Of all the common job interview questions out there, ‘What are your weaknesses?’ is one of the most daunting.

In a situation where you’re trying to sell yourself, discussing your shortcomings can feel counterintuitive. However, when answered correctly, this question can actually be an excellent opportunity to showcase some of your strengths – such as honesty, self-awareness, and a willingness to learn.

Below, we look at why employers ask this question before moving on to some tips for answering it.

Why do employers ask ‘What are your weaknesses?’

Why do employers ask ‘What are your weaknesses

Of course, one of the main reasons why interviewers ask this question is to help them understand whether you have any glaring weaknesses that could hinder your performance in the role.

But, as with many common interview questions, there’s more to this inquiry than meets the eye. A potential employer will also be interested in finding out whether you…

  1. Are honest and authentic
  2. Are self-aware and self-reflective
  3. Have a plan for improvement and are passionate about self-development

To make things even more confusing, there are many different ways to ask this question. For example, it may be worded as something like ‘Tell us about a time you identified and improved a shortcoming’. Many hiring managers also ask a question about weaknesses alongside its counterpart: ‘What are your strengths?’

However, no matter how it’s worded, there are a few steps you can follow to craft a strong answer. Read on for some of our top tips.

9 tips for answering ‘What are your weaknesses?’

9 tips for answering ‘What are your weaknesses?’

1. Choose two or three weaknesses

Some interviewers will only ask for one weakness, while others will be looking for multiple, so it’s a good idea to prepare two or three just in case. However, to avoid giving the wrong impression, you probably don’t want to mention any more than this.

At the same time, saying, “I have no weaknesses” is even more of a no-no. After all, we’re all human, and everyone has genuine shortcomings. By asking this question, employers are looking for people who are self-aware enough to recognise and reflect on these.

2. Choose genuine weaknesses

When answering this question, it’s important to choose weaknesses that you genuinely possess. If you simply say what you think the interviewer might want to hear, you risk coming across as insincere.

With that said, it can be tricky to identify our weaknesses – especially if we’ve been out of work for a while. Past performance evaluations and speaking to previous mentors/managers can provide valuable insight into where we have room to grow – as can asking ourselves questions like…

  • When was a time I made a mistake at work?
  • When was a time I miscommunicated something at work?
  • When was a time I was unsatisfied with my performance at work?
  • What are my work-related fears and insecurities?

3. Choose skills that aren’t fundamental to the role

When answering ‘What are your greatest strengths?’, it’s important to choose skills that closely align with the role in question. However, when it comes to weaknesses, it’s best to select ones that aren’t fundamental to the job.

While interviewers expect you to be honest when answering this question, you don’t want to sabotage yourself completely. At the end of the day, if you’re interviewing for a care role, saying that you struggle with empathy and patience might just ruin your chances of making it to the next round. The same goes for a salesperson who lacks confidence.

So, try thinking of real weaknesses that are somewhat relevant but won’t affect your day-to-day performance. For example, if you’re interviewing for a graphic design role, you could consider using ‘shy or reserved in meetings’ because much of the job doesn’t require you to be particularly outgoing.

With that said, if you find that your weaknesses are fundamental to the types of roles you’re applying for, it could be worth considering a change in career direction. This decision might seem a little daunting, but it can be liberating and exciting to find a new career path that plays to our strengths. Our job ideas page has plenty of inspiration for new types of roles.

4. Avoid backhanded brags

A common mistake candidates make with this question is giving answers that are actually strengths disguised as weaknesses. For example, “I often work too hard” or “I’m too much of a perfectionist”.

While some people recommend this tactic, it’s generally considered outdated advice nowadays because hiring managers have heard this sort of thing time and again. Plus, answering with a backhanded brag can come across as inauthentic.

5. Consider using weaknesses that can be easily fixed through training

Another piece of advice that interview experts often give is to consider using weaknesses that can be easily fixed/improved through training. For example, skills like writing or data analysis, as opposed to personality traits like flexibility and patience.

This is because interviewers may view personality traits as more challenging to improve than hard skills, as there’s no clear-cut training strategy (for example, courses).

Despite this, the truth is all weaknesses can be worked on. So, as long as you have a clear strategy for this (more in this soon), feel free to use character traits in your answer.

Consider using weaknesses that can be easily fixed through training

6. Use examples that had a minor negative consequence

While it may seem counterproductive, it’s also a good idea to provide a short example of when your weaknesses negatively affected your work. Being specific about your weaknesses can help you to come across as more authentic and self-aware.

However, it’s important to keep this part of your answer short and to only use an example when the consequence was relatively minor. For example, perhaps you received a small piece of constructive feedback from a client or colleague.

If the consequence of your weakness is too big, a potential employer might worry that you’ll repeat this behaviour in their workplace, and choose to take a different candidate forward to the next stage instead.

7. Give examples of how you’ve begun improving your weakness

As we’ve mentioned, interviewers also ask this question to see if candidates are passionate about self-development. So, it’s a good idea to give an example of how you’ve already taken active steps to improve this area of your professional life.

For example, if you get stressed easily in high-pressure situations, you might have started practising mindfulness. Or, if you don’t have experience in a specific software – such as Microsoft Excel – perhaps you’ve enrolled on a course to expand your knowledge.

Explaining how you’re already addressing the issue helps to shift the focus from the weakness to positive qualities, such as proactiveness and a willingness to learn. Everyone has weaknesses but what sets successful candidates apart is their ability to overcome them.

8. Be mindful of wording

In job interviews, how we say something can have as much impact as what we say. Some words can help us come across as positive and enthusiastic (two desirable qualities in any candidate), while others may be more negative.

For example, many experts recommend replacing the word ‘weakness’ with something like ‘hurdle’ or ‘challenge,’ which repositions it as something you’re eager to overcome. It’s also advisable to avoid overly negative statements, such as, “I’m really bad at X”. Instead, choose neutral wording, like “One challenge I’ve faced in my career is Y.”

9. Use a three-step formula

When preparing your answers, try using the following three-step formula below…

  • State the weakness
  • Give an example of when it had a minor consequence
  • Explain what steps you’ve taken to improve it

In the next section, you’ll find a few example answers that follow this formula and take into account the tips above…

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Example answers for: ‘What are your weaknesses?’

Example answers for: ‘What are your weaknesses?’

Example 1

“One aspect of my career that I know needs work is my willingness to ask for help. When I hit a wall with a project, my instinct is to come up with a solution all on my own, which can really slow things down. I know the quality of my work would be much better if I took the time to reach out to team members to make the most of their diverse knowledge and skill sets.

“With this in mind, I’ve begun scheduling weekly 10-minute one-to-one meetings with my three closest colleagues, where we can talk about our projects and any issues we’re having. For me, having this time already in the calendar helps to take the pressure off reaching out for help.”

Example 2

“My public speaking skills are one part of my professional life that I’m keen to develop. While my role as a writer doesn’t require these on a regular basis, I believe my shyness gets in the way of me speaking up and offering my opinion during meetings, which my manager mentioned could be improved in a recent evaluation.

“To help with this, I recently joined my local Toastmasters public speaking group. Each week, I deliver a speech and am evaluated by fellow members. I have also since completed their six-week course and am seeing a big improvement in my participation in meetings, as well as my general confidence.”

Example 3

“In my current role as a customer service representative, one challenge I’ve struggled with has been using spreadsheets to record customer data. I noticed that I was spending lots more time on it than my colleagues, which meant less time on the phone helping customers.

“To become more efficient in this area, I took an online diploma course that introduced me to a variety of shortcuts and new functions. Now, not only am I much quicker, but I’ve applied my newfound skills to make our existing spreadsheets clearer and more user-friendly

Final thoughts…

‘What are your weaknesses?’ is one of the trickiest interview questions out there. It can be difficult to balance being authentic about your shortcomings with presenting yourself in a positive light. However, when answered well, this question can earn candidates some serious brownie points and give them a better chance of securing the role.

For more advice on answering interview questions, head to our careers section. Here, you’ll find a range of articles, including What to do if you can’t answer a question in a job interview and How to answer the ‘Tell me about yourself’ question in job interviews.

Do you have any more tips for answering this question? If so, we’d love to hear from you in the comments below.