How To Answer Questions About Your Weaknesses In Job Interviews
“How do I answer questions about my weaknesses in job interviews?” is the most common question we’re asked as interviewers.
It’s also a common job interview question so you’re right to want to be prepared for it.
Few people are so here’s your chance to get ahead of your competition.
We interview for a living and here’s our advice.I admit I also sometimes use these questions and others like them when I do an interview. Not that there’s any one “right” answer I’m looking for. They just help me see how a person will react, even when confronted by the obvious. You can learn a lot about a person even from seemingly simple questions.
Let us evaluate some responses that we usually get from our candidates.
Human Resources Manager: “Tell me, Susan, your strengths are all laid out very nicely on the résumé, but I wonder what you would consider to be your greatest weakness?”
The Applicant: “Well, let me think a moment. … I guess one of my weaknesses is that I work too hard. I spend too much time in the lab and need to get some balance going with other important parts of my life.”
Human Resources Manager: “Yes, many of us have that problem.” (Reading between the lines: “A lightning bolt should come down and nail this applicant for being the 10-billionth person to use that line.”)
Lets see some more examples
Marie is about to interview two candidates for the customer service manager position. Her candidates are Francine and William. As always, she plans to ask about their strengths and weaknesses.
Francine answers the question, “What are your greatest strengths and weaknesses?” with, “My strength is that I’m a hard worker. My weakness is that I get stressed when I miss a deadline because someone else dropped the ball.”
This answer is unimaginative. Most people think of themselves as hard workers.
William has difficulty with the question. “I really can’t think of a weakness,” he begins. “Maybe I could be more focused. My strength is probably my ability to deal with people. I am pretty easygoing. I usually don’t get upset easily.”
This answer leads with a negative, and then moves to vague words: maybe, probably, pretty and usually.
So what is the best way to answer this question?
When asked about your weaknesses remember to talk about something you’ve perceived as a ‘weakness’ but worked hard to overcome or something which you find harder than others but can still do, using some strategy or another.
And make sure it’s not something central to the role!
Good answers might be:
For a job where organisation is important, but not central:
“I’d like to be more naturally organised like my manager who remembers everything and never has to write anything down. Although my memory’s not as good as hers I am able to keep on top of things by using a to-do list and keeping a diary so I know where I am with my work all the time”.
For a job where working as part of a team is important:
“I prefer working in teams to working alone. Although I’m able to stay focussed and complete the task, I prefer the sharing of ideas and achievements which happens when you work in teams. Some of my colleagues work better alone and this is something I am working on to improve”.
Notice how, with a little forethought, you can give your ‘weakness’ a positive spin? In this answer, you’re showing that you work well in teams, which is a quality most employers look for.
The best way to handle this question is to minimize the trait and emphasize the positive. Select a trait and come up with a solution to overcome your weakness. Stay away from personal qualities and concentrate more on professional traits. Never identify emotional states or personality traits as weaknesses, only skills, experience, knowledge or preferences. Don’t ever say you get stressed, bored, demotivated, angry, upset etc.
People have said this in interviews with us. Although, as employers, we might accept shortcomings in people’s skills, experience and knowledge, few of us want to take on employees with attitude issues!
Scripting Your Answers
Write a positive statement you can say with confidence:
“My strength is my flexibility to handle change. As customer service manager at my last job, I was able to turn around a negative working environment and develop a very supportive team. As far as weaknesses, I feel that my management skills could be stronger, and I am constantly working to improve them.”
When confronted with this question, remember the interviewer is looking for a fit. She is forming a picture of you based on your answers. A single answer will probably not keep you from getting the job, unless, of course, it is something blatant. Put your energy into your strengths statement — what you have to offer. Then let the interviewer know that although you may not be perfect, you are working on any shortcomings you have.
Luckily, the greatest strength question is one where you can often hit a home run if you just prepare a bit ahead of time. Think about what your new employer would find most interesting about you. There’s no right answer. They just want to see if you know yourself and how well you express yourself.
The main thing is to have a really good story to tell about how you used that skill to make something good happen for your former employer or – if this is your first job – at school or in a volunteer role. Choose the skill based on both what you think the employer is looking for and your strongest story. (Never hurts to artfully throw in a few extra strengths while telling the story.)
Hint: To figure out what an employer is looking for, look at the job description.
In case you’re thinking “But I don’t have a good story” – please take some time to think some more. Ask friends or co-workers. You’ll be surprised what you aren’t remembering about yourself. Everyone has something good to tell about themselves. And when it comes to job interviews, that’s a really important time to believe in yourself!
Just so you don’t sound too full of yourself, you can start your answer with a phrase like “I guess” or “I’ve been told” or “I think” or anything that helps tone down the potential boast. Now you don’t want to act all shy and “gosh darn” to fake modesty (that would only work against you), but leading off with a gentle phrase at the beginning is a great way to answer the question.
Here is more input and examples people have given for strengths:
- Your strengths should already be noted in your resume and cover letter. Go over them (i.e., the strengths) again with the interviewer.
- One of my biggest strengths is my communication skills. I work very well with all kinds of people, and understand that everyone has different perspectives about projects and work tasks — so when I work with others I realize that everyone comes to the table with different priorities and objectives. I keep this in mind when I communicate tasks that need to be accomplished with positive reinforcement and awareness of what others are working on.
- A positive attitude will not differentiate you from the crowd. A good attitude is expected of every employee. Also you should back up what you say with an example. For example, don’t just say you have good customer service skills prove it by also telling them how you won a comapny award or received positive customer comment letters for your good service.
- “My strength is my flexibility to handle change. As customer service manager at my last job, I was able to turn around a negative working environment and develop a very supportive team.
- Hard worker.
- Able to prioritize.
- Believe in myself; self-confidence.
- I have ability to cope with failures and try to learn from my mistakes.
- I like to work in team and have been an active participant and organizer at several places.
- One of my greatest strengths which I’ve acquired during my education is good analytical and planning skills. This has always benefited me to set goals and try to achieve them. But at the same time I’m driven by the thoughts of success.
- Full commitment to my work.
- Highly energetic.
- Love to learn new things.
- Having good interpersonal skills.
- Well organized and like to be neat with all of my work.
- A good helper towards those who need it.
- I am a team player and work well with others.
- I have great communication skills
- I am a quick learner. I have great problem-solving skills and am willing to learn new things to get the job done.
Here are notes and examples of weaknesses:
- You should answer with things you “are improving upon”. Example: I believe I should always be improving upon myself, good or bad. You are answering the dreaded question without looking like an egotistical maniac, and showing the interviewer that you see yourself as a work in progress, trying to better all of your qualities.
- For your weakness, just pick one that is not going to disqualify you from the job, and then follow up with — this what really matters — the examples of what you are doing (or have done) to fix your weakness. The most important point here is to show that you learn from your mistakes and your weakness, and you are taking the corrective action to fix the situation — and stress that! For example, if the job does not require public speaking, you can say that your weakness is you are afraid of speaking in front of the public. Then tell the interviewers that you have joined a Toastmaster club or public speech course to overcome the problem. Remind them that when you identify a problem, you actively take actions to correct it, and that is how you do things.
- Don’t try to use a cliche or try to present a strength as a weakness by saying your weakness is that you are a workaholic. No one will believe that answer. Being too emotional will make the recruiter wonder if your interpersonal skills are lacking. Give a true weakness but one of modest size. Shows that you have taken steps to correct the weakness. For example you want to improve your MS Excel skills so you are taking a course on that now.
- I used to have trouble with procrastinating, now I have learned to write down a list of things that I need to do, and keep a calender to keep track of deadlines, I have found that this not only helps me to finish things on time, but it has also helped me to be more organized.
- A weakness of mine would be the fact that I get nervous when speaking in front of groups. I haven’t had a lot of experience with this over the past several years. Although I did join Toastmasters International to help overcome this anxiety — and feel much more confident today when I need to speak in front of groups and give presentations.
- I’m little egoistic when it comes to winning things and get a little ruthless too.
- Lose patience sometimes when I am not in a position to complete the assigned job in time.
- I have to work on having more patience and giving myself a break because I always want everything done at once.
- Tend to go to any limits while helping my friends.
- I am too focused on my work and I need to find more time to relax.
- I’m too focused on work and need to develop some after hours hobbies.
And examples of combination strength-weakness answers:
- I’m a workaholic person and love to dedicate myself to the work I’m doing. But at the same time I forget to keep a balance between other things which I’m trying to improve on.
- Take whatever is your best quality and also describe it as your worst. It often is, as we are all made up like two sides of a coin. Try it out with different qualities and accomplishments and see how it works. For example … The best thing about me is that I am able to see the big picture in a situation. The worst thing about me is that I can see the big picture in a situation. This is the best thing because I can remove myself from the emotion of a decision that needs to be made and act accordingly. It is a bad thing because I often can see the conclusion quicker than the other participants in a project and that can cause frustration sometimes amongst them.
Every one of us has our own unique mix of strengths and weaknesses. Although you will indeed be asked to discuss your weak points in the interview, all successful applicants seem to be able to turn these moments around and move into more positive conversation. Don’t be consumed by your weaknesses. Learn what it is that you do well, what it is that you need to improve upon, and build your career plan on your knowledge of both.