5 proven ways to answer ‘what are your weaknesses?’ in a job interview

Job interviews are very nerve racking experiences, and one of the best ways to help you answer all the questions with confidence is to prepare answers in advance. There are some questions which are relatively easy to answer, like ‘what are your strengths?’ But there are some which strike fear into the heart of even the most experienced professional.

One of the most difficult questions to answer is the dreaded ‘what are your weaknesses?’

The reason why this is so hard to answer is because you don’t want to give away any of your weaknesses to an employer in case it puts them off hiring you. A job interview should be about how great you are and not what you can’t do. But this is why the employer asks you this question.

During a normal working day you will be faced with problems and issues that you have to solve. It could be a customer complaint or a systems failure. No matter what the issue, the employer wants to know that you can handle the pressure. This type of question is meant to test your response, and to see how positive or self-deprecating you are.

“They want to find out whether you have a healthy level of self-awareness, whether you can be open and honest, particularly about shortcomings and whether you pursue self-improvement and growth opportunities to combat these issues, as opposed to letting these weaknesses hold you back.”

~ Caroline Forsey,  Staff Writer @ Hubspot

An employer would typically ask you to name around three weaknesses, but no more than five in our experience. So to make sure we’ve got you covered, here are five great examples of how you could answer the ‘what are your weaknesses’ question.

“The weaknesses you choose should ideally be: not fundamental to the job, relating to professional competencies, and easily fixable.”

~ Wikijob

I am overly critical of myself 

Being a perfectionist can actually be a good thing in the workplace, as it could ensure you perform your tasks to the best of your ability. Your organisation skills are second to none, and ensuring you provide the best possible service is what you’re all about. However, being a perfectionist or overly critical could also have a negative impact on yourself and other co-workers.

As one of your weaknesses you could start off by confirming that you are critical of your own performance. In turn, this can sometimes have a negative impact on your confidence and creates lots of ‘second guess’ scenarios.

Now that you’ve gave your first answer, you can then turn it into a positive by saying how you’ve continued to improve on this and that you are now more confident in your own abilities. Your proven track record clearly indicates that you have no reason to constantly second guess your thoughts or your decisions.

“First, think about something that isn’t your strong suit, whether it’s delegating to others or attention to detail, but think about it back in the past. Show how you’ve taken steps to overcome it, or worked hard on getting better, and mention that you’re still working and working at becoming even better at this skill set.”

~ Kathryn Minshew, CEO, The Muse

I am afraid to take a risk 

Taking a risk in a working environment greatly depends on the role and the industry. A risk taker could get results, whereas a conservative employee may get left behind. On the flip side a risk taker could cause problems, whilst a level headed thinker could be the perfect fit for a company.

Make your answer fit depending on the company and the role you are applying for, and ensure it aligns with their goals. A sales role may depend heavily on taking a few risks and being a confident and outgoing individual, whilst an accountancy position is all about precision and patient decision making.

The positive outcome of this is that you are either looking to take more risks to get the job done, and become a more creative thinker. Or, you are willing to dial down the risk taking and take a more conservative and measured approach. 

I don’t like to ask for help 

Another great answer is to say that you have found it difficult to ask for help in the past. An employer would always welcome an employee to seek guidance if they need it, and to not assume that they know everything.

An overconfident employee can often cause problems for themselves by always making decisions on their own. Even the most qualified and experienced employee can make mistakes from time to time, and it’s knowing when to seek guidance that’s the key to success.

To spin this into a positive you can finish by saying that you are striving to seek help from co-workers or supervisors when faced with a difficult situation. You would rather work as a team to achieve success than try to be the hero.

Asking for help does not just apply to the workplace – see our article on how to prepare for a job interview.

I leave things until the last minute 

Being organised with your own tasks is a very important skill to have. An employer would always welcome someone who is organised and doesn’t need to be micro managed. Be careful not to lay this one on too thick though, as you might create the impression that you are a very disorganised individual.

Talk about how your desk used to get quite cluttered and messy, but that you are now tidier and recognise how that can help you be more efficient. You could also discuss your previous diary management and how that has also vastly improved.

Provide examples of when you struggled with your time management and how that had a negative impact on your daily routine. Use those examples to explain that you have learned from your mistakes and provide details on what you now do to combat your previous issues with organisation. 

I struggle with public speaking 

This is probably one of the most feared scenarios inside and outside of work, and you will come across lots of people that don’t like to speak in front of large groups. Giving a presentation in front of other co-workers can be a very daunting task, and whilst some people have no problems with this, most people find it very hard indeed.

If communication is a vital aspect of the role you’re applying for, then you may need to stay clear of giving this answer. We will assume that if you are applying for a management position or any kind of role which requires you to constantly communicate to large groups of people (teaching or consulting), that you don’t have a problem with this. Raising this issue with the interviewers would have a detrimental effect on your chances of success.

However, if the role doesn’t typically require you to give presentations or train groups of people, then you can look to use this as an answer. Explain that you are getting better at this by practising as often as you can. Talk about past experiences during work when you have had to give a presentation or train other workers, and how this has helped you to improve.

More interview help:

About Martin Carline

Martin has been a senior manager of a large customer service team within the education services industry, dealing with all aspects of staff recruitment and management. He now authors and manages content for CV Template Master and a number of other leading websites. In his spare time, Martin is an accomplished pianist and teaches all styles with a particular focus on boogie woogie and blues.

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