Interview Question: "What Is Your Greatest Weakness?"

Best Answers for Interview Questions About Weaknesses

Image by Theresa Chiechi © The Balance 2019

What's the best way to talk about weaknesses at job interviews? Talking about things that you don’t excel at can be tricky when you’re interviewing for a new job. 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.

What the Employer Really Wants to Know

When you’re asked about your weaknesses, the employer wants to know whether you are qualified to do the job. The hiring manager is also looking for indicators that show you’ve been able to learn new tasks and handle new challenges. So, this question is an opportunity to show that you’ve got the right assets for the job.

How to Answer "What is Your Greatest Weakness?"

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.

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A Few Ways Answer "What Is Your Greatest Weakness?"

Option 1: 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. Likewise, if you’re applying for a position as a writer, you could focus on a skill that isn’t required for the job, as in the example below.

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 I have found that when you add context, “numbers” can actually be quite enlightening.

Why It Works: This response features a weakness that isn't critical for success at this job. It also shows how the candidate has improved and upgraded her skills.

Option 2: 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.

Begin your answer by talking about where you started and the steps you took to improve, and then highlight the outcome.

If you use this strategy, be sure not to mention anything that you improved upon that would be critical to the position for which you are interviewing, as you don't want your qualifications for the job to be questioned.

One area I improved on in the past is 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. It improved how I work with sales teams, and 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.

Why It Works: This response works well because it clearly shows how the candidate has improved upon the skills needed to do the job effectively.

Option 3: Turn a Negative Into a Positive

Another option for answering 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 send twice.

Regardless of what you say, it is critical to indicate that you are mindful of this trait and capable of preventing it from interfering with your productivity.

I have a very strong attention to detail. Sometimes, this can turn into a tendency to perfectionism. In the past, I found this leading me to triple-check every item on a spreadsheet, closely proofread emails to ensure I’d communicated what I was trying to get across in a clear, concise way, or fiddle with the layout of a presentation to ensure that it was perfect. I’ve since learned to successfully budget my time and gauge which tasks require and actually benefit from this level of precision.

Why It Works: The candidate is showing the interviewer that she has the time management skills to focus on a detail-oriented project.

More Examples of the Best Answers

Review more examples of answers to help you frame your own response.

 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.

Why It Works: The candidate is mentioning a weakness and showing how he solved the problem.

When I'm working on a project, I don't just want to meet deadlines. Rather, I prefer to complete the project well ahead of its due date. 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.

Why It Works: This response shows that meeting deadlines and getting the work done accurately are both important.

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.

Why It Works: The candidate’s response shows that he established time management skills that enable him to effectively do the job.

Sometimes I spend more time than necessary on a task or take on tasks 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. This helped me feel much more comfortable about delegating work.

Why It Works: This response shows that the candidate can handle delegating work and managing a project, which are required skills for leadership and management roles.

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 doing so allows me to be more creative and effective in each one.

Why It Works: This response shows the candidate’s successful shift from working on one task at a time to multitasking.

Tips for Giving the Best Answer

Prepare a response. It can be easier to respond when you have an idea of what you want to say. If you’re coming up blank, reviewing examples of weaknesses may help get your wheels turning.

Be honest. 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.

Turn a negative into a positive. Frame your response in a positive manner so that whatever you portrayed as needing improvement is seen as an accomplishment rather than a weakness.

What Not to Say

Don’t go overboard. It’s important not to talk too much about your weaknesses or what you need to improve. You don’t want the interviewer to perceive you as a candidate who isn’t qualified.

Don’t say that you’re perfect. It’s important not to come across as arrogant or dishonest by claiming that you don’t have any weaknesses.

Keep it positive. You may have noticed that the term "weakness" isn't used in the sample answers. You always want to focus on the positive when interviewing.

Possible Follow-Up Questions

  • What is your greatest strength? - Best Answers
  • What are your strengths and weaknesses? - Best Answers
  • What part of the job will be most challenging for you? - Best Answers
  • What can we expect from you in the first 60 days on the job? - Best Answers
  • Describe a difficult work situation and how you overcame it. - Best Answers

The Best Ways to Talk About Weaknesses

Be Careful How You Respond: Keep in mind that how you frame your answer to job interview questions about weaknesses is as important as what you say.

Focus on Accomplishments: Try to shift the focus from what needs improvement to what you have accomplished.

Write a Response: You don’t need to memorize an answer. But if you write out a few ideas beforehand, it will be easier to answer the question during the interview.