You can prepare for a job interview the same way you prepare for an internship interview. You pick your clothes well before the day of the job interview. You prepare copies of your CV. You research the business. You go through the questions you’re likely to have to answer during the job interview. And that’s where you find one that seems almost senseless — what’s your greatest weakness?
Why Do Interviewers Ask the Weaknesses Question?
The weaknesses question comes up regularly during job interviews. It’s often paired with its opposite, the question about the candidate’s strengths. When asked about strengths and weaknesses in a job interview, you might feel like you’ve been delivered a one-two punch that undermines your control of the situation and derails the interview.
But that’s not what the weaknesses question is supposed to do. Recruiters will ask it for various reasons, including to gauge whether you lack a skill they need, to see how you approach problems, and to cross-reference your answer with the things they hear when they check your references. And it’s difficult to spring the question on a candidate these days because even first-time applicants can easily find out the types of questions they’ll likely have to answer during a job interview. The weaknesses question will be among them.
How to Craft a Good Answer to the Weaknesses Job Interview Question
Now that you know that it’s nothing personal or against you, it’s important you understand that, in a job interview, weaknesses have a very specific way they are talked about. And to learn how to do it, you first need to prepare a list of weaknesses for job interviews.
Choosing Your Weaknesses Beforehand
Some weaknesses are bigger than others. Some are more important than others. And some are more easily turned into strengths than others. Creating a list of weaknesses before the job interview will allow you to carefully consider which are the ones you could use as an answer. It will also help you talk about them more comfortably. You won’t be surprised when the recruiter asks the question — you’ll know what you can and cannot talk about.
You have a large pool of skills to choose from. However, you should be careful not to pick any of the hard or soft skills that are particularly in demand by employers. You should also avoid listing the skills that are critical for your job. And you should also remember that some of your habits and personality traits can easily find their way into the list.
Hard skills are the core skills that make you competent to perform your job. You probably learned them during education or in training and being bad at them is something that will greatly reduce your chances to be good at your job. If you want to mention a hard skill, you should be extra careful and only speak about the ones that are not too important for your job.
The hard skills you may or may not mention during the job interview are highly dependent on the type of job you’re applying for. It doesn’t make sense to say that you’re not too good at playing the piano if you’re in a job interview for the position of a software designer. In that case, it would be much better to mention that you’re not too comfortable working with one of the programming languages that are not listed as necessary in the job application.
Soft skills are a very different type of skills than hard skills. You’re unlikely to have a class in college teaching you a specific soft skill. It takes plenty of time to develop them, and you might even have some that you don’t notice. They pass as your personality traits, social skills, or communication skills. In the workplace, however, they can become invaluable.
Some of the soft skills you might consider mentioning in your job interview as a big weakness include:
- Leadership skills
- Maintaining a positive attitude
- Problem-solving skills
- Presentation skills
Same as with hard skills, you should avoid using a soft skill as the answer to the weaknesses question if it’s an absolute requirement for your job. Pick one that doesn’t matter that much.
It makes sense to list academics among your weaknesses only in a couple of cases. If you’re looking for a career in academia, or if you’re a recent college graduate, it’s acceptable to talk about your academic skills in the job interview. If, on the other hand, you’ve finished college a while back and you’ve already had a job or a few, your academic skills will probably be irrelevant.
Here are some of the academic skills and competencies you could mention, if appropriate, to answer the weakness question in a job interview:
- Essay writing
- Too involved in extracurriculars
- Issues with staying on top of a course
Even though interpersonal skills are often roped in with soft skills, they can easily form a standalone category of potential weaknesses. Your future employers will want to know how well you work with others and how you will behave around people in a work environment. For some people, that’s not an issue. For others, working with a team of people can present difficulties.
The issues with your interpersonal skills you can mention include:
- Social awkwardness
- Bad relationship management
- Bad receptiveness to feedback
- Not knowing workplace etiquette
Your work ethics or work processes can be flawed. After all, most of us are works in progress, with lots of room for self-improvement. However, keep in mind that some of the work ethics offenses you can list in a job interview as your greatest weakness can completely obliviate all of the good work you’ve done listing and showcasing your skills and previous achievements.
Work ethics is paramount, and some of the areas you might mention as possible targets for further self-improvement include:
- Time management
- Detail-orientation or perfectionism
Crafting a Good Answer in Five Steps
Once you have a list of skills and traits you can mention during the job interview as potential weaknesses, you can move on to the next tasks. That means that you have to figure out which ones you can talk about without ruining your chances of getting the job. And you have to learn how to talk about the weaknesses so that they don’t look too bad.
Step #1: Find an Honest Answer
Lying, or misrepresenting facts, is one of the major mistakes you can make during a job interview. And if you’re wondering whether the interviewer will catch you lying about your weaknesses, you might as well assume the answer will be ‘yes.’ If you provide a list of references with your job application, you can bet they’ll be called up and asked, among other things, about your weaknesses.
So you might as well pick an honest answer. Out of all the skills you’ve listed, choose those that you actually have and that might have some room for improvement. You should also think about the weaknesses you displayed in previous workplaces and see if they would be appropriate for the job you’re trying to get.
Step #2: Be Aware of Deal-Breaker Weaknesses
No matter how silver-tongued you are, there is no way you can downplay a lack in one of the core skills you need for the job. If you’re a basketball player but you can’t catch a ball, or if you’re a software engineer whose major weakness is lack of knowledge in coding, you will not get hired for the job.
The weaknesses you mention in the job interview have to be non-essential for the position. They should be something that could come into play in the workplace. But they shouldn’t automatically disqualify you. If your big weakness is one of the core competencies you need to have for the job, you shouldn’t have come to the job interview stage in the first place.
Step #3: Give a Skill-Based Answer
Even if the weaknesses you choose might be something that can pass as a personality trait, always look for an angle to present it as a skill. You’re not applying for a friendship. You’re applying for a job. Sticking to the skills will make you appear more professional. And it will also help with the next step.
Step #4: Chase Your Weaknesses with a Solution
This is the big one. The way you go unscathed through speaking about your weaknesses in a job interview is by immediately following up your weaknesses with possible solutions. The formula is simple enough — you provide a short explanation of your weaknesses, and then you state the steps you’re undertaking to fix them.
In your job interview, your main goal is to show that you’re competent enough to fill the position. However, you should also use every possible opportunity to demonstrate that you’re willing to take a constructive approach to any issue that might arise. When you mention that you’re working on improving your weaknesses in the job interview, you’re saying that you’re a proactive person who is dedicated to self-improvement and ready to learn.
Step #5: Keep It Positive
Finally, you should make sure that your answers don’t come off as negative. There’s no reason to be too hard on yourself for having weaknesses. There’s also no reason to go too much into why you have them — that’s not what a job interview is for. And if you approach the issue in a constructive and positive way, you’ll walk out of the job interview with a few extra points.
What Not to Say When Answering the Weaknesses Job Interview Question
There are plenty of ways to answer the job interview weaknesses questions right. But there’s also more than one way you could do it wrong. Some answers that seem so obviously good are actually very bad, and you should learn to avoid them.
“I Don’t Have any Weaknesses”
Every single person has weaknesses. But even if you spent years honing your skills and you came to the job interview to demonstrate that you’re the perfect candidate for the job, you should still find a weakness to talk about. It pays off to display some humbleness in a job interview, especially if you have a very strong skill set.
Passing Strengths as Weaknesses
Being a workaholic, or too loyal to the company, or too much of a team player are not weaknesses. Recruiters expect you to do your best to impress them during the job interview. But remember — a job interview is a really bad place to lie or try to manipulate the recruiter. You won’t score additional points with them by trying to be clever during the job interview.
Bluntness isn’t something you should practice during a job interview, and especially when answering the weaknesses job interview question. It’s to your benefit to be diplomatic and take some time to explain both the weaknesses and the ways you are trying to improve them.
Don’t List All of Your Weaknesses
In a job interview, you don’t volunteer information that can reduce your chances of getting hired. That’s one of the easier ways to waste a job interview. So when asked about your weaknesses, take careful note whether there’s a plural in there. If there is, list two weaknesses. If there isn’t list only one. And be prepared to bring up another one if asked.
Typical Job Interview Questions About Weaknesses and Answer Examples
The recruiter can refer to your weaknesses in several different ways. The most common formulation is the one where they outright ask you about them during the job interview, but there are others you should be prepared for. Here are a couple of formulations you might encounter in job interviews, and examples of good and bad answers.
What’s Your Greatest Weakness?
The dreaded question that’s ruined many job interviews. A bad answer to the question would be:
“I do my best work under pressure, so I sometimes miss deadlines. But the quality of work makes it worth it.”
Instead, you should try something like:
“I have had time-management issues in the past. I wasn’t missing a lot of deadlines, but I always came close. However, I’ve taken steps to improve my work process, prioritize better, and get into a better work rhythm, and they’re showing results.”
What Do People Most Often Criticize About You?
This question requires you to show an understanding of how other people see you, so it’s testing your social skills as well as your self-awareness and attitude. This is the bad reply:
“People will always say that I’m the last one to turn in my work.”
Instead, you should try:
“I’ve received feedback from my coworkers about timeliness issues with work product delivery. I’ve taken them to heart, identified areas that needed improvement, and started implementing changes.”
What Part of the Job Will Be the Most Challenging to You?
With this question, the recruiter is trying to gauge your honesty as well as your understanding of the position. The bad reply would be:
“Nothing, I am the perfect person for the job and I have all the skills you need.”
The good reply sounds like:
“I understand that you’re using a project management methodology I’m not familiar with. It might take me some time to get used to it, but I’m a fast learner, so it shouldn’t be a problem.”
Job interviews are far from perfect when it comes to gauging your ability to do a job. You know it, and the recruiters know it too. But until someone comes up with an algorithm that matches people with the jobs they are perfect for, you’ll probably see your fair share of job interviews. You should prepare for each thoroughly, and you should never go into one without the answers to the most important questions. And the weaknesses question is one of them.