I dislike the question, "What are your weaknesses?". Like many similar interview questions and scenarios, this question encourages play-acting. It is not a good way to get insight on the candidate or encourage open communication. Instead, it tests if the job candidate if you know what to say about your weaknesses in a job interview.
It also tests the ability of the job candidate to confirm their communication in a way the interviewer likes. Still, there are good weaknesses to list in an interview.
Traditional interview questions
If the interviewer is using traditional interview questions, they will likely want you to answer in a structured way during the interview. Like in poker, traditional interview questions, and the people’s expressions while asking are a “tell”.
This gives you insight into the mindset of the interviewer. You then have the opportunity to decide what you want to say about your weaknesses in the job interview.
Depending on the mood of the interviewer, and your personal style, you can start by answering the interview question with a joke:
- “My weakness is chocolate. No, honestly, it’s...“
Good weaknesses to list in an interview, first, mention an area for improvement you would like to work on, ideally something that others have said about you. Then, have an explanation for how you are working on it.
- “I have seen myself and heard from others that I am weak in terms of speaking up in meetings and voicing my opinions in group settings. I’ve been working on this by preparing more and speaking with the person leading the meeting in advance that I would like to say something.”
In general, I would attempt to use this question as a way to describe your mindset and approach rather than as a chance to talk about how horrible you are. You can answer the questions in a way that gives you more insight on the company and communicates who you are.
Knowing what to say about your weaknesses in a job interview is similar to dancing with someone for the first time. If your partner is lost, you can lead the dance with subtlety to make it a positive experience for everyone.
Interview questions and answers
Weakness interview questions and answers are a discussion on those things that you have struggled with and are working on improving. If you do have any true "weaknesses" you likely don't realize they exist. If you did, and it bothered you, then you would be working on them.
Giving examples and situations are a great way to answer this kind of question. The interviewer response will give good insight into the working dynamics of the company:
- "I often times struggle in roles that are too structured where I'm expected to do things 'because' rather than a willingness to explain the logic and an openness to consider changing the process." Or "I often struggle in environments that are too open. I'm uncomfortable when people share too much. I just want to do my job and go home."
If you can provide good weaknesses to list in an interview, then you should have a much better alignment with the hiring team on who you are and what you want. Through these kinds of interview questions and answers, you can also structure the response to explain what kind of role/environment you want to work within and how those weaknesses help you exclude environments where you really don’t want to work.
How to tell if your weakness answer is not working
The most valuable information from an interview are the reactions to what you say about your weaknesses in a job interview. Do not listen to what they say. Instead, watch for subtle clues as you explain your weaknesses.
If the interviewer is making eye contact, leaning in, asking questions and clarifying, those are all signs that they see value in what you are describing. If they are leaning back, twisted to the side, looking more at your CV, out the window or to the side, they likely lack interest in what you are describing and are looking for short-clear answers.
The best answers to the weakness question aren’t really your own weaknesses. The best answers are your preferences, “I’m not able to work effectively when <this> happens.”