What Are Your Weaknesses? - Interview Question

What Are Your Weaknesses - Interview Question

"What are your weaknesses?" is one of the most dreaded interview questions.

We have heard more people struggling to answer this question than just about every other interview question recruiters can think of.

What are your weaknesses?

That’s a pretty personal question.

We'll discuss ways to answer this interview question, but first, let's talk about why employers ask this question in the first place.

Why am I being asked this?

Recruiters and hiring managers are smart, so they know they won't always hear a completely honest response.

However, they keep asking this question.

They must have a purpose for keeping this as one of their common interview questions.

The reason you are being asked, “What are your weaknesses” is twofold:

  1. The employer wants to test your honesty.
  2. The employer hopes to find out your weak spots.

Keep in mind that nobody is perfect.

Your prospective employer knows this and does not expect perfection.

But they do expect you to be honest.

How not to answer

Before we discuss the best ways to answer this interview question, let's cover a couple of ways you shouldn't answer.

1. Don't give an unrealistic answer

The person who says, “I have no weakness. I am perfect!” is not very smart.

(There you go, I just found a weakness for that person.)

It’s important to confess a true weakness, but also to do this in a strategic way (more on that soon).

Let's consider a couple of examples.

Bad Response

Hiring manager: "What are your weaknesses?"

Not-very-smart person: "You know, I really can't think of any. I've always been pretty adept at everything I try to do. Call me lucky."

Yeah, no.

Not a single recruiter out there will be impressed with the above answer.

Good Response

Hiring manager: "What are your weaknesses?"

Smart person: "I tend to be highly competitive in nature. When I see an acquaintance learning a language or taking a class, I want to do it too. Sometimes I take on a lot at one time."

The above could be a weakness, yet it also demonstrates an individual who is highly motivated.

This could be just what the hiring manager is looking for in an employee.

2. Don't ruin your chances

If you are applying for a sales position, you better hope that your weakness is not that you are scared to talk to people.

But let's imagine for a moment that this is the case.

(We'll ignore the fact that this factor will directly impact your success in the position.)

Whether or not you get the job can depend on how you respond to one of the most basic interview questions. 

Bad Response

Recruiter: "What are your weaknesses?"

Shy salesperson: "I'm actually scared of talking to people. I've always been socially awkward and it makes me withdrawn and hesitant to start a conversation."

Guess who's not going to get the job? 

Now, let's consider another way to respond to this question.

Good Response

Recruiter: "What are your weaknesses?"

Shy salesperson: "In school, I would always freeze up before a test, even when I studied hard for it. I dreaded tests because I sometimes got bad scores although I knew the material really well."

Is the above a weakness? Probably. (Although it likely has much to do with learning styles, that's another topic altogether.)

The above example showed an honest response.

However, the weak area would not directly hurt the person's chance of getting the job.

So, let's say you're going into a sales interview. 

You can state that you were never very good at drawing or technical troubleshooting.

These answers will not hurt your chances at the position.

(For more interview help, read 50 Top Job Interview Questions And Answers.)

How to answer "What are your weaknesses?"

Okay, now that you're wised up on how not to answer this common interview question, here are a few things to keep in mind as you respond.

1. Answer strategically

You've probably gathered by now that it’s perfectly fine to admit a weakness.

(I have about 10 million of them, personally.)

But I will not outline the whole lot of weaknesses when my prospective employer asks about them.

I will be strategic as to which ones I confess, based on the job I am applying for.

For example, let's say you are applying for a nursing position.

Bad Response

Employer: "What are your weaknesses?"

Nurse: "I get nauseated around sick people, and I can't stand needles."

The recruiter would probably end the interview right then and there.

They might offer a suggestion first: find another line of work.

Good Response

Employer: "What are your weaknesses?"

Nurse: "My friends sometimes tell me that I'm too caring. And it's true, there have been times I've been taken advantage of. When someone asks for help, I just can't turn them away."

Is caring a weakness? Could be, but if so, it's definitely a strategic way to answer.

After all, your job as a nurse is to help people.

Although this is an amazing quality to have, it is also a perfect "weakness" to confess that will actually score you some points in the interview.

2. Provide details with your answer

A recruiter or hiring manager is trained to spot false or incomplete responses.

As such, when they ask this interview question, you don't want to fail by making your answer too short.

You likely noticed this in the above examples.

Each of them is a couple of sentences rather than a brief sentence or phrase.

Bad Response

Recruiter: "What are your weaknesses?"

Employee: "I like my work to be perfect."

Is this a weakness? It can be, but the response is too brief.

The recruiter won't really know how to take this answer.

In other words, someone could easily give the same response when asked, "What are your strengths?"

The answer is so short that it won't satisfy the person interviewing you.

Good Response

Recruiter: "What are your weaknesses?"

Employee: "I tend to be a perfectionist. There have been times I've stayed at a task longer than I should have because my desire for excellence has outweighed my adherence to a deadline."

The above response provides a practical example of something negative that has happened due to the employee's perfectionism: missing a deadline.

Could that be a problem?

It really depends on the position. 

There are, of course, vocations where timeliness supersedes excellence.

It's more likely that an employer will give grace when they know the employee will turn in a superior project.

(Within reason. The report can't be a whole week late just because it has some fancy fonts and formatting.)

3. Turn your weakness into a strength

Whatever your weakness is, follow up by explaining what you are doing to address this weakness in a positive way.

You will surely earn some bonus points if you develop this kind of answer.

Bad Response

Hiring manager: "What are your weaknesses?"

Employee: "I don't like talking to people because I always seem to get my words all tripped up."

The employer might sympathize, but that's about it.

They won't find it impressive that you aren't doing anything to improve this weakness.

Good Response

Hiring manager: "What are your weaknesses?"

Employee: "I am not the best speech giver; however, I have been taking communications courses at my university in order to practice. I have given multiple speeches in front of the classroom and I am working to turn this weakness into a strength.”

Bonus tip:

Remember, what can be perceived as a weakness to one is a strength to another.

Sometimes an aspect of your personality really could be one or the other.

It all depends on how you state your weaknesses.

Make sure that you convey your answer in a humble manner.

If you say that your weakness is caring too much, but you say it in a way that you are clearly not convinced this is a weakness, the employer is going to see right through you.

But with a humble mindset, you are sure to answer what are your weaknesses with flying colors.

(Asking What Are Your Strengths about your strengths is often a follow-up question during interviews.)

Closing: Let us help you

If you still need some extra help, check out Find My Profession to learn more.

Our career finder program assists you along every step of finding a job.

We can help you prepare for interviews with our interview coaching by phone, email, or chat as part of the career finder program.

Contact us today and find out how we can professionally manage your job search.

If you are looking for a job, we also offer expert resume writing services

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