How To Answer “What Is Your Greatest Weakness?” [With Examples]

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Even if you’re an experienced professional who’s been on dozens, if not hundreds of job interviews, there’s one interview question that might stop you in your tracks: “What is your greatest weakness?”

This question is daunting because it asks you to show the hiring manager something less-than-positive about you as a candidate. Choose the wrong weakness, and you could wind up making an excellent case for not hiring you at all.

But choose the right answer, you might wind up on the shortlist for a job offer. The secret is to name a weakness that you’ve worked on and overcome–and to be able to explain why this makes you better at what you do.

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Why Do Employers Ask About Weaknesses? 

Managers don’t ask this question because they enjoy watching you squirm or want to encourage you to beat yourself up. No, they ask about weaknesses in order to assess your self-awareness, honesty, and ability to change.

Specifically, they’re hoping to find out whether you:

Are Self-Aware

Let’s be real: your weakness probably isn’t that you’re a perfectionist or that you work too hard or any of the humble brags you might be tempted to use. It’s more likely that you have trouble delegating authority because you’d rather do it all yourself or that you have difficulty prioritizing tasks. Sharing a real, genuine weakness shows that you understand yourself–and that you take the interview seriously.

Are Forthright

Unless you’re totally in the dark about your own shortcomings, you know that you have weaknesses. But are you able to be vulnerable and authentic enough to discuss them? Real honesty requires courage. The hiring manager wants to see if you’re brave enough to admit that you’re not perfect.

Can Improve

Identifying opportunities for improvement is just the first step. Unless you can take action to fix the problem, you won’t get very far. When you answer questions about weaknesses, it’s especially important to be able to explain how you’ve addressed your shortcomings.

Understand The Job 

Choosing which weakness to discuss is the toughest part of answering this interview question. The goal is to pick something that isn’t directly related to the core functions of the job–and most importantly, be sure that it’s a challenge that you overcame. For example, if you’re applying for a job as a classroom teacher, you probably don’t want to talk about how you’re scared of public speaking.

How To Answer “What Is Your Greatest Weakness?” 

As with all interview questions, the key to answering is to prepare ahead of time. This means choosing a weakness to discuss, providing an example of how you overcame it and demonstrating continued progress.

When selecting the challenge you want to talk about:

Be Honest

Choose something that you have genuinely struggled with in your career. It’s fine if it’s in past–in fact, that might be preferable, as you’ll be able to show what you’ve learned since then. But don’t choose shortcomings you don’t possess or try to turn a positive into a negative, e.g., “I’m just too dedicated to my job!”

Be Humble (But Don’t Beat Yourself Up)

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Everyone can learn and improve. Having an awareness of your relative strengths and weaknesses is, in itself, a great professional asset. But don’t fall into the trap of being too hard on yourself. The goal is to show that you were able to be constructively self-critical, not cruel.

Choose A Weakness That Isn’t Essential To The Job

Unless you’ve made a complete 180 in terms of skill level and can show that in your answer, don’t choose a weakness that’s central to the role. Waitstaff shouldn’t say that they have trouble multitasking, for example. Make sure the weakness you mention is unrelated to the job.

Demonstrate Progress

If you’re talking about challenges that don’t relate to the job, does it matter if you’ve made progress? Yes, because this question is an opportunity to show that you can identify your shortcomings, figure out how to address them, and then make a positive change. Bonus points if you can quantify your progress in money, time, or other metrics.

“What Is Your Greatest Weakness” Answer Examples

Always choose a weakness that won’t be an issue in the job for which you’re applying–or weaknesses that you’ve thoroughly addressed. Here are a few examples to inspire you:

Example 1

“In my first management job, I had trouble delegating tasks. I was promoted from within very quickly, and my concern was that I might be perceived as overstepping if I assigned tasks to former teammates. I soon realized however that it’s to no one’s benefit for any single team member to be overloaded. I signed up for management training, shadowed my former supervisor, and spearheaded the adoption of project management software. By the time I’d been on the job for a year, my team was the highest-scoring group in the department, consistently outperforming our goals. But just as important to me, we had twice as many promotions from within.”

Example 2

“I’m an extremely introverted person. In one sense, that’s a distinct benefit in an engineering role. I’m self-directed, creative, and driven to perform without a lot of prompting from management. However, I felt that learning better communication skills would help me understand user needs better and exceed expectations in my job. I asked to be included in interdepartmental meetings and now present regularly. It’s helped me grow more comfortable connecting with colleagues in other departments and working as a team to achieve our goals.”

List Of Weaknesses

Your weaknesses, like your strengths, are unique to you. But when you’re choosing an answer to this question, it can be helpful to see a list of potential weaknesses:

  • Bluntness
  • Disorganized
  • Fear of public speaking
  • Impatient
  • Inability to delegate authority or tasks
  • Lack of specific skill
  • Lack of spontaneity
  • Poor presentation skills
  • Prefer to work alone
  • Risk-averse
  • Self-critical
  • Sensitive

Mistakes To Avoid When Answering “What Is Your Greatest Weaknesses?”

The biggest mistake you can make when answering this question is to claim that you’re just too good at your job. Short of that, here are some other pitfalls to avoid:

Claiming Not To Have Any Weaknesses

Everyone has weaknesses–every business leader, management guru, inventor, entrepreneur, and artist. None of us are perfect. What’s more important is being able to learn from your mistakes and move on. Don’t miss your opportunity to show that you can make progress.

Naming Weaknesses That You Haven’t Addressed 

It’s OK if you still have problems you haven’t gotten around to solving yet. You’re a busy person and there’s only so much you can do in a day, a week, or a year. But don’t use one of these challenges as an example in your next job interview. Save it for when you can demonstrate progress.

Not Explaining How You’ve Overcome Challenges

Don’t just say that you have X problem and overcame it using Y technique. Explain how you noticed the problem, what you did to solve it, and how your efforts made you better at your job–and an excellent candidate for this one.

The Bottom Line

The most important thing to remember about weaknesses is that we all have them. When talking about your weaknesses, pick examples that show that you understand your shortcomings and can address them. The ability to grow and change is worth more to an employer than any one single skill.

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