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What are your weaknesses? How to be authentic and nail the interview

October 5, 2022 - 18 min read

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Your weaknesses say a lot about you

5 tips for answering “What is your greatest weakness?”

Find a happy medium

Examples of weaknesses for interviews

The bottom line

It’s a job-seeker’s market out there — at least for now. But, when you land an interview, you still need to make a good first impression.

More than half of job interviewers assess you within 15 minutes of meeting you. They make micro-judgments based on your handshake, clothes, and other non-verbal factors.

You can’t control what they think. But you can control how you prepare for the interview and put your best foot forward.

Recruiters want to know why you want the job and why you’re leaving your current role. With careful preparation, you can navigate these questions by pivoting to your strengths and emphasizing your value to the company.

They’ll also ask you about your weaknesses. When this happens, it might feel like a trap. How do you spin a weakness into a strength? 

Thankfully, you don’t have to. The secret to how to answer “What are your weaknesses?” lies in honesty, self-awareness, and a genuine desire to improve.

Your weaknesses say a lot about you

Interviewers ask about your weaknesses to understand why they should hire you over other candidates. 

They like the “biggest weakness” interview question because your answer says a lot about your work values. Here’s what interviewers look for in a response:

  • Self-awareness. No one’s perfect, and employers want someone who can recognize their imperfections. Acknowledging your shortcomings shows maturity and that you take your work seriously.
  • Honesty. Interviewers can tell whether you’re speaking truthfully or lying to make yourself seem more competent. If you’re being deceitful this early in your relationship, how can they trust you once you’re hired?
  • A desire for self-improvement. Your weaknesses aren’t permanent. If you can show how you’re working to improve, interviewers will see someone who’s resilient and has a strong work ethic.

Your response should address these three components. The goal isn’t to lie about your weaknesses — it’s to frame them in a way that highlights your soft skills and suitability for the role.

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5 tips for answering “What is your greatest weakness?”

Here’s how to prepare your answer to this common interview question:

1. Be honest

We can’t emphasize this enough. Managers want to work with people they can trust, so don’t lie about your weaknesses during your job search. Dishonesty is a red flag for interviewers. 

Take a hard look at your skills and past experiences. Identify and list your real weaknesses. Then think about what you’ve done or plan to do to address them. 

If you can link a weakness to an improvement plan, that’s the one you should talk about with your interviewer. Show you’re action-oriented and willing to try new things. 

For example, if you struggle with procrastination, outline how you’ve adopted new time management strategies — such as the Pomodoro technique — to organize your schedule and stay on task.

woman-speaking-to-manager-how-to-answer-what-are-your-weaknesses

2. Choose your weaknesses wisely

Being honest doesn’t mean listing every mistake in your career. You should avoid naming weaknesses that paint you as a risky hire or incapable of fulfilling the job description.

So, if you’re applying for a team leadership role, it’s not a good idea to say, “I struggle with public speaking” — speaking in front of others is likely a key part of your duties. Instead, describe a different weakness that emphasizes your desire to be even better in your role. 

For example: "I'm always trying to be a better leader. It's important that my team feels supported and appreciated, so I've been reading up on mentorship and giving clear feedback to ensure they're becoming their best selves."

Everyone can improve as an employee. Explain why you want to improve, and you'll appear more self-aware and empathetic.

3. Don’t pass your strengths as weaknesses

It’s tempting to spin your weaknesses as your greatest strengths and vice versa. But statements like “I’m a perfectionist” and “Sometimes I work too hard” are cliché at best and disingenuous at worst. 

Your response should demonstrate self-awareness, and statements like those lack genuineness. They also fail to convey a growth mindset and a willingness to learn.

Once again, we’re back to honesty. Demonstrate to the hiring manager that you can analyze yourself and your skills. List strengths that really our strengths. This quality will set you apart from the other candidates.

We understand this kind of self-reflection can be difficult. At BetterUp, our coaches are trained to offer you tailored career advice based on your strengths, weaknesses, and aspirations.

4. Leave the jokes at the door

Interviews can range from extremely formal to surprisingly casual. But, no matter how comfortable you feel, avoid answering the weaknesses question with a joke. 

“Potato chips are my greatest weakness” is less endearing than you think. Responses like this one communicate that you either:

  • Don’t take the question seriously enough to answer it appropriately
  • Want to deflect because you’re hiding something

You want to come across as confident and competent in your answer, so save your jokes for Slack channels after you’re hired.

happy-man-at-coffee-shop-how-to-answer-what-are-your-weaknesses

5. Keep it practical

“What are your weaknesses?” sounds like a question about your character — but it doesn’t have to be. To shift focus from personal areas of improvement, answer with something sensible that focuses on the job.

For example: if you’re interviewing for a client relations job, a position-focused weakness is that you don’t know your client’s needs yet — you’ll need time to set up meetings and get to know them better.

This type of response tells the recruiter you know what’s expected of the position and what’s necessary to do a great job.

Find a happy medium

Interviews are about making a great impression. Discussing your weaknesses is something of a balancing act: you want to appear self-aware, but you don’t want to sell yourself short.

You can avoid unflattering answers by focusing on weaknesses that show:

    • Humility. Recognizing you aren’t perfect shows you are a thoughtful, professional, and well-rounded person. Accountability in the workplace is crucial.
    • Resilience. Overcoming your weaknesses requires hard work and a plan. If you can describe how you’re working on yourself, you’ll show interviewers you’re self-motivated and persistent.
    • A growth mindset. Being aware of and building on your weaknesses communicates you’re always looking to learn from failure. This is especially useful in the workplace — employers are always looking for better and more efficient ways to get work done. This also hints that you’re looking to improve your adaptability and can perform under pressure.

Examples of weaknesses for interviews

There’s no template for crafting your response, but the following examples are strong building blocks that show our tips in action. When responding to “What are your weaknesses?” best answers include:

1. Impatience

Sample answer

“I can sometimes be impatient when working with others. I become easily frustrated when someone waits until the last minute to complete a task or otherwise disrupts my workflow. But I’ve been attending team-building workshops and I’m learning to trust my colleagues and improve my communication skills.”

Why it works

If you’re applying for a position that requires you to collaborate with others, demonstrate your capacity to be a team player while maintaining high standards for your work. 

Showing you have the skills to address this shortcoming establishes that you value teamwork and respect your colleagues.

businesswoman-speaking-to-candidate-how-to-answer-what-are-your-weaknesses

2. Disorganization

Sample answer

“I can have a hard time staying organized, although not to the point where it affects my performance. I tend to be less efficient when my desk is messy or cluttered, so I’ve learned to set aside time every week to clean my digital and physical space. This has helped my energy levels and made me more detail-oriented.”

Why it works

Messiness is a relatable — and remediable — weakness. Make clear your disorganization doesn't significantly impact your work, but it interferes with your environment just enough to require attention. 

Be prepared with a solution that demonstrates with a little extra effort, you have this weakness totally under control.

3. Trouble delegating

Sample answer

“I find it difficult to delegate tasks when I know I can complete them myself. But in my last role, I had no choice but to share my responsibilities — multitasking wasn’t an option. To maintain control over the work, I implemented a project management system so I could follow up and make sure everything was done on time. This helped me become comfortable with sharing responsibility and improved my work-life balance.”

Why it works

This response shows you’re willing to learn a new skill when the situation calls for it — employee flexibility is critical if an employer hopes to keep you long-term. 

Plus, because you learned the skill on your own, you’ve showcased your commitment and initiative.

4. Overly self-critical

Sample answer

“Sometimes, I’m too hard on myself. I value producing quality work, and I struggle when I fall short of my own expectations. I’ve learned to push back against my inner voice by meditating before and after work. I’m also learning when my self-criticism is valid versus when I should dismiss it.”

Why it works

This answer is a great example of avoiding extremes. A middle-of-the-road approach to reflecting on your work demonstrates your ability to accept criticism while not allowing it to disrupt your confidence and productivity. 

A good weakness for job interviews shows introspection and growth, without interfering with your capacity to be a great addition to the company.

colleagues-talking-on-a-table-how-to-answer-what-are-your-weaknesses

5. Timid in certain contexts

Sample answer

“I can feel timid when providing feedback to others. I never want to hurt anyone’s feelings. But, in my previous role, I realized constructive feedback can help others improve themselves — so long as I approach them with kindness and empathy. Now, I’m much less reluctant to help others be their best.”

Why it works

Here, you turn your weakness into a strength without becoming a cliché. 

You have a natural sense of compassion ( you don’t want to hurt a colleague’s feelings), which makes you a more effective communicator. You’re able to approach people with kindness and tact — two vital soft skills in a leader.

6. Too blunt

Sample answer

“I have a very blunt and straightforward communication style, which works great for me in senior team meetings. People appreciate my honesty. But I’ve realized my bluntness can make my direct reports uncomfortable when I give feedback. I’ve been working on developing my empathy so I can meet my staff where they’re at. I also took an online management course to help me improve my feedback delivery.”

Why it works

A character trait can work in some areas and not in others. In this answer, you acknowledge how bluntness can make you a better communicator in the workplace in some contexts while demonstrating an understanding of when it’s better left out. 

You also recognize why bluntness doesn’t always work and call attention to the actionable steps you took to address the weakness.

7. Trouble balancing work and life

Sample answer

When I started working remotely, I found it difficult to separate my work life from my home life. This increased my stress levels, and I never got enough rest, which eventually impacted my focus and quality of work. I’ve since added more structure to my day and installed a hard cut-off hour when I’m done with work. This has helped me defend my time and maximize productivity during work hours.”

Why it works

On the surface, sacrificing your well-being for work may seem noble. But, as you acknowledge in your answer, it ultimately does more harm than good. 

Employers want to keep you for a long time, and they can’t do that if you’re away on stress leave. It’s important they know you can take care of yourself.

8. Too talkative

Sample answer

I’m an extremely social person and love getting to know my colleagues; I find conversation enriches the experience at work. But, if left to my own devices, I can talk for days instead of working. I’ve learned to mitigate this by setting a timer on my phone. When it goes off, I know it’s time to get back to work. Plus, it allows me to focus on the other person without stressing about time while we chat.” 

Why it works

This answer shows you value forming relationships, which is great for a company’s team spirit and culture. But you also acknowledge that, if left unchecked, talking too much can interfere with productivity — which takes a lot of courage to admit. 

Admitting this fault and showing off your solution will help you earn the interviewer’s respect.

The bottom line

Admitting your weaknesses is an opportunity to showcase your most valuable qualities. Self-awareness, resilience, and humility are some of the best traits you can possess as a worker. Let these example answers guide you to a thoughtful, genuine response to this question.

As you think about how to answer “What are your weaknesses?” strike a balance between a lack of confidence and being too sure of yourself. This job interview question is an opportunity to make yourself stand out and highlight your soft skills while communicating your ability to self-regulate and grow.

Recognize that every weakness is an opportunity for improvement. If you can demonstrate this mindset in an interview, you’ll surely impress the recruiter and get that much closer to a job offer.

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Published October 5, 2022

Erin Eatough, PhD

Sr. Insights Manager

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