychology on your interviewer is a big, big mistake.The truth is, answers like “I’m a workaholic” or “I tend to take the lead on everything” will only make you seem disingenuous. Truth matters. The interviewer needs to know that you’re self-aware and humble enough to recognize your faults, and smart enough to have an action plan to succeed in spite of them.
Hiring managers frequently ask questions about your greatest weakness in a job interview. They’ll expect detailed examples in your answer, and they want to hear a unique weakness.
To make things even tougher, some employers are now asking for 3 weaknesses.
So in this article, I’m going to show you exactly how to handle questions about weaknesses in the job interview with plenty of example answers.
Here’s what we’ll cover:
- Why interviewers ask for your greatest weaknesses in job interviews
- Why it’s a mistake to give a fake weakness like, “I’m a perfectionist” or, “My weakness is I’m too detail oriented.”
- The exact two-step formula for delivering the best answer to “what is your weakness?”
- Word-for-word sample answers
Why Interviewers Ask About Your Weaknesses in the Interview
Employers ask about your biggest weakness (or top 3 weaknesses) in job interviews for a few reasons.
Interviewers ask “What is your greatest weakness?” to test your self-awareness
Hiring managers want to see if you’re self-aware and able to identify a weak spot and be honest about it. They are measuring whether you’re upfront/comfortable talking about a weakness in general. Believe it or not, they don’t want someone to say, “I’m great at everything. I have no weakness.” Because nobody’s amazing at everything! We all have strengths and areas we’re not so great at. So part of the reason they’re asking is to measure your character and personality.
Interviewers also want to ensure that your weaknesses won’t impact your performance in their job
If you do have a weakness that’s going to hurt your performance in this job, the interviewer wants to know and avoid hiring you. This is why you always need to keep the employer’s job in mind when answering this interview question. If you notice on their job posting that the job involves a heavy amount of self-management, time management, etc., the last thing you want to say is that you struggle with time management skills and staying organized.
As another example, if a job is heavy on leadership and teamwork, you won’t be getting the job if you say your weakness is that you struggle when it comes to delegating tasks and delivering quality work as part of a team effort. You’ll see plenty of good sample answers coming up in this article, so don’t worry if you’re still not sure what to say.
Let’s look at the final factor an interviewer is looking for when they ask, “What are your weaknesses?” next…
Finally, interviewers know this isn’t an easy question to answer, so they ask this to observe how you perform under pressure
Fortunately, if you’re going to go into the interview room with a game plan for this specific question, so you’ll feel a lot less pressure than most candidates!
So now let’s look at how to plan out a great answer to your greatest weakness… starting with a warning about a common mistake to avoid (that many people recommend as a good answer to this interview question).
Watch: How to Answer “What Is Your Greatest Weakness?”
The Top Mistake When Answering “What’s Your Greatest Weakness?”
If you’ve asked a few people how to answer, “What is your greatest weakness?” it’s likely you’ve been given the advice that you should turn a strength into a weakness.
Example answer using this strategy:
“Well, sometimes I’m too detail-oriented and thorough, so I have to remember to hit my deadlines and balance speed too.”
“I’m passionate about this industry and the work I’m doing, so sometimes I need to remind myself to relax and not get over-excited in the moment.”
This isn’t a great answer strategy for a few reasons, which I’ll explain below.
“I’m too detail oriented” is not a good weakness
Interviewers are tired of hearing answers like this. You shouldn’t give any answer that tries to disguise a strength as a weakness. If an employer is asking you to describe a weakness, they aren’t going to view it as a negative if you give a real, genuine answer. Nobody’s perfect and they want you to mention a true negative area in your skill set.
“Perfectionism” is a bad answer, too. So is “I care too much about my work.”
Giving a fake weakness that’s really a strength doesn’t tell the interviewer anything valuable.
They’re not going to view it as a positive if you fail to name any true weakness. They’ll simply view it as you dodging their question.
Plus, because this strategy is so frequently recommended, hiring managers have heard it over and over already, so they’re tired of this type of strategy when you answer the question. That’s one more factor to keep in mind when considering this type of response.
Because of these factors, it’s critical to avoid all answers that don’t tell the interviewer an honest weakness.
There’s also one more reason that you shouldn’t answer with, “I’m too detail oriented.” In general, it’s better to name a professional, job-related skill as a weakness rather than a personality trait. I’ll explain this in the next section, along with the exact two steps for giving a much better answer when the company asks about your weaknesses in the interview.
The Best Method to Answer “What Is Your Greatest Weakness?” (Two Steps)
Now that you know what not to do when naming your weaknesses in a job interview, let’s look at what you *should* do to impress the hiring manager.
Step 1: Provide a real weakness, but with a few rules…
When they ask “what’s your greatest weakness?” I recommend you be straightforward and give an honest answer to the hiring manager. They’ll appreciate it if you do it right… That means you have to keep a few things in mind and avoid a couple of potential traps.
First, don’t name a weakness related to how you work with others or how you get along with management.
Examples include: Trouble following instructions, trouble communicating, being prone to arguments and disagreements, etc. You better pick a different weakness to share, because no hiring manager wants to hear this type of thing.
In fact, to play it even safer I recommend you pick something skill-based, not personality-based. That’ll keep you in the clear.
When you pick something skill-based, you want it to be relevant to your work, but not a primary focus of the job you’re applying for. If you’re looking to become an accountant, don’t say your weakness is working with numbers or being detail-oriented.
However, you could say your weakness is a certain type of tool or software, or an entire area of accounting that you haven’t worked particularly closely with recently. Maybe you studied one of these skills in school but haven’t had a chance to use it hands-on since then and you’d require some time to brush up.
Step 2: Demonstrate what you’re doing to overcome this weakness
After giving a real weakness in your answer, you want to show how efforts you’re making and/or recent improvement that you’ve achieved in this skill. That’s going to impress any company. You want to show that you’re working actively to prevent this weakness from being a long-lasting problem, and either turning it into one of your strengths or at least putting some focus on addressing the area.
And you want to show the company that you’re making sure it will not negatively impact your work in future jobs you take. You can point to a piece of experience on your resume that helped you strengthen this weak area, you can mention recent tasks or projects that offered you a chance at improvement, or how you struggled in the past but have done much better recently.
See the sample answers below for how a full answer will sound in the interview.
Example Interview Answers to “What’s Your Greatest Weakness?”
Sample answer 1 (Technical Weakness):
“When I look at my programming skills, one weakness is Java programming. It’s just not something that I’ve been asked to do since college so I understand the fundamentals but I’m a bit rusty in terms of working hands-on with it. I was planning on brushing up in the next few months to broaden my skill set, though. I think it’d help me be more well-rounded and would filter down into other areas that I use more often in my work.”
This is a good answer as long as you’re not interviewing for a job where they expect you to start using this skill (Java programming) every day.
Never name a weakness that’s a core part of the job you’re interviewing for!
Look at the job description and you’ll get a sense of this before the interview.
Now, sometimes employers will ask for 3 weaknesses in a job interview, so let’s look at examples of how to answer that now.
Sample answer 2 (Leadership Weakness):
“One of my weaknesses is hiring and team leadership, simply because I haven’t done much of it in my career. However, I’d like to become a manager in the future, so I’ve begun making positive progress in this area whenever I get the opportunity to learn more. In my last company, I started participating in the committee that hires new candidates, and I trained and mentored five of the new team members that we hired. I also gave some presentations to an entire class of newly-hired staff, so I got to build my public speaking skills and confidence, too. My hope is that within a few years, I can be ready to lead a team, so I’m actively working to turn this area of past weakness into a strength.”
Sample answer 3 (Inexperience):
“One weakness that comes to mind is familiarity with all the different software used in our industry. Since I’ve spent my career with one single employer up to this point, I haven’t been exposed to as many different tools and pieces of software as someone who has hopped around between companies. However, in my most recent position, I frequently used <Software Name>, and from what I’ve read, that’s the same tool your company uses for most projects. I’m also more than happy to learn new tools and technologies to succeed in the position. I’m capable of it; I simply haven’t been asked to do this in past jobs, because my entire career was with <Company Name>. If hired for this role, I’ll make it a priority to learn any software required for my projects before coming in on my first day, so that I can get started on my work tasks from day one.”
Sample answers 4 (Team-work):
“I’m a little socially anxious and not fond of debate or confrontation, so I tend to take the back seat and follow others on team assignments. I don’t always contribute as much as I’d like to in a team setting because I worry that my ideas will be shot down or, worse yet, ruffle someone’s feathers. I often feel I have good ideas that I’m holding back. Lately, I’ve been working on this by voicing my ideas even if it makes me uncomfortable, but I’d like to get to the point where I can share my ideas with confidence.”
This answer shows that the applicant knows their shortcomings in a team setting, but they also know the root of the problem – their dislike of debate and confrontation, and social anxiety. It’s clear this applicant is working on the problem, so it shouldn’t be too hard to ask a team manager to encourage participation from them moving forward.
Sample answers 5 (Impatience):
“I tend to get impatient, particularly when I’m handling multiple deadlines and feel that someone is slacking or holding me back. It’s not that I blame others, just that I’ve had experiences in the past where I’ve been ahead on my own tasks but have missed deadlines due to others. In hindsight, I’ve realized that helping others to complete their tasks would have been more constructive, and this is something I aim to do in the future, instead of growing impatient.”
This is a great answer because it shows that the applicant replayed the situation in their mind afterward, thinking of ways they might have handled things better. The ability to learn from one’s mistakes is an outstanding quality, and this applicant would be a valued asset, particularly if they intend to be more supportive of their colleagues in the future.
Sample answers 6 (Public speaking):
“I’ve had a fear of public speaking since childhood and I feel like I would have been ideally suited to leadership were it not for this phobia. I know the right words to say and lead well in small groups, but the minute there are more than five people I start to sweat, lose my confidence, and find myself unable to speak. I’ve been working on the problem for a few months now, writing down feelings that I have and thoughts about the childhood experiences that led to the problem. I hope to iron out my fears by practicing speaking to larger and larger groups on a regular basis in the future.”
This answer works because it shows that the applicant is trying to understand their own phobia, something that takes maturity and courage. It shows that the applicant knows the importance of confronting the root cause and their own feelings about the issue. Given that they still strive to be a leader, they must have a real passion for it, and it’s likely they will overcome this challenge with practice.
Sample answers 7 (Micromanaging):
“As a leader, and even as a colleague, I tend to paint a detailed picture of how I want projects to run and turn out in my mind. After assigning the project, I find it hard to let go of that picture, so I sometimes micromanage and attempt to control aspects of the work that would be better left in the hands of creative or technical team members. I’m slowly learning how to delegate and let go, and I’ve been practicing mindfulness in order to breathe and take a step back when I catch myself micromanaging others.”
This answer shows that, even though the applicant is a leader and team manager, they are still actively self-analyzing and looking for ways to improve their approach. Many managers go through life without realizing that they tend to micromanage, so it’s refreshing to see that this leader is practicing mindfulness in order to recognize and stop these impulses when they occur.
How to Answer Interview Questions About 3 Weaknesses
There’s a chance that the interviewer will ask a variation of the questions above: “What are your top 3 weaknesses?”
This is a bit tougher, but I’m going to give you an easy method to answer it that will allow you to use the same steps above without much extra work. At first glance, this question is tougher because you have to think of three different weaknesses while making sure it’s not going to scare the employer off. And then you have to keep your answer organized.
So for this reason, I’d recommend picking three closely related skills that are weaknesses. Choose one cluster of skills to mention, not three entirely different skills.
For example, don’t pick one personality trait, one hard skill like software engineering, and one leadership skill like delegation. That’s going to make your answer far too complicated and also too negative.
Keep your 3 weaknesses related and you’ll have a much easier time delivering a good answer in your interviews.
Here’s an example of how your answer will sound…
3 weaknesses for a job interview: example answer
“When I look at my skill set as a whole, I think three weaknesses are Java, Ruby, and CSS. Those are just not programming languages I’ve been asked to use in a professional environment. I did study them in college, though. So I understand the fundamentals, but I’m pretty rusty in terms of working hands-on with them. I was planning on brushing up in the next few months to broaden my skill set, though, even if they’re not required in this role. I think it’d help me be more well-rounded as an engineer and would filter down into other areas that I use more often in my work.”
How to identify your weaknesses:
Identifying your own weaknesses is an exercise in self-reflection, and it’s not something that always comes naturally. Try this three-point strategy to identify your weaknesses easily in the week before your interview.
- A great place to start is to ask people you trust, especially close colleagues and people familiar with your work habits. Write down their answers to find a common thread.
- Next, spend the week keeping a stress journal. When you feel overwhelmed, emotional, anxious, or perplexed by a task or situation, write down the details of the situation, how it makes you feel, and how you react. At the end of the week, read your entries to see if there is a common theme. For example, every time you are given a task involving mathematics, you break into a sweat and panic—in this case, it’s clear your weakness is mathematics.
- Last but not least, take a free online personality test like This One, designed to pinpoint your strengths, weaknesses, and areas for improvement. In fact, this is a great test to take before any job interview, as it will help you prepare honest answers about your strengths as well.
Don’t Choose an Answer from a Generic List of Weaknesses
If you search online, you can easily find a list of weaknesses, but that won’t give you a good answer to this interview question. The problem is that these lists typically feature personality-based weaknesses such as, “trouble staying organized,” where you should be naming a skill-based weakness like, “public speaking.”
So if you want to search around and brainstorm some ideas, that’s fine, but just be careful about choosing random weaknesses from a list without putting thought into how it’s going to sound.
Answering “What’s Your Greatest Weakness”: Quick Review
If you read the full article you now know why hiring managers ask, “what’s your greatest weakness”. And you know why the typical answer most people are giving is *not* going to impress them. You also know the two-step formula to come up with a great answer that WILL stand out and make them want to offer you the job.
If you missed that, make sure to go back up and get familiar with the two-step answer formula for giving a real weakness and then explaining how you’ve overcome it. That’s by far the BEST way to answer “what is your greatest weakness?” or “what are your weaknesses?” in the interview. If you give this type of answer instead of the typical “fake” weakness (a strength disguised as a weakness), you’re going to build a much better connection with the hiring manager and they’ll really appreciate the thoughtful, genuine answer you came up with.
This is how you stand out in the interview and make yourself memorable, which will get you more job offers. Any time you can avoid giving a cookie-cutter, common interview answer and say something unique, you’re a step closer to being memorable, being appreciated, and getting on the interviewer’s good side.
I’d highly recommend going into each interview prepared to share at least one detailed weakness example using the two-step method from this article.
More interview questions about strengths and weaknesses: