How to answer: What are your weaknesses?
Not sure how to talk about your weakness in an interview?
You’re not alone. In fact, whether it’s finding it difficult to talk negatively about yourself, or just falling into the same old clichés, this is actually one of the things that trips up the most interviewees. Especially if you haven’t prepared for it in advance.
We’ve already covered some of the most common interview questions that could come up, but here’s our advice for how to answer: ‘What are your weaknesses?’
The real question
What they’re asking: ‘What are your weaknesses?’
What they’re actually asking: ‘Am I right in thinking X about you? And are you going to give me the same evasive answers as everyone else, or are you going to level with me?
OK, so technically there’s no right way to answer this question. But there are plenty of wrong ones.
That’s because most people fall into the trap of not being genuine with their reply. Or, worse, they pretend that their weaknesses are trivial or irrelevant.
Spoiler alert: they’re not.
The golden rule here is to actually answer the question. And, if you’re using all the signals, then it doesn’t even need to be that hard.
Step one: Tell them what they already know
The first thing to remember here is that your interviewer has already read your CV.
That means there’s a pretty good chance they already have a few ideas when it comes to your potential weaknesses. So, at the very least, they’re just looking for those to be confirmed and (crucially) contextualised.
In other words, it’s time to level with them.
Using any gaps or lean patches in your CV will help to give your answer a sense of focus. Not to mention allay any potential worries they have that you aren’t right for the role. It also has the added benefit of being linked to skills or previous experience, rather than your personality.
Sure, it may seem easier to say something about the kind of person you are (e.g. stubborn or persistent). But you’re only likely to make them call your character into question.
Step two: Use the job description
Nothing missing on your CV? Move on to the job description.
Using some of the KPIs they’ve set out, for example, is a great way to show you fully understand the requirements of the role. With the added bonus of demonstrating that you know what the company sees as being important to their success.
Be careful not to overdo it, and pick something you know isn’t going to be a deal breaker. Instead, see it as a jumping off point for step three (below).
Remember: most people wouldn’t dream of talking about their weaknesses in this way. So this is your chance to clearly demonstrate your honesty and integrity.
Don’t pass up the opportunity to use it.
Step three: Show that you’re working on them
The key to this question is to show that improvements are already being made.
With this approach, you instantly demonstrate your commitment to getting better in your field. And a lifelong learner is always more attractive than someone with a natural but narrow skillset that they won’t ever move away from.
Again, be confident in your answer here, and don’t shy away from the truth. Or, ultimately, apologise for it. It should never come across like a forced confession.
Try and finish up with a question, if you can. This will help to steer the conversation back on to what you can do.
Finally, don’t let yourself be intimidated. A job is a problem to be solved. You’re just talking to the employer about how you can help solve theirs – weaknesses, and all.
Nobody is perfect. But that doesn’t mean you’re not the perfect person for the job.
Bad examples of weakness in interviews
Before we cover the example answer, there are definitely some things you should avoid. Partly because they sound incredibly insincere. And partly because your interviewer has likely already heard them.
Literally. Hundreds. Of. Times. Before.
Bad ‘what are your weaknesses’ answers include:
- I’m a perfectionist
- I work too hard/care too much
- I get frustrated when colleagues don’t pull their weight
- I get lost in the details
- I sweat the small stuff
- I don’t have any!
- I’m not good at [insert anything not remotely related to the role]
I’d say my greatest weakness at this point is that I’ve been out of the workforce for a couple of years, raising a family. So it might take me a little time to get back up-to-speed.
I have been keeping up with the industry during my time out though. For example, I’ve recently taken an online course in [X], which has been a great refresher. And also something I would never have been able to do whilst I was working.
In my last job, our KPIs were quite varied – both big, and small. Although I didn’t necessarily hit all of them, I did hit the ones that counted most. Looking at the KPIs you set out in the job description, I have no doubt that I’ll be able to hit them too.
Was there anything on my CV that stood out as a potential concern?
Need more interview questions?
Unfortunately, we can’t help you predict exactly which interview questions will come up on the big day. However, we can help you prepare for every eventuality and avoid any interview nightmares.
Buy James Reed’s new book: Why You? 101 Interview Questions You’ll Never Fear Again to find out how.
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