When you are applying for an administrative or office position, a typical job interview question is, "What is your greatest weakness?" As with any inquiry about a weakness during an interview, you want to make sure to answer honestly and sincerely, but still, paint yourself in a positive light. It can be tricky to give a good response, but there are ways to respond effectively.
What the Interviewer Wants to Know
Why do interviewers so often inquire about weaknesses? There are a few reasons. For one thing, you might identify something as a weakness that's key to the role. That's information that's valuable to a potential employer.
Plus, this question is a tricky one, so it can also show interviewers how you respond to challenging situations. Your answer also reveals if you have self-awareness.
Finally, the way you respond can show if you just accept a weakness as a given, or if you're working to improve in that area.
How to Answer Interview Questions about Weaknesses
One strategy when answering this question is to use it as an opportunity to show how you're actively working to improve your weakness.
Here's an example of how that works. First, you'll state the weakness. For example: "I have a tendency to get a bit flustered with new phone systems. I get so focused on the phone's functions that I don't engage well with callers."
But don't stop there. Once you've briefly described the weakness, you'll go on to describe how you're tackling the issue. So in this example, you might continue by saying: "Since it's important to me to sound friendly and approachable on the phone, I created a sticky-note with instructions for how to put calls on hold, transfer, etc. It's made answering the phone much less stressful, and I can tell my phone manner has improved as a result."
A response like this also shows the interviewer that you're equipped to handle a challenge and can come up with solutions to problems.
Get more insight into the best way to discuss your strengths and weaknesses during a job interview.
Examples of Best Answers
Here are sample interview answers which you can personalize to fit your experiences and background.
I sometimes overdo getting my work done ahead of time. However, I am excellent at meeting deadlines, and with my attention to detail, I know my work is correct.
Why It Works: This response frames the weakness more as a positive. What employer wouldn't want an employee who finishes work in advance instead of procrastinating?
I suffer a bit from the "if you want something done right, do it yourself" mentality, and have sometimes found it hard to delegate or let others help me with projects. But, of course, doing everything yourself is often overwhelming and frustrating. I've learned that dividing up tasks, setting up check-in times, and working as a team can result in great outcomes (and less late nights).
Why It Works: This response identifies a weakness clearly, but just as clearly pinpoints the concrete steps the interviewee is taking to change the weakness.
I can get very impatient when people do not deliver work in a timely manner. To avoid feeling frustrated with co-workers, I've learned to establish clear deadlines and give friendly reminders a few days prior to keep projects on track.
Why It Works: This answer is very honest, and again, as well as identifying the weakness, this answer shows how the interviewee is addressing it.
See more sample responses to interview questions about weaknesses:
- Although I've never missed a deadline, it is still an effort for me to know when to move on to the next task, and to be confident when assigning others work.
- I used to like to work on one project to its completion before starting on another, but I've learned to multi-task better. I think it allows me to be more creative and effective in each one.
- Sometimes, I spend more time than necessary on a task or have volunteered to take on tasks personally that could easily be handled by someone else in the office.
Tips for Giving a Strong Answer
- Say something: Let's face it—no one is perfect. So having no response at all is a poor strategy. It can make you seem either lacking in self-awareness or arrogant.
- Don't disqualify yourself. You get to choose your answer to this question! And while you want to be honest, it's OK to mention a weakness that won't make the employer think you're ill-suited for the role.
- Be honest: If you pick something that's not actually a real weakness, you can seem dishonest or inauthentic. Similarly, if you pick something really tiny, it may seem like you're not engaging with the question.
- Give examples of growth: If you're working on a weakness that points to something positive about you as an employee, share this. So if you're taking a class, have adopted a new strategy, or are otherwise addressing a weakness, be sure to mention it.
What Not to Say When Answering "What's Your Greatest Weakness?"
Creating red flags: It's important to avoid giving any response that would make you seem like a poor fit for the position. You don't want to give the hiring manager a reason not to hire you. For instance, if the administrative position will require you to be on the phone frequently, you wouldn't want to respond by saying you have a poor phone manner or accidentally hang up on people when you intend to transfer the call.
Responses that make you seem like a poor worker—for instance, "I have trouble getting to meetings on time" or "I send emails with tons of typos to major clients"—should also be avoided.
Dodging the question: Avoid giving a weakness answer that is arrogant or dodges the question, such as "I'm a perfectionist, and just can't rest until all problems are completely resolved," or "I'm just too much of a hard worker." That type of response doesn't seem genuine or sympathetic, and the interviewer will notice that you've failed to answer the question.
Also, someone who is too much of a perfectionist may not be considered an asset by the employer. After all, a quest for perfection can result in slow results.
Irrelevant weaknesses: Do not share weaknesses that do not relate to the work. So, do not answer this question by sharing how bad you are at cleaning dishes.
Possible Follow-Up Questions
Here are some other questions you may get after being asked about your biggest weakness:
- What's your greatest strength as an employee?
- How would your co-workers describe your personality?
- How are you dealing with this weakness?
Answer the question: Yes, this is a tricky question. But you should still respond, and your answer should be relevant to the workplace.
Show self-awareness: Use this question as an opportunity to demonstrate your knowledge about your own tendencies as an employee.
Keep it positive: Even though the question is asking about a weakness, try to pivot to a positive by discussing what you're doing to address the weakness. Or, if that's not possible—or doesn't make sense for your particular weakness—just keep it brief, so the interview can move on to the next question.