Answering the “What are your weaknesses?” question at job interviews

You’re in the process of preparing for an upcoming interview, and you’re making a list of possible questions you might be asked. Smart move. One of the best ways to prepare for an upcoming interview is to develop answers to potential questions ahead of time. On that list of questions, you undoubtedly have: “What are your greatest weaknesses?” and “What are your greatest strengths?”

One of the easiest questions to answer is “What are your greatest strengths?” All you need to do is think back on the work accomplishments and skills you consistently received praise for, along with everything highlighted on your resume, and you’re well on your way.

On the other hand, one of the more challenging questions to answer during a job interview is “What are your greatest weaknesses?” Understandably, such a question sparks hesitation. 

While focusing on your strengths provides you with an opportunity to shine and highlight your abilities that align with the job you’re applying for, focusing on your weaknesses can be a bit trickier. After all, you want to ensure that you’re not putting your foot in your mouth or looking inept for the job when you discuss weaknesses.

Fortunately, there are ways to deal with the question “What are your weaknesses?” in such a way that you can actually show yourself in a positive light during your interview.

Let’s take a look.

Giant woman holds a small pleading man in the fist of one hand while pointing and shouting at him.
Some people feel small and get defensive when asked about weaknesses.

Why interviewers ask “What are your weaknesses?”

Recruiters and hiring managers want to get to know you as a whole person to determine if you’re a good fit for the job. They need to know about your strengths and weaknesses because of that; but often, the way a person handles the question itself can say a lot about them, particularly if unprepared. On the face of it, asking what your weaknesses are gives insights into how well you handle criticism, adversity, shortcomings, and challenges. Beyond that, they gain a glimpse into how self-aware, defensive, negative, or even ego-centric, you are based on how you respond to the question.

A businesswoman in an office shrugs heavily and makes a puzzled expression.
Some feel that admitting weaknesses may be held against them.

How to approach the “weaknesses” question

There is an art to sharing your weaknesses in a job interview. Ultimately, your goal is to gain points rather than push yourself into the “no thank you” pile. You want to answer the question in a way that shows how you can add value to the job.

First, assess your shortcomings and begin making a list. One option is to look at past performance reviews and highlight noted areas for improvement. Next, look at the job description and note the required hard and soft skills for the job. Ensure that you have a clear picture of what’s needed. Any skills, abilities, or attributes required for the job should not be on your list of weaknesses. Anything else is up for discussion.

Two business men sit leaning into each other across a table, in a competitive pose.
An attitude in place of openness doesn’t help.

Tips to put a positive spin on “weaknesses”

With your list of weaknesses in hand, find ways to give them a positive spin. For example:

  • Identify and share how you’ve transformed your weakness into a strength.
  • Highlight steps you are taking to improve current weaknesses.
  • Avoid strong negative words that would concern the interviewer, such as failure, embarrassment, inept, disaster, or hate.

Before the interview, you should genuinely take steps to start improving upon your weaknesses. By doing so, you’ll find that your answers don’t come across as staged or glib, and that you can answer questions that stem from your answers. You could try:

  • Taking a class or training course.
  • Volunteering or requesting to shadow someone.
  • Joining professional organizations.
  • Acquiring tools such as apps or software to hone skills like time management, organization. or collaboration.

A woman with a hand above her eyes faces right, looking outward. Her shadow is a caped superhero.
Expressing your weaknesses well can create a strong impression.

What to avoid when highlighting “weaknesses”

If you respond with the high-energy, “I have no weaknesses” response, the interviewer isn’t going to take you seriously, and your resume will end up in the trash. Answering in such a way sends the message that you lack awareness of who you are, you’re overly confident, you don’t learn from mistakes, or you’re in denial. No one is perfect, and interviewers know that.

You also want to avoid canned responses. Hiring managers and recruiters are used to hearing responses like: “I’m overly competitive,” “I’m hard on myself,” “I’m a perfectionist,” or “I’m overly ambitious.” If one or more of your weaknesses do fall into such a category, be sure to elaborate on them.

5 “Weaknesses” examples with answers

Below are five weaknesses you might address during a job interview, with example answers to guide you in developing your own answers.

1. I have difficulty letting go of projects because I want things to be perfect.

“I tend to put a lot of pressure on myself and want things to be perfect. As a result, I get bogged down in detailed revisions that can impact my productivity and timeliness. To address this area for improvement, I give myself deadlines for revising projects. I’m now able to stay on track without making last minute changes, which also allows me to minimize stress.”

2. I can focus too much on details.

“I can sometimes get so focused on the details of a project that it slows the team or me down and can make it challenging to meet deadlines. I’ve worked on this by providing myself specific points in time when I need to assess the bigger picture. This allows me to ensure both productivity and a high level of quality that meets expectations.

3. I sometimes struggle to delegate tasks.

“I’m clear that part of being a manager is effectively delegating tasks, though I find that I still struggle to do it at times. I get concerned that my team has too much on their plates already or that it will cause problems within the team. The result is me taking on too much myself, and my employees often get frustrated when they perceive I don’t trust them due to my lack of delegating. I’ve taken a managerial course with a section on delegating that has helped. I also have regular discussions with my team members to discuss their current responsibilities and what I am delegating to them. I have an open-door policy and request that they let me know if they run into challenges or struggle to meet deadlines, so we can develop solutions together.”

4. I sometimes have a hard time saying no.

“I appreciate that we all have busy schedules, so I like to help others out when possible. However, I sometimes take on too much, making it challenging to get my own work done on time. To address this challenge, before I quickly say “yes” to someone that asks for help, I now pause and let them know I’ll get back to them by the end of the day, or the next day, to consider how I can best help them, while creating a timeline to manage expectations. This approach allows me to ensure I don’t take on too much at any given time.”

5. I still have concerns about public speaking.

“Similar to many others, I still struggle with public speaking, whether in front of a small or large group. In the past, I’ve addressed this challenge by practicing in front of others before I present. I’ve also taken a seminar on public speaking and a training course on presentation skills. Currently, I am a participant in a local ToastMasters group, which is helping to alleviate my nerves before getting in front of a crowd.”

Reminder: Thoroughly assess the job description and avoid mentioning a weakness that is necessary for the job.

More potential “weaknesses” to highlight

Below are a few more examples of weaknesses that are often fair game to address during interviews:

  • Taking on too much at once.
  • Inexperience with (non-essential) technologies or skills.
  • Having trouble requesting support and trying to solve issues alone.
  • Maintaining work/life balance.
  • Not always communicating with other departments effectively. 

Refer to these tips as you develop your list of weaknesses. You’ll feel more confident and equipped for your upcoming interview as a result.