Nobody's perfect, so be honest about your weaknesses. Just make sure you’re addressing them in a constructive way
by Bethan Rees
In a job interview, you may be asked "What is your weakness?" This could throw you off if you're not prepared with an answer, and you should think deeply about your response. An Indeed career advice article says it can be hard to answer this question, "especially when you expected to be discussing the capabilities, skills and talents that make you the best candidate for the job".
Why do interviewers ask this?
The Indeed article says that interviewers are looking for candidates to answer this to assess their "self-awareness, honesty and ability to improve". This is an opportunity to demonstrate how you've used your weakness as a motivation to grow professionally, says Caroline Forsey in a blog for Hubspot, a client relationship management software company. "Everyone has weaknesses," Forsey writes, "your interviewer doesn't expect you to be perfect".
You should prepare an answer that avoids mentioning weaknesses that will stop you from doing your job well, she says. "For instance, if you're applying for a data analyst role, you don't want to say, "I'm not very good at math[s] and struggle with numbers."
What to avoid in your answer
A blog for recruitment company Robert Half advises against saying "I have no weaknesses" as a response. "If you respond to this question with an enthusiastic denial, the interviewer will probably write you off as someone with a lack of awareness or someone who is overconfident or unable to understand and learn from their mistakes," the blog says.
It also mentions that hiring managers or interviewers are probably wise to classic responses trying to frame a positive trait as a weakness. For example, "I'm a perfectionist", "I’m competitive" or "I just work too hard". The blog adds that "you can use them by adding details relevant to the job to show you’ve put real thought into it".
Categories of weaknesses
There are different categories of weaknesses, Alison Doyle writes in an article for The Balance Careers. These can be split into groups such as hard skills, soft skills, interpersonal skills and work ethic. As with any of these categories, don't mention a weakness that is essential to the job you’re interviewing for.
"Hard skills are job-specific abilities that are easily quantifiable," Doyle says. For example, computer skills, financial literacy, foreign languages, advanced mathematics and spelling. "If you decide to mention a hard skill, make sure it is not a skill necessary for the job … you might also mention that you are currently developing that skill."
Soft skills are hard to quantify and "encompass your personality traits, your communication abilities and your social skills", says Doyle. For example, a soft skill could be organisation, patience, spontaneity, being too honest or delegating tasks.
Interpersonal skills relate to how you interact with others. "You want to make sure you don’t come across as someone who can’t work well with co-workers," writes Doyle. Examples of interpersonal skills are expecting too much from colleagues, public speaking, being too sensitive and expressing too much frustration with underperforming colleagues. "Pick one specific issue you struggle with, and then talk about how you have worked to improve on this type of interaction," she says.
Work ethic explains essentially how you work, for example, "you might explain how you do certain things in excess at work" and this shows you work hard, but is more sincere than simply saying "I work too hard". Other examples of weaknesses in work ethic are providing too much detail in reports, taking on too many projects at work, being too detail-orientated and being too much of a perfectionist.
How to answer
The Indeed article gives some specific examples of how to respond to the question. For example, if you want to say you focus too much on detail, you could say:
One of my greatest weaknesses is that I sometimes focus too much on the details of a project. I have been striving to improve in this area by better monitoring how long I spend on a task and allowing myself to re-focus on the project at large. That way, I can still ensure high quality while maintaining my productivity and helping my team to meet deadlines.
If you want to say that you're a perfectionist who is always making last-minute changes to their work, you could say:
My greatest weakness is that I sometimes have a hard time letting go of a project. I'm the biggest critic of my work, and I can always find something that needs to be improved or changed. To help myself improve in this area, I give myself deadlines for revisions and try to avoid making too many last-minute changes.
Having trouble saying no could be a weakness, as this could result in submitting work late as you're helping others. In this situation, you could say:
My greatest weakness is that I sometimes have trouble saying no to requests and end up taking on more than I can handle. I now use a project management app so I can see how much work I have at any moment and understand when I have time to help others.
Being independent can be a positive trait in the workplace, however, it can also mean taking longer to do tasks. If you want to say that you find asking for help a struggle, you could say:
Because I am independent and enjoy figuring out solutions myself, I've struggled sometimes with asking for help when I need it. I understand that at any organisation, there are experts around me that have specific knowledge and skills I can learn from. While I am still working on it, I have been able to produce better work in a more time-efficient way as a result of getting help from those around me.
Forsey also gives some specific examples of responses in the Hubspot blog. If you want to say that you lack patience when working in a team without this hindering your ability to perform well, you could say:
I don't have much patience when working with a team – I am incredibly self-sufficient, so it's difficult when I need to rely on others to complete my work. That's why I've pursued roles that require someone to work independently. However, I've also worked to improve this weakness by enrolling in team building workshops. While I typically work independently, it's nonetheless important I learn how to trust my co-workers and ask for outside help when necessary.
Giving constructive feedback can be an important part of some roles. However, you may feel cautious of hurting a colleague's feelings. In this situation, you could say:
Oftentimes, I can be timid when providing constructive feedback to co-workers or managers, out of fear of hurting someone's feelings. However, in my last role, my co-worker asked me to edit some of his pieces and provide feedback for areas of improvement. Through my experience with him, I realised feedback can be both helpful and kind when delivered the right way. Since then, I've become better at offering feedback, and I've realised that my empathy can be used to my advantage to provide thoughtful, productive feedback.
However you answer, be honest and choose a real weakness – just make sure it will not prevent you from succeeding in the role and remember to explain how you've begun to address this weakness with examples. And, never say you're perfect.