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It’s a question asked all too often in interviews – “what is your greatest weakness?” It can seem like a trick question, or maybe the interviewer is trying to trip you up and weed you out as a candidate. As with all job interview questions, be careful about your answer, but know that this question is much more straightforward than it sounds. Here are some tips to nail your answer:
It doesn’t hurt to think about what you might answer possible interview questions in advance. Interviews pros have a mental list of their achievements, skills, and relevant work experience on hand for interviews. Why not add one or two examples of weaknesses as well? Of course, no one wants to think about the things that they aren’t great at, but a few uncomfortable moments thinking about it will save you from more uncomfortable moments in an interview. Think about what you have difficulty with and be honest with yourself.
It might be helpful to look back at past performance reviews, to see what comments and feedback you received in previous jobs. Everyone has areas they can improve upon, and your former employers should have a pretty good idea about what those are.
Also, have more than one in mind in case the interviewer says weaknesses – plural!
Interviewers don’t want to hear about your bad temper or lazy attitude (or maybe they do – then they’ll know not to hire you!). While it seems obvious, these kinds of answers show that you may be difficult to work with. You will also come across as unprepared, and the interviewer may assume you leapt to the first answer that came to mind.
Also, interviewers don’t need your whole life story in your answer. While you shouldn’t talk about being late for work, you definitely don’t want to list every single time you were late for work, for example. Stick to what is relevant to a professional context.
Being too nice and working too hard are not weaknesses, no matter how much you try to pass them off that way. You haven’t actually answered the question and interviewers will see through these answers. Also, they may connect your avoidance of the question to an unwillingness to own up to shortcomings and failures in future job-related situations.
Instead, try to find a weakness that you can spin in a positive way. Maybe you are indecisive – tell the interviewer that you have trouble making decisions, but you can also mention that weighing your options is an important part of your process for finding the best solution to a problem.
If you try to avoid the question by mentioning a trait that isn’t a weakness, it will seem insincere, or that your opinion of yourself is so high that you think you don’t have any weaknesses.
It’s partly about what you say, but how you say it is equally important. Don’t say: I’m bad at working independently, or I’m bossy. Instead, say: I’m working on learning to work better independently, or I’m working on the way I delegate. Make sure the interviewer knows you recognize your weakness and that you are trying to change. If possible, provide a scenario where your weakness was involved and describe how you overcame it. It’s great to reference previous experiences in professional contexts.
Be specific about the steps you are taking to improve your skillset. If you’ve signed up for teamwork events or management courses, mention that! Interviewers love to hear that you can recognize ways to improve yourself and that you are the type of person to take action to improve yourself.
Don’t invent a weakness just because it seems like a ‘good’ weakness to have. Talking about yourself honestly, especially about your weaknesses, adds authenticity and shows an element of trust. This is a great way to show that you really care about the position, because you are willing to open yourself up to the interviewer, so they can get to know you.
Also, interviewers are pretty good at picking up on exaggerations and half-truths. Find a weakness that is true, but also relevant to a professional context and the specific job that you are applying for. Again, part of this comes down to showing that you are aware of what you need to improve upon.
If the potential employer has listed several skills and qualifications as required for the job, discuss your strengths in those skills and qualifications. Don’t mention one of these as a weakness. Interviewers usually have an ideal candidate in mind when they create a job description and conduct interviews. The truly ideal candidate may not exist, but you should be as close to their ideal candidate as possible, which means meeting their minimum requirements.
Try to find a weakness that’s on their list of nice-to-haves. It could be any number of skills, but again, make sure that you can improve on it over time. It shouldn’t be something that might impede you from performing the basic tasks of the job.
Once you’ve identified some strengths and weaknesses before a job interview, divide them into hard skills and soft skills. Hard skills are more teachable and specific, such as typing, writing, or using a particular software program. Soft skills take more conscious effort to work on, like teamwork or leadership. When interviewers ask about your weaknesses, they usually want to know about your soft skills, because it’s much easier to learn a software program than become an excellent public speaker, for example.
If you get asked for more than one weakness, start with something that is a soft skill, but it can also be a good idea to mention a hard skill that you aren’t great at, because these are much easier to learn and gain experience in.
Maybe you don’t quite have the amount of experience that the interviewer is looking for. This is a potential weakness that you can bring up, and in fact, the interviewer might be expecting you to address your lack of experience. Again, it’s all about how you phrase your answer. Be sure to mention that you are flexible and can learn quickly, so that the interviewer knows they are hiring someone willing to put in the work to gain experience and be a valuable employee.
All this is to say that you shouldn’t panic next time you’re in a job interview and you’re asked to talk about your greatest weakness. Prepare in advance of the interview and remember these helpful tips! If your upcoming job interview is scheduled to be held over live video, check out our advice here!