Image courtesy of Brooke Cagle
What are your weaknesses? At face value, it sounds like a trick question. Why would you admit to a weakness when trying to impress a potential employer? But are you really expected to be honest about a flaw that could hurt your chances of getting the job?
In reality, asking about your weaknesses isn’t some sort of power move or crafty way to get you to sabotage your chances. Instead, it can serve as an opportunity to show that you’re not only self-aware, but also willing to admit to and learn from your mistakes.
If you’re preparing for a job interview and wondering how to address what your weaknesses are, here’s your quick guide on what to say, what not to say, and why it even comes up.
What’s the point of asking about my weaknesses?
Your potential employer has a limited amount of time to gauge whether you’re right for the job. By asking about your weaknesses (or at least, what you believe them to be), your interviewer is trying to get a sense of how you think about yourself. Are you self-aware? How frank are you about mistakes? Do you sugar-coat everything? Do you give a canned answer? Can you think critically and constructively about your own work?
Is there a right way to talk about your weaknesses in a job interview?
Well, sort of. While there isn’t a specific “weakness” that you can mention that’s a golden ticket to getting hired, there are a few personality traits that your interviewer will be looking for.
In an informal poll of 12 hiring managers, CNBC found that when asking this question, most employers want to see a candidate display that they’re self-aware, humble, and capable of critical reflection. Additionally, they may be looking to find out how well you’d balance the team—and if one of your weaknesses is another employee’s strength, or vice versa, then you’re already one step ahead of the game.
How to answer the question
You’ll need to do a bit of reflection to identify your weaknesses. To get started, try asking yourself a few questions, like:
What areas has my manager asked me to address? Has there been a recurring feedback?
What’s a recurring trigger for my frustration?
What kind of task(s) do I tend to procrastinate?
Where do I feel least confident in my work?
What’s a skill that I’ve been wanting to gain or improve?
Do any of my personality traits or habits get in the way of my work?
In reflecting, it’s important to choose a weakness that’s authentic, but not one that you should have already addressed (more on that below).
Keep your answer brief, and mention ways you’re working to address the problem.
What are your weaknesses? Answer examples
With that in mind, here are a few suggestions for ways to answer what your weaknesses are without compromising your chances at the getting the job.
Example #1 - I can’t get out of my own way
One of my weaknesses is that I tend to work on projects for as long as I can, because I feel that there’s always room for improvement. Since that can put me behind schedule, I’ve started implementing deadlines for myself so that I avoid both dwelling on a project that could’ve been ready much sooner and stressing myself out over edits that I might have missed.
Example #2 - A barrier to promotion
I know this role isn't a leadership role, but I understand there’s potential to rise to that level. One thing I’d have to work on before getting there is my delegation skills. I have a hard time asking other people to do tasks for me, not because I think I can do them better, but because I don’t want to inconvenience them. At my current company, however, we recently hired an intern, and I’ve been able to slowly pass off tasks that I’d otherwise do myself. I’m eager to continue working on this in a new position.
Example #3 - I want to be more assertive
I can be more prone to listen than to speak up. While this can be a good trait, it also means I avoid giving my input during internal meetings and calls with clients. Over the past few months, my manager has been encouraging me to share our division’s updates during monthly company-wide meetings, which has helped me gain more confidence in speaking up.
Example #4 - I lack a valuable skill
I notice the job description calls for expertise in Python. I'd say my skills are moderate. But if chosen for this role, I'd be sure to find a course to improve my skills.
Mistakes to avoid
It’s easy to come off as disingenuous when discussing your weaknesses because it’s never easy to be open about your flaws—especially when you’re talking to a potential employer. If you want to make the best impression possible, here’s what not to bring up.
Don’t talk about a problem that you should have dealt with by now
It may go without saying, but don’t use weaknesses that will actually hurt your chances at the job.
For example, if you offer up that you’re perpetually late—to meetings, to work, to meet your deadlines. That’s likely going to hurt your chances. Being on time and meeting deadlines is just professionalism.
Don’t say what you think your interviewer wants to hear
My only weakness is that I work too hard is not fooling anyone. Not only will it sound insincere, but it also doesn’t give your interviewer a look into what you’re actually like—besides the fact that you may be a brown-noser.
Avoid going into great detail about your weaknesses
After all, your interview is only so long, and you don’t want to spend ten minutes talking about what might hold you back.