Caring too much? Loving too hard?
When it comes to interview questions, perhaps none is as dreaded as “Tell me about your greatest weaknesses.” We’ve seen it trip up even the most prepared of candidates, and it is no wonder why. How do you talk to an interviewer about your shortcomings without coming off as a hopelessly unqualified person for the job? It’s a tricky interview question, but it can be done!
Preparing ahead of the interview is important for any question, but especially when talking about your strengths and weaknesses. Even if you aren’t asked specifically about your strengths and weaknesses at the interview, knowing how you would respond to this will give you a great idea of how to answer many related questions about what you can offer to the organization and how you wish to grow and develop in the future.
In an interview, you may be asked about your strengths and weaknesses in two separate questions. Often, however, you are asked about them in one combined question. In the event of one question, make sure you first focus on your weaknesses, so you can end on a positive note with the strengths.
When discussing your weaknesses, you will want to guide the discussion in a way that helps move you closer to the job offer. Remember, hiring managers really want to know how you handle adversity on the job.
When beginning to prepare, think about things that have challenged you at work in the past. It is a great exercise to make a list of your known weaknesses. Think back on performance evaluations and notes from supervisors about areas for improvement and use these for the basis of your list.
Of course, you will also want to research the employer and the job requirements. By thoroughly reviewing the job posting before the interview you can be sure you won’t mention a weakness that’s critical to the job. Reread the job description multiple times so you know what attributes and abilities are essential to the job. Those hard or soft skills shouldn’t be on your weakness list. Everything else is fair game.
The formula for your answer is quite easy to fill in after you prepare: First, state your weakness. Second, add additional context and a specific example or story of how this trait has emerged in your professional life. That context will give potential employers insight into your level of self-awareness and commitment to professional growth. Third, talk about how you have taken steps to mitigate or improve the weakness in your professional development.
Now, since we all have weaknesses but rarely want to admit to them, it’s best to begin with a truthful answer and build your script from there. Select an answer that a hiring manager would not consider to be essential qualities or skills for the position as well as qualities that you are actively improving.
Some examples of weaknesses might include:
- Perfectionism (note: this can be a strength in many roles, so be sure you have an example of how perfectionism can be a problem to demonstrate that you’ve thought deeply about this trait)
- Shy/Not adept at public speaking
- Competitive (note: like perfectionism, this can be a strength)
- Limited experience in a nonessential skill (especially if obvious on your resume)
- Not skilled at delegating tasks
- Take on too much responsibility
- Not detail-oriented/too detail-oriented
- Not comfortable taking risks
- Too focused/lack of focus
Here are some examples that could guide you on your way to interview perfection:
Example weakness 1: Self-critical
“I can be too critical of myself. A pattern I’ve noticed throughout my career is that I often feel I could have done more, even if objectively, I’ve done well. Earlier in my career, this led to burnout and negative self-talk. One solution I’ve implemented over the last three years is to actively pause and celebrate my achievements. Not only has this helped my own self-esteem, but it has also helped me genuinely appreciate and recognize my team and other support systems.”
Example weakness 2: Difficulty asking questions
“I default to believing that I can solve any problem on my own. This works well in some situations, but in many cases, I need the help of others to overcome factors beyond my control. In one instance last year, I was spearheading a client event that had a lot of moving parts. It wasn’t until after the event that I realized how narrowly I had pulled it off. I was trying to manage everything from the strategic plan down to the tiniest details, like table settings. I did a lot of self-reflection afterward. Since then, I’ve been training myself to take a step back before diving into problem-solving mode and identify people or groups that can be resources to me.”
Example weakness 3: Perfectionism
“I tend to be a perfectionist and can linger on the details of a project which can threaten deadlines. Early on in my career, when I worked for ABC Inc., that very thing happened. I was laboring over the details and in turn, caused my manager to be stressed when I almost missed the deadline on my deliverables. I learned the hard way back then, but I did learn. Today I’m always aware of how what I’m doing affects my team and management. I’ve learned how to find the balance between perfect and excellent and being timely.”
Of course, you will need to personalize the above examples according to your personal weakness and the ways that you’re adapting and improving yourself.
Though often one of the most dreaded interview questions, when you take the time to prepare a thoughtful response, you can use this question to create a unique story about who you are and where you want to go. As you prepare your answers, remember to turn weaknesses into challenges that you’ve overcome and show you are a great fit for the job.