List of Weaknesses and 15 Answers to "What Is Your Greatest Weakness" [2020]

what is your greatest weakness

When a hiring manager asks the weakness interview question, “What is your greatest weakness?” it’s best to be prepared with an answer. And a specific weakness in mind. This type of interview question is aimed at learning about a candidate’s core competencies in advance of hiring. Competencies are demonstrable characteristics and skills that improve a job's efficiency and effectiveness (or performance). These types of interview questions can help an employer predict the future job performance of a job candidate.

This common interview question comes in many forms. The interviewer may ask, “What is your biggest weakness?” or “What do you feel your greatest strength and weaknesses are?” When considering weaknesses to mention, it can be helpful to refer to a list of weaknesses that set examples for a potential answer. A job seeker should prepare to be asked this common interview question and prepare their answer with a real weakness they feel comfortable sharing.

This interview question is normally asked during the “on-site interview” portion of the interview process. It is less common for this question to be asked during the phone interview or pre-screen interview stage from a prospective employer. Regardless of the interview type, when there’s an upcoming interview, it is always suggested to prepare a “good answer” to this question and be ready to respond when asked this dreaded interview question.

weaknesses interview question

Why "What Is Your Greatest Weakness" is Asked

This interview question is asked to candidates to see how self-reflective they might be, how humble they might be, and if they have humility. The exercise aims to measure core competencies as well as the ability to be self-disciplined with their work.

Tip: Keep seeing the phrase "core competencies?" Curious about what a core competency is? A core competency is a concept in management theory introduced by C. K. Prahalad and Gary Hamel. It is defined as “a harmonized combination of multiple resources and skills that distinguish a firm in the marketplace.” And therefore, it is the foundation of a companies’ competitiveness.

When answering this interview question, the hiring manager doesn't care about what the candidate answers with, but how they answer it. The purpose of the exercise is for the employee to give themselves a small performance review.

According to BambooHR, "A performance review is a formal assessment in which a manager evaluates an employee's work performance, identifies strengths and weaknesses, offers feedback, and sets goals for future performance."

We can see from the interview question that it promotes the opportunity for the employee to be humble and identify a weakness that can be improved. When finding a weakness, use a weakness that is subtle. Rather, a strength that can be improved and not a weakness or missing talent.

For example, a great weakness would be patience. Since it is a strength, but can always be improved. Everyone can improve their patience. And patience will pay dividends for any business. It's a question that tests the candidate and shows whether or not they're a "good fit" for the business.

Interview Question Answer Strategy

The best strategy for answering this interview question is to answer with weaknesses that can also be considered strengths. Or another way to phrase it is to use a weakness that can be easily controlled or utilized in certain situations. Consider this a “good weakness.”

A poor weakness that does not do this is:

I feel like I can get frustrated too easily.

A good weakness that can be utilized as strength is:

I can find myself having a hard time letting go of a project that I poured my heart into.

This makes any weakness you describe an “acceptable” weakness to the interviewer or hiring manager. It also refers to a weakness that is presentable “on the job” rather than speaking about a personal weakness. For example, a personal weakness would be, “I feel like I get stressed out under pressure.” This is simply an irrelevant weakness to the hiring manager.

While many resources claim that referring to a soft skill or hard skill through the interview answer is correct, it’s more effective to use a weakness that can be harnessed as a strength for the employer. There are two reasons for this. First, the interview answer will be more clear. Second, the story being told by the candidate will be shorter, and skill will still present itself to the hiring manager. The risk of using a story that describes a soft skill is that it has the potential of mentioning a non-essential skill for the role. A clear, concise, and simple reference to the weakness should be sufficient.

When answering, the answer should take no more than 90-seconds to recite. If the interviewer asks to learn more about that weakness, be prepared to tell a short story that describes the flaw. The story should use a STAR response. This is a situation, task, action, and result. Or another way to phrase it is that the answer should describe a mistake that embodies the weakness. Only use this method if the interviewer wants to learn more about the weakness.

Always use a previous job or current job as the basis for the answer. Never refer to a sporting team or extracurricular activity unless there is no prior work experience and relevant employment history to refer to. If possible, refer to methods for correcting the weakness at the moment or what might be done the next time the weakness presents itself in a work situation.

Job candidates should follow these answer strategy guidelines and best practices:

Tip: Job candidates who are confused about how to answer this interview question should consider performing an "informational interview." An informational interview is defined as an "informal conversation you can have with someone working in an area of interest to you. It is an effective research tool and is best done after preliminary online research. It is not a job interview, and the objective is not to find job openings." Informational interviews can provide insight into company culture and requirements of jobs not listed on a job description. And can be useful in obtaining career advice from employed personnel.

List of Weaknesses and Sample Answers

Use these weaknesses and sample answers for a job interview. Be sure to answer with a genuine weakness that aligns with what the resume and cover letter may indicate. This job interview question is considered a “tough question” by the employer but one that displays personality and individuality to a potential employer. Spend time considering which weakness is most fitting and consider an appropriate response that's personal.

1. I can be too detail-oriented.

Sample answer: “I can find myself getting too heavily involved in the details of a project. While this is an indicator of my passion for the project, I can spend too much time focusing on the minor details and forget about the holistic needs of the team.”

2. I can care a little too much about our customers.

Sample answer: “At my previous job, I found myself using too much empathy. In certain circumstances, like in a nursing home, you have to distribute empathy equally. I found it difficult not to emotionally connect with a few patients.”

3. I have a hard time saying “no.”

Sample answer: “Saying no is really difficult for me. I like to make sure that our customers and team members are happy. Though, I recognize that if I say ‘Yes’ all the time, I might not be able to follow through with my promise. And this lets my team or customers down even more.”

4. I have a hard time letting go of a project.

Sample answer: “When I’ve spent a healthy amount of time and effort on a project, I have a hard time letting others get involved. At my previous job, there was a project I spent 12-months on. And when another team member came to take it over, I found it difficult not to periodically check in on the project and potentially micromanage.”

5. I sometimes lack confidence.

Sample answer: “When others ask my opinion, I struggle to present my thoughts and opinions even though I feel they are on target with what the company needs or the project needs. This is simply me not being able to ‘speak up’ for myself.”

6. It can be difficult to maintain a healthy work/life balance.

Sample answer: “When I get really passionate about a project, I can spend a little too much time on it and find myself getting a little burnt out. I need to remember that spending time away from a project is healthy.”

7. I can find adaptability to be too comfortable.

Sample answer: “I get concerned about the fact that I’m too comfortable with adaptability. Changing environments and the changing of hands. I’d like to think that stability is a good thing at times and is something I should be comfortable with as well.”

8. I often find myself working too many hours and getting burnt out.

Sample answer: “Some days I simply can’t put my work down. And I forget that I’m going to have to come back to work the next day. I might work late into the night and get incredibly passionate about a problem. I have to remember to pace myself and think clearly.”

9. I have a hard time shifting from one project to another.

Sample answer: “If I’m particularly passionate about one project, I can find it hard to shift into another project. Not because I won’t have a passion for it, but because I feel like I wasn’t able to fully complete the previous project.”

10. I can be overly helpful to others.

Sample answer: “I love helping others. But this can be a fault sometimes. Depending on the personality type, someone might see ‘help’ as micromanaging or getting involved in their work. I really need to be cautious of how I help others and what methods I use to do that.”

11. I can have a difficult time not seeing the results I expected.

Sample answer: “When I am particularly passionate about a project, and I’m aiming to achieve results, I get disappointed when I don’t see the results I was expecting. I need to remember that the challenge is part of the fun. And that we have plenty of chances to improve.”

12. I have a difficult time with public speaking.

Sample answer: “Public speaking is something I’m not great at. It’s simply because I haven’t spent a lot of time doing it. This is something that I’d like to try more and see if I can bring some value to a brand or company through my expertise and passions.”

13. I can get hyper-focused on a problem and forget about time management.

Sample answer: “When I get hyper-focused on a problem, I can forget about the team's needs that week. And that’s an issue. I try to remind myself that there are many problems to solve, not just one. And to diversify my efforts evenly. This is something I need to work on.”

14. I can feel too much drive to be creative and forget about quantitative insights.

Sample answer: “I love being creative. That feeling of having the spark of imagination and something coming to life. Though, I need to remember that quantitative insights are really important in decision making for a business. And being creative, with quantitative insights, is the key to success.”

15. I can feel too drawn to numbers, like revenue, and forget about creativity.

Sample answer: “I love numbers. More importantly, I love growth. But growth is not always a great thing. For example, being hyper-focused on numbers can lead to team members being burnt out or feeling a lack of creative drive. I need to remember to balance creativity with quantitative goals.”

16. I have trouble taking constructive criticism.

Sample answer: “When I’m particularly passionate about a problem, I can struggle with taking constructive criticism. Though, I’ve come to realize that all criticism is good and should be evaluated properly. It is that first ‘punch’ of the feedback that I struggle with. After that, I’m okay.”

17. I struggle with perfectionism.

Sample answer: “I appreciate the details. It is something that I love and dislike about myself. When it comes to my work, I’ve always felt the need to pay respect to the process and focus on every minor detail that embodies my work. Though, this can result in a lot of unnecessary time spent and perfectionism that doesn’t embody collaboration. I need to strike a balance between perfectionism and ‘good enough’ for the team or customer.”

Common Answer Mistakes

Below are common mistakes when answering this interview question.

Being "too" honest.

Speaking about a weakness is not an opportunity to share a life story and explain qualities about a person that can be improved. Every person in the world can be improved. The interview question aims to qualify the candidate and see how the candidate might evaluate themselves. Don't treat this as an opportunity to speak poorly about anyone or anything.

Telling a long life story

Telling a long life story might seem like a great idea, especially when someone asks about weaknesses. But a terse answer is what the hiring manager is seeking. The purpose is to see how the candidate might approach improving themselves. Or which qualities they feel they should improve to impact their work performance.

Not having a prepared answer

This is not an interview question where you want to "think on your feet." Come prepared with an answer that has good decisive reasoning to it. Reciting a prepared answer will help the hiring manager comprehend the abilities of the candidate more clearly. And be able to engage in the conversation more proactively.

Not taking the interview question seriously

Some candidates choose not to take this interview question seriously. Resulting in an unengaged candidate who doesn't comprehend the exercise. Be engaged with this interview question, prepare an answer, and when the hiring manager asks, be passionate about the response.

Not treating the answer like a performance review

A performance review is between an employee and a manager. The review aims to examine what's going well and what's not going so well. During the review, the two employees decide on the next steps to improve what's not going so well. When the interviewer asks this interview question, it's prompting the job candidate to perform a performance review upon themselves. This displays leadership qualities and willingness to improve.

Having a short answer

Answering with, "I don't have any weaknesses" might sound like a great way to display confidence and show experience. But it's not. By answering in that way, it displays arrogance and unwillingness to improve. These are not qualities that the employer will find valuable. In fact, arrogance is a characteristic of an employee that most employers will avoid.

Responding with poor body language

If a job candidate replies to this interview question by saying, "Ugh, this is a dreaded question that I dislike being asked in interviews." It displays the job candidate being arrogant and unwilling to engage in the exercise. The job candidate should watch their body language when this interview question is asked. And have fun with the answer.

Not referencing a skill

A common mistake is not referencing specific skills that should be improved or can be improved. Or referencing non-essential skills, like "water cooler talk" skills. The employee should reference skills that are important to the job. And that alludes to the employee wanting to advance themselves.

Bad Answer Examples

Below are bad answers to this common job interview question.

Poor sample answer: "I've been in the industry for more than a decade, I don't see myself having too many weaknesses. If I had to identify a weakness, I would say that I have a hard time working with others, especially if they are unable to meet me on my level. I find myself being a fast-paced executor, and I see others struggling to keep up. It's not my place to mentor them. Instead, I try to display excellence in the workplace and see if my team members can catch up. You could say that I like to compete in the workplace and see what happens."

Poor sample answer: "I have so many weaknesses, it is hard to count them all. What I can say is that my friends and family have told me that I use the word "like" a lot when I speak. This is something that I need work on, my verbal communication skills. My friends and family tell me that I sound like a "valley girl" and that it doesn't sound very professional. I'd like to think it gives me personality. But to each their own, I suppose. I hope that answers your question, and I hope that's a sufficient weakness for you."

Prepare for Follow-up Questions

Once the candidate answers this interview question, it's common for the hiring manager to ask a number of follow-up questions. For example, "Thank you for sharing that weakness with me. Now that you've shared it, what are you going to do to overcome that weakness?"

This is a common rebuttal question by the hiring manager. The candidate should always include a reference to how they are going to resolve the weakness in their answer. Though, if one is not provided, the hiring manager is likely to ask how they are going to follow-through with that.

Another follow-up question might be, "If you were hired for this position, how can we trust that you won't let this weakness get in the way of your job performance?" In order to have a response to this, it's best to refer back to how the candidate is going to resolve the weakness.

Great ways to solve the weakness might be working with a career coach, working with a mentor, being exposed to more experiences that allow the candidate to gain proper experience or other unique strategies.

FAQ's

Common questions from job seekers about the "weakness question" asked in interviews.

How can I find my weaknesses?

Jonathan Michael provides a nice framework for being able to identify weaknesses. Be sure to use this framework in professional settings only.

To help you think about what to include as weaknesses, try asking yourself questions like:

What if I am answering the question poorly? Can I save myself from poor job interview performance?

Answering this question requires practice and patience. During a job interview, the job candidate might have nerves that make them answer their prepared response quickly. Slow the pace of the response, and if the response isn't sounding clear, state to the interviewer, "This isn't sounding clear; can I start over?"

Related Hiring Resources

author: patrick algrim
About the author

Patrick Algrim is an experienced executive who has spent a number of years in Silicon Valley hiring and coaching some of the world’s most valuable technology teams. Patrick has been a source for Human Resources and career related insights for Forbes, Glassdoor, Entrepreneur, Recruiter.com, SparkHire, and many more.

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