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:
Employers ask about your biggest weakness (or top 3 weaknesses) in job interviews for a few reasons.
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.
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…
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).
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.
Interviewers are tired of hearing answers like this. You shouldn’t give any answers 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.
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.
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.
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.
“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.
“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.”
“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.”
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…
“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.”
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.
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:
Biron Clark is a former Executive Recruiter who has worked 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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