When it comes to job interview questions, the classic “What are your greatest strengths?” is a softball. It’s an invitation to shine a spotlight on all the skills and experiences that make you a good fit for the job. The curveball comes when you’re asked about weaknesses in a job interview.
“Tell me about your greatest weaknesses” trips up many job candidates, and it’s no wonder: How do you tell an interviewer about your shortcomings without sounding like you’d be hopeless on the job?
It’s tricky, but it can be done.
Ultimately, you want to discuss your weaknesses in a job interview a way that helps you gain ground rather than lose it. Keep in mind that what hiring managers want to know is how you handle adversity on the job.
To start, think about the limitations that have challenged you at work. It’s an excellent exercise to make a list of your known shortcomings. One way to gather material is from past performance evaluations and notes from supervisors about areas for improvement.
You also want to make sure to research the employer and the open position. Thoroughly review the job posting before the interview to identify something as a deficiency essential to the job. Reread the job description, so you know what attributes and abilities are critical to the performance of the job. Those hard or soft skills shouldn’t be on your weakness list. Everything else is fair game.
Do any of these weaknesses ring a bell? Note that these aren’t good choices for your answer if the job requires specific skills in these areas.
Your first reaction may be to say, “I have no weaknesses, and nothing will keep me from doing a great job.” But no one’s perfect, and hiring managers know that. Suppose you respond to this question with an enthusiastic denial. In that case, the interviewer will probably write you off as someone with a lack of awareness or overconfident or unable to understand and learn from their mistakes.
Hiring managers are also wise to respond to a positive trait as a weakness in a job interview. Classic examples include “I’m a perfectionist,” “I’m competitive,” and “I just work too hard.” Interviewers are on to these stock answers, but you can use them by adding details relevant to the job to show you’ve put real thought into it.
For instance, you could say something like, “I hold myself to very high standards and sometimes put too much pressure on myself. I’ve learned to recognize when I’m starting to do this, such as spending a little too much time on bigger projects like quarterly reports, and I’m usually able to keep myself in check.”
Once you’ve established your weakness, craft a response to put it in the best positive light. How do you do that? Here are three suggestions:
What are ways you can improve yourself to address a weakness?
The question allows you to set yourself apart. How so? You can show the hiring manager you recognize the areas you need to upgrade yourself and how you’re taking steps to address them. Here’s a sample answer that takes this approach:
Another example illustrates how to use the requirements of the job to drive your answer. Let’s say you’re not a strong writer, and you’re applying for a job as a graphic designer. The job description emphasizes the need for production design skills and specific software experience but doesn’t mention anything about content creation. So you could answer the question about weaknesses in an interview like this:
Alternatively, suppose you’re applying for a position as a financial analyst, and one of the requirements of the job is to give regular reports to upper management. In that case, you won’t want to emphasize to the hiring manager that you struggle with communication issues.