Interview Question: What Is Your Greatest Weakness?
What's the best way to talk about weaknesses at job interviews? When you’re asked about weaknesses, it's important to respond carefully. You don't want to cast any doubt on your ability to do the job. However, you also don’t want to come across as arrogant or dishonest by claiming that you don’t have any weaknesses.
There are several different ways to answer when you're asked during a job interview what your greatest weakness is. You can mention skills that aren't critical for the job, discuss skills you have improved on, or turn a negative into a positive. Even though the question is about weaknesses, your answer should always be framed around the positive aspects of your skills and abilities as an employee.
Discuss Non-Essential Skills
One approach to answering this question is to analyze the key skills and strengths required for the position you are interviewing for, and then come up with an honest shortcoming that is not essential for success in that job.
For example, if you are applying for a nursing job, you might share that you are not particularly adept at conducting group presentations. In this case, it would be critical to underscore your strength in one-on-one communication with patients, while providing an example of your difficulty with presentations to large groups.
Mention Skills You Have Improved
Another option is to discuss skills that you have improved upon during your previous job, or that you are actively working on improving. This shows the interviewer that you’re committed to self-improvement.
You can begin your answer by talking about where you started, discussing the steps you took to better yourself, then mentioning the outcome.
For example, you might say, “One skill set I improved in the past was my salesmanship skills. As a product manager who works with internal teams and does not interface with clients or sales prospects, I don’t do much, if any, ‘selling’ in my role. However, since I do communicate quite frequently with the sales team, I felt it might benefit me to have a greater understanding of their strategies and tactics.” I took a sales skills course online and it not only improved how I work with sales teams.
Now, when I join sales meetings, I have a much better idea of what’s going on, and I feel more effective in communicating with the sales team. This course also helped me build upon the skills I use to ‘sell’ my vision for the product internally.”
If you use this strategy, be sure not to mention anything that you improved upon that would be critical to the job for which you are interviewing, as you don't want your qualifications for the job to be questioned.
Turn a Negative Into a Positive
Another option is to turn a negative into a positive. For example, a sense of urgency to complete projects can be turned into a positive; e.g., you are a candidate who will make sure a project is done on time. Or, perhaps you find yourself with an attention to detail that leads you to triple-check every item on a spreadsheet and proofread every email you sent twice.
Regardless of what you say, it is critical to indicate that you are aware and mindful of this trait, and capable of preventing it from interfering with your productivity. For instance, building on the example above, you might say, “I have a very strong attention to detail. Sometimes, this attention to detail can turn into perfectionist tendencies. In the past, I found this leading me to triple-check every item on a spreadsheet, or closely proofreading emails to ensure I’ve communicated what I’m trying to get across in a clear, concise way, or fiddling with the layout of a presentation to ensure that it is perfect.
I’ve since learned to successfully budget my time and gauge which tasks require, and actually benefit from, this precise attention to detail.”
Keep in mind that how you answer job interview questions about weaknesses matters just as much as what you say.
Some of the Best Answers
It’s important to note that the term "weakness" isn't used in the sample answers — you always want to focus on the positive when interviewing.
- "Organization hasn’t always been my strongest point. I’ve always been inclined to prioritize tasks that directly impact the bottom line, and maintaining a pristine desk or an organized inbox didn’t seem to truly move the needle in terms of my output. Over time, I’ve learned that keeping a clean workspace — both physically, and digitally — does support my ability to focus and enhance the efficiency of my workflow. I’ve implemented a time management system that enables me to stay organized without encroaching on my other responsibilities."
- "When I'm working on a project, I don't want just to meet deadlines. Rather, I prefer to complete the project well ahead of when it is due. While this means I never miss a deadline, it also means that sometimes I can find myself rushed when I’m working. I’ve since learned to slow down, be more patient, and give each project the careful attention it deserves."
- "I like to make sure that my work is perfect, so I tend to perhaps spend a little too much time checking it. However, I've come to a good balance by setting up a system to ensure everything is done the first time correctly. I also time myself when I work to prevent myself from spending too much time on one project, and guaranteeing I’ll have enough time to get to the rest of my work."
- "I used to wait until the last minute to set appointments for the coming week, but I realized that scheduling in advance makes much more sense. I’m now much more proactive about scheduling meetings, and this allows me to plan and segment out my work for the week without having to guess at when I’ll need to leave time for meetings."
- "I've learned to make my perfectionism work to my advantage. I have become proficient at meeting deadlines, and with my attention to detail, I know that my work is accurate."
- "Sometimes, I spend more time than necessary on a task or take on tasks personally that could easily be delegated to someone else. 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. In my recent position, I implemented a project management tool that allowed me to easily oversee the progress of all the tasks I assigned, which helped me feel much more comfortable delegating work."
- "Numbers have not always been my strong suit. Fortunately, as a copywriter, I can focus most of my time on the creative process of writing. However, in recent years I have begun to familiarize myself with the digital analytics tools used in the various websites and apps I write for and found that when you add context, “numbers” can actually be quite enlightening."
- "I used to like to work on one project to its completion before starting on another, but I've learned to work on many projects at the same time, and I think it allows me to be more creative and effective in each one."
- "As an undergrad, I used to leave assignments until the last minute, but with the workload of graduate school, I had no choice but to schedule my time very effectively. This has translated into an excellent sense of time and project management in my professional work."
Variations of the Question
You can use these samples as inspiration for your own response. Note that it’s important that your answer be authentic, and tailored to your own circumstances. Of all the questions that you are likely to be asked in an interview, this is not one where you want to risk coming across as disingenuous. If you’re coming up blank, reviewing examples of weaknesses may help get your wheels turning.
Keep in mind that an interviewer may ask a variation of this question, such as “What part of the job will be most challenging for you?” Be sure to familiarize yourself with these variations. In addition, a question about your greatest weakness is often paired with an equally (if not more) important question about your greatest strength.