What’s the Right Way to Answer ‘What Are Your Weaknesses’ During A Job Interview

“It’s a trap,” you think to yourself as you grip the edges of your chair and decide how the heck to answer the “what are your greatest weaknesses?” question during a job interview.

In a way, it is kind of an impossible question to respond to in an authentic, yet, self-promotional way. Of course, you could try to swing a Michael Scott-esque approach. 

No one will believe that nonsense, though. David Wallace knew it was baloney and so will any hiring manager with half of a brain.

So how can you answer this question without coming off incompetent, dishonest, arrogant or blundering? 

Be transparent, yet positive

Tell the truth—but never mention weaknesses that are critical for the job you’re applying for. By exposing an honest shortcoming that is not essential for success in the role you’re after, you humanize yourself and provide an opportunity to demonstrate how you’re workshopping that deficiency. 

For instance, let’s say that you’re interested in securing a position as a mechanical engineer but you’re uncomfortable conducting group presentations. In this case, you can highlight your strength in one-on-one communication with teammates while offering an example of your difficulty with presentations to large audiences. To keep the focus on how you’re continuing to improve on your weaknesses, speak about the things you’ve done to address your fear of public speaking, such as signing up for Toastmasters and using tools such as handouts and video film clips to reduce the attention on you. 

Turn that frown upside down

You can also try to turn a negative characteristic into a positive one, as long as you’re not overtly obvious with your approach. 

You might, for example, disclose your obsessive attention to detail as a weakness. Explain that your tendency to perfectionism has caused you to miss deadlines in the past, but you’ve learned that “done is better than perfect” and that this realization has helped you finetune your time management skills and has gloriously improved the rate in which your team hits target dates.

Prove that you’re a continuous learner

Hiring managers want to know that you’re someone who values learning and cares about professional development. When asked about your weaknesses, feel free to admit that there is something that you don’t know that you want to invest time and energy on improving. If you’re a content writer who hasn’t mastered SEO, tell the interviewer that you are eager to start taking courses to improve your chances of getting into a leadership position in the future.

If you’re feeling really gutsy, you can ask the hiring manager if there is a budget available for employees to take advantage of professional development at their company. If so, use this opportunity to show your eagerness to use these funds to grow as a professional and to further benefit their business. 

There is a wrong way to answer this question. Here’s what to avoid:

Pretending you’re perfect

It’s important not to come across as arrogant or dishonest by claiming that you don’t have any shortcomings. Come on, even Hercules had a weakness. 

A long stretch of silence, followed by a “let me think about this…”

Really? This is just bad form. This question is inevitably coming and you should have been prepared for it. Now, you’re coming off as shady, a pompous jerk or just flat-out unqualified. 

Revealing weaknesses that are deal breakers for the role

The weaknesses you choose to disclose better not be crucial for success in the role. Never give them a reason to doubt your qualifications for the job. 

Tips for delivering your response

  • Prepare a response. It can be easier to respond when you have an idea of what you want to say. For best results, rehearse your answer with a constructive friend or family member.
  • Remember, the way you frame your answer to job interview questions about weaknesses is as important as what you say. 
  • Focus on your accomplishments. While directly answering about your real weaknesses is important, remember to redirect the focus from what needs improvement to what you have already accomplished. 
  • Watch your tone. When it comes to this particular question, it’s extremely critical that you don’t sound disingenuous.

Probable followup questions to prepare yourself for

  • What are your greatest strengths? 
  • Are there aspects of this role that you see being challenging for you? 
  • How will you spend your first few weeks?
  • What are some quick wins you could deliver?
  • Describe a difficult work situation and how you worked through it?