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What are your weaknesses?
Yes, the dreaded weaknesses interview question.
The last thing you ever want to do at an interview - tell the interviewer that you are bad at something.
You already feel like puking. And now, you have to make yourself look good while discussing how you’re terrible at something.
And no, you can’t pretend like you have no weaknesses. You’re a puny human.
You’ve got to own up to that.
Good news. You can answer the "what are your weaknesses" job interview question without sabotaging yourself.
And - hint - it does NOT involve pretending that being a perfectionist is a personal weakness.
This article will show you:
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What does the interviewer want to find out by asking the "what are your weaknesses" question?
Here’s a little secret. It’s about how you answer, not what you answer.
The interviewer is looking for three qualities:
An ideal candidate won’t deny that they have real weaknesses. But the weakness they choose won’t interfere with the duties of the job in question.
Yes, I have a couple of weaknesses. My biggest weakness is my inability to work well on a team. That’s why I became a truck driver. I get to spend most of my time alone.
Some candidates will hear the "what are your weaknesses" question and freeze. They panic and deny that they have any. Denial is one of the worst mistakes you can make.
Weaknesses? What weaknesses? You mean me? You must be kidding! I don’t have any.
The second worst mistake? Lying.
An ideal candidate won’t lie about their weaknesses. Choose a real weakness and talk about the steps you’re taking to address it.
I’m not very good at gauging how long a task will take me to finish. I quite often underestimate the time it will take to do smaller jobs. The result is that I don’t delegate enough time to larger, more important projects. I have to rush to get things done. Sometimes I miss deadlines. To address the issue, I’ve started taking time management courses at my local community college.
Disguising a strength as a weakness.
What are my weaknesses? Well, for one thing, I’m such a perfectionist. Everything has to be perfect. Not to mention I’m a definite workaholic. Plus, I’m obsessive about organization. Everything has to be perfect and in place. It’s super annoying.
Okay, for a long time we were all trained to answer this way. Now, interviewers know that it’s a way of avoiding the question. Again, they’ll wonder what you’re hiding.
An important part of your "what are your weaknesses" answer is showing self-improvement. You should include details about the steps you’re taking to learn a skill or correct a weakness.
I have two greatest weaknesses. The first is my inability to share responsibilities. The second is remaining patient during group projects. I want to be in control. I don’t trust others with work I know I can do better. So, if I have to share a task, I lose my patience when I suspect that the other person isn’t doing it right. I’ve discussed these weaknesses with my supervisor as areas I’d like to improve. We’ve set up a timeline and goals for me to achieve. I’ve enrolled in several team building workshops and a volunteer group. I’m learning to let go and trust others. My supervisor complimented me on my progress.
You are not confessing your sins or discussing childhood traumas with a therapist. So, don’t talk about your greatest weakness of all time and then wait for mercy.
I hate animals. I hate animals so much that I yell at my sister’s dog when she isn’t around to hear it. I don’t know why I hate animals so much. I suspect that it comes from the time when a seagull ate my taco. That bird swooped down and ate a taco out of my hand. I’ve never been the same since. I don’t know what to do about it.
Don’t be weird. Don’t be too candid. Don’t over-confess. Forget about your aversion to animals, and don’t talk about how you miss work because you can’t get out of bed.
Here are other ways the interviewer might ask the "what are your weaknesses" question:
Some of the variations allow you to answer with a display of strength. Don’t waste the opportunity.
Pro Tip: Remember, the interviewer cares less about what you answer and more about how you answer. The "what are your weaknesses" question is designed to put you on the spot.
Strengths and weaknesses go hand in hand. Need help identifying your strengths? Read our guide: "How to Answer the "What Are Your Strengths?" Interview Question (Examples)"
How are you supposed to come up with a list of weaknesses in the first place?
And yes, you’ll want to make a list of weaknesses. Plus, you’ll want to prepare yourself so you can talk about most of them if necessary.
That’s because the interviewer may start with:
What is your greatest weakness?
And follow up with:
What are some other weaknesses?
Here’s how you make a list of relevant weaknesses that you can use to answer the what are your weaknesses question:
Start by asking yourself the following:
Remember, the best answer to the what are your weaknesses question will be in two parts.
So, when you make a list of weaknesses, try to come up with those that you’ve worked hard to correct.
Next, go to your job offer. What skills can you find?
Here’s an example of a job offer for a Server at a restaurant:
Notice the skills:
Look at your list.
Your answer to the what are your weaknesses question is the only time you’ll want to avoid matching skills from the job offer. You will want to choose weak skills that ARE NOT essential for the job.
Choose a weakness that isn’t one of the job-related skills listed in the job offer.
One of my biggest weaknesses is that I can’t sit still and focus for extended periods of time. I was never a bookworm. I always preferred athletics and hands-on activities. To make sure that I got through school with good grades, I set study goals for myself. I would sit still and focus on test materials for thirty minutes. After, I would reward myself with a break to run around or socialize. The system taught me discipline and helped me focus. I graduated from my high school with honors. I am now attending college on an athletic scholarship.
First, she doesn’t disguise her weakness as a strength. But she does mention her strengths as she goes along. It’s more than okay to talk about your strengths in your what are your weaknesses answer.
For example, she is disciplined and can learn new information. Second, she shows what she did to address her weakness.
She set study goals. And these steps lead to her success. She got good grades and earned a scholarship.
Admitting to a weakness that is necessary for the job.
I have anger management issues. I tend to blow up when someone makes me angry or nervous. I guess you can say I’m the opposite of Little Miss Sunshine. Don’t get me wrong. I like people. But I’m a grumpy person. I don’t have a high tolerance for nonsense or stupidity. I’m working on it, though. I’ve been doing volunteer work with seniors to develop patience and empathy. I have a couple of regulars who are as grumpy as me, and we get along fine.
The job offer states that the ideal candidate should be “positive, bubbly, and friendly.” If that’s not you, you’re not qualified for this job. If you’re going to fake it until you make it (i.e., you need the job), don’t mention that you’re Oscar the Grouch.
|A real weakness, but one that isn’t going to affect your job performance too much.
I would say my greatest weakness is my writing skills. I’ve always been a technical, math person. I like crunching numbers. But when it comes to words I get tongue-tied and forget the rules. I’ve started using Grammar apps to make sure my emails are correct. The app gives the activity a tech feel, which makes the whole thing more comfortable for me as well.
The candidate chose “writing skills” as her weakness. As a software designer, she won’t have to write much. We’ll say that “written communication skills” didn’t show up in her job offer. Plus, she is taking measures to do better.
|A real weakness, but one that would affect your job performance.
My greatest weakness? I’m a contradiction. I’m a clown, and I can’t make people laugh. No matter how hard I try, no one laughs when Bobo does his clown show.
If “making people laugh” is one of the job requirements, don’t tell the interviewer that you can’t make people laugh. That’s the easiest way to blow your interview.
That’s why you want to choose up to three weaknesses from your list that don’t match skills listed in your job offer.
Okay. Once you’ve got a list of your greatest weaknesses, you’ll need to list the ways you’re improving. Showing that you’re working on improving your weakness is important part of answering the what are your weaknesses question.
Don’t leave the interviewer hanging.
Have you done any of the following things to improve your weakness:
You’ll also want to give clear examples of how you succeed or are on your way to succeeding.
The STAR method is an effective way to demonstrate that the measures you’re taking are working.
The STAR method will help you remember how to tell your success stories during an interview. And don’t just use the STAR method for the what are your weaknesses question.
You can use it to answer just about any typical interview question.
STAR stands for Situation, Task, Action, Result:
Situation - You start by explaining a situation which required you to solve a problem, use a skill, or come up with a new idea.
Task - Next, you explain the action that your job requires in such a situation.
Action - After, you describe the action that you took. If it’s different than the required task, you should also explain why you chose a different path.
Result - What happened in the end? How did the situation play out once you acted? It’s best here to illustrate successes with numbers and details if you can. Numbers help reinforce the impact that your action had.
Let’s use an example of a weakness for the Server candidate that matches our job offer. Remember this is only part of a good answer for the what are your weaknesses question.
Situation - My greatest weakness is that I talk too much. I am a blabbermouth. I used to get in trouble for talking over my teachers during class.
Task - The principal gave me a warning. She told me that I had to learn to zip it during class or I would get expelled. So, I had to come up with a way to restrain myself.
Action - I started playing the Quiet Game with my friends. You know the game that parents trick children into playing in the car on longer trips? Well, I asked my friends to help me learn to listen more and speak less by playing the Quiet Game with me. They were more than accommodating.
Result - I learned to occupy myself with listening. I learned to wait until it was my turn to speak and to cut myself off when I become a senseless motormouth. After a month of shutting myself up, my teachers noticed that I was doing better. They also suggested that I join the debate team where I helped the team win State Championships. Now to prove my new skill, I will stop talking.
Pro Tip: You can mention strengths in your what are your weaknesses answer. Remember the question is often paired with strengths anyway: What are your strengths and weaknesses?
Want to know what skills hiring managers find most important? Not sure if all the skills from the job offer are job-related? We’ve got you covered. Read our guide: “+30 Best Examples of What Skills to Put on a Resume (Proven Tips)”
Here are the examples of weaknesses that we’ve covered so far:
So here’s what a what are your weaknesses answer should look like:
My greatest weakness is that I am a shy and nervous person by nature. The result is that I have a difficult time speaking up in groups. Even if I have good ideas, I have trouble asserting them. Often I keep them to myself.
Here the candidate is admitting a common and real weakness. At the same time, it’s not the best answer if the job requires public speaking skills. Make sure you tailor your response to the job description.
Once, I suggested an idea for a project. The project manager shot it down, and I did not protest. The supervisor heard about my idea. It upset him that I didn’t fight harder for it.
Here’s a situation where the candidate’s weakness caused her to fail at work.
I decided that it was time to sign up for speaking classes. I also took some acting classes. The acting classes helped me learn to separate my professional self from my shy self. That helped me a lot.
Now, the candidate talks about the steps she took to improve her weakness. She took classes that she felt would help relieve her shyness at work.
The next time I worked on a project, I stood by my ideas. I spoke up and asked the project manager to take a second look at what I had proposed. She agreed that my idea was quite good upon reflection. My supervisor noticed the improvement and promoted me to management. I now head up a team of five people despite being shy.
The candidate points out how her actions have resulted in success. It’s okay if you don’t have a success story for your grand finale. All you need to do is show that you are taking steps to improve now and in the future.
I have terrible time management and organizational skills. I’m one of those people who procrastinates and puts things off until the very last minute. I’ve made up for it over the years because I am a certified genius. Where others would crash and burn if they leave things undone, I flourish. So, I may look like I do nothing. I may sit in the middle of a mess. But, I will always meet the deadline, even if it’s five minutes from the time I start the work.
This type of answer raises all kinds of red flags for the hiring manager. Yes, let’s say she meets deadlines. But she can she turn in quality work last minute? Doubtful. What about that mess? She makes messes? What kind of messes? Well, that’s not considerate at all.
If you want to be sure you ace your interview, check out our handy interview advice. Then, you need to send a thank you email. Not sure how? Read our guide: "How to Write a Thank You Email After an Interview (+10 Examples)"
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Yes, sometimes the interviewer will try to catch you off guard with an interview question that isn’t fair. And yes, the what are your weaknesses interview question is one of the worst.
Focus on being self-aware, honest, and dedicated to improvement. If you’ve got these three qualities, your weakness won’t ruin your chances of landing the job.
Try to reflect on your real weaknesses and what you’re doing to improve. Give an honest and constructive answer. And remember, you’re only human.
Still not sure how to talk about your weaknesses? We can help! Leave a comment and we will help you find out how best to answer weakness questions during your interview.