We all get those questions in job interviews that we feel like we are walking on eggshells answering—some of the most infamous of these questions are about your weaknesses as an employee.
Most people hear these questions and immediately freeze up because they are afraid to list any faults of theirs before a person has even decided if they want to hire you.
But questions about your weaknesses as an employee are common interview questions. Why is that?
To better understand why employers are so interested in your shortcomings, as well as your strengths, it’s worth breaking down the entire line of questioning.
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Why Are Weaknesses Asked?
The simple answer as to why interview questions often turn to your greatest weaknesses and strengths is that it shows a veneer of honesty. The hiring manager wants to gauge the kind of person they are hiring.
If you only talk about your strengths, they do not get a very cohesive image of you as a candidate for the job. It also makes you sound arrogant.
Being able to answer questions about your weaknesses displays self-awareness and humility. Admitting that you understand your current shortcomings shows that you are dedicated to improving.
That said, there are specific answers a hiring manager is looking for when they ask what your biggest weakness is.
Examples of Appropriate “Greatest Weaknesses”
These days, people almost make a joke out of reframing average or unremarkable aspects of your resume or job experience as impressive or extraordinary for the sake of a job interview.
The common wisdom is to approach questions about your biggest weakness as an employee the same way. In short, spin it into a positive instead of answering honestly in any way.
For instance, a person might describe themselves as being a perfectionist. While perfectionism is framed as a negative, the underlying point in saying it is that you are dedicated to turning out the best product possible and helps demonstrate a good work ethic. The answer sounds like a negative but is a positive.
Answering that you have a hard time with specific soft skills unrelated to the job description is another tactic when asked these sorts of weakness questions.
Recruiters do not care if someone they are hiring to do data entry has good public-speaking skills. They care about their time management skills and work ethic.
Explaining you have a hard time with procrastination is generally not a great answer. Even if it is a weakness of yours, as it is for many people, all the interviewer hears is that you leave important things to the last minute. Job seekers who are honest in this way tend not to do very well.
How to Approach the Weakness Question
As a general rule, hiring managers do not expect you to talk about real weaknesses. They want to decide if you have the problem-solving skills and communication skills needed to spin a negative into a positive.
They can and do make their own decisions on your strengths and weaknesses based on other things like your cover letter and personality traits during the interview.
Do not say anything that calls your teamwork or time management skills into question. Both traits are important for hiring managers to see and have a major impact on any job seeker’s chances of being hired.
Refer back to your resume whenever possible. It’s sound advice for any part of the job interview process, but it will have an impact under this line of questioning as well.
Never admit to a weakness that contradicts the strengths you highlight both on your resume as well as things like your LinkedIn profile.
You should also be ready for follow-up questions about any weaknesses you admit to. Usually the follow-up question is related to how you would tackle the weakness or improve upon it.
This part is just as important, if not more, because it shows that you intend to do better. Not only are you intending to do better, but you have a basic idea of how to do better.
How to Spin a Negative into a Positive in a Job Interview
Don’t fret when asked about your weaknesses. Take this as an opportunity to showcase your problem-solving skills, and spin the negative into a positive.
If you talk about having a hard time with a data entry system in an interview with a company that uses excel, follow up by talking about why you prefer excel to the other program.
If you talk about having trouble delegating, continue by saying that you enjoy participating in collaborative efforts in other ways.
Pivoting the narrative around your personal weaknesses into an opportunity to talk about your strengths is what you should aim for.
But also remember to take the opportunity to show the interviewer that you understand that you are not perfect and are ready to take steps to improve on what you may not know.
Following the response with steps you plan to take on overcoming your weaknesses gives the interviewer a glimpse of your work ethic and attitude towards difficult situations. You will always hit roadblocks at work, and they want to know if you are willing to take them on.
Examples of Answers About Weaknesses in Job Interviews
- (Interviewer): “Where do you feel you have room to improve when working for this company?”
“I definitely think I have room to delegate responsibility more. I sometimes just get such a clear vision for a project that I motivate myself to just do so much of the upfront work right away that I forget to delegate responsibility to my team.
In a way, I am too goal-oriented to think of the process and other people’s parts in it. I just want to get it done.”
As you can see, the answer twists the question into a chance to say something positive about yourself and your work ethic.
While it would be easy to make this answer come off as arrogant or boastful, applying the principles of it to the specific job you are interviewing for will help you stand out from the other applicants.
- (Interviewer): “What is a personal weakness you notice in your overall performance?”
“I can be a perfectionist at times, I become too detail-oriented and end up spending long hours laboring to make sure the finished work I turn in is absolutely flawless. I find that I am just so eager to make everything about a project perfect that time just slips away from me.
The answer above is pretty much a textbook answer to an interview question about personal weaknesses.
It is still phrased like an admission of a real weakness, but every word actually spins the statement into a positive in one way or another.
While you may be saying that you are a perfectionist, your answer mainly demonstrates that you are driven and motivated and that you will not rest until your work is perfect.
- (Interviewer): “Tell me about the areas you would like to improve on in the future.”
“I would like to improve some of my teamwork skills. I work well with other people, and I am great at enhancing the work that my team does, but I sometimes have a hard time knowing when my role is done.
I want to complete a project when I get it, and I want it to be the best it can be, so I sometimes fill in other team member’s roles to get it done.”
The principle here is the same as the others. You answered the question in a way that also shows a level of dedication to your craft.
This one also has the added benefit of demonstrating an area that you may actually want to improve on, but you are not presenting it in a way that makes you sound inept or otherwise less than an ideal employee.
The proper way to address questions about your weaknesses as an employee is to spin whatever answer you give into a positive. It is not lying or manipulative to do this; in many cases, it is what the hiring manager is expecting if not intending for you to do.
An answer to any question about your weaknesses should reflect self-awareness and a desire to improve, but also show off positive personality traits the interviewer looks for in new hires.
The trick is to report weaknesses that are actually strengths, such as claiming to be a perfectionist or a workaholic and carry on to use it to accentuate other positive traits about you as an employee.
The main point is the hiring director wants to see your problem-solving skills. Whether you can spin your negatives to positives, or provide a solid plan of action for further improvement, it all adds up to your attitude towards tackling problems.
Instead of thinking of the weakness question as a trick question, a more accurate assessment is that it exists for a specific reason that is not necessarily obvious.