How to Answer “What Is Your Greatest Weakness” in an Interview

FT Contributor  | 

“What is your greatest weakness?” This question is common in interviews but handling it can be tricky. You do not want to brush this query aside, but, at the same time, you certainly do not want to reveal details that could hurt your chances of getting the job.

The key to talking about weaknesses is to choose flaws that do not hurt your chances of getting the job. In other words, they are not directly related to the duties of the position for which you are applying.

You can also use the subject of weaknesses to show positivity or a desire to improve. Also, look for opportunities to segue into talking about your strengths.

Examples of Professional Weaknesses

It’s helpful to categorize your weaknesses according to the type of skill or attribute they fall under. You can classify flaws as related to hard skills, soft skills, and interpersonal skills.

Regardless of your choice of weakness, you need to make sure that the chosen skill does not directly relate to the skills you need for the job for which you are interviewing.

Hard Skills

Hard skills are technical skills that you learn through training and experience. You often need specific technical skills to qualify for a job, so you should not include the abilities necessary for the position in your list of weaknesses. If your job requires specialized knowledge, you can populate your list of flaws with soft skills.

  • Advanced skills: Use any advanced subject that is somewhat related to the job. If your work involves such advanced knowledge, you do not want to include it in your list of weaknesses. However, if it is not necessary, you could get away with using it as a weakness. One of the advantages of doing this is that you can segue into highlighting your knowledge of relevant fundamentals.
  • Written communication: Unless your job involves writing, you may be able to include writing as an area in which you need improvement. Written communication is a skill that you can improve with practice, so you may want to mention your desire for growth as a writer. You could also use this opportunity to talk about how you are skilled in other forms of communication, such as verbal communication or creating PowerPoint presentations.
  • Unrelated computer languages: If you are applying for a tech job, the interviewer will likely ask you about your programming skills. The position will require knowledge of specific computer systems and languages. Other languages are not necessary for this job. While interviewing for a front-end developer position, for example, you could mention the fact that you do not know back-end or database languages such as Python, Ruby, or SQL.
  • Unrelated computer programs: Computer programs are required knowledge for many jobs, including those outside of the tech sector. For example, most office employees need to know Microsoft Office. If you know that the company uses Microsoft Office, for example, you can list a lack of knowledge of Google’s G Suite as a weakness.
  • Budgeting or finance: You could choose a general skill, such as budgeting, as long as it is not part of the duties of the job for which you are applying. You may need this type of skill later in your career if you reach a management position. Use your lack of financial expertise to talk about your desire to improve so that you can achieve your goals of getting promoted to a senior position.

Soft Skills

Soft skills are personal attributes you develop over time. Sometimes, you can choose soft-skill weaknesses that the interviewer may also interpret as strengths. Also, since soft skills are not related to any specific training, mention your plans to make improvements in your areas of weakness.

  • “I’m too detail-oriented.” List attention to detail as a weakness by explaining that you pay too much attention to details. An interviewer may interpret this as a negative and think that you get bogged down in particulars of a project. However, they can also see it as a positive because they may think you can help their company avoid costly mistakes.
  • “I’m impatient when I get behind schedule.” This weakness is a disqualifying negative for some jobs, such as those involving heavy equipment. In these positions, impatience may be dangerous. However, for other jobs, being impatient is a positive attribute. The interviewer may interpret it to mean that you will push yourself and others to get the job done when things are behind schedule.
  • “I’m always over-prepared.” This trait may be detrimental if you are applying for a job in a fast-paced environment where you need to move from task to task quickly. However, employers often decide that they prefer over-prepared workers to underprepared employees who are not ready for the challenges of the job.
  • “I find it challenging to maintain a work-life balance.” Explain that you feel a dedication to your career, and you sometimes take work home with you, which can interfere with your social life or other aspects of your personal life. Many modern companies are aware of the need for work-life balance, but they would not see this weakness as a disqualifying negative.
  • “I can’t say no to assignments and tasks.” While this trait may lead to missed deadlines and burnout, it also illustrates a strong work ethic and independence.

Interpersonal Skills

Interpersonal skills focus on how you relate to other people in the workplace. Talking about weaknesses in this area can sometimes be tricky, because most jobs require at least some peer-to-peer interactions.

  • Communication: In some careers, your communication with others will take place on a project management app or via email. In these instances, you may want to list verbal communication as a weakness. You can explain that you prefer to put your ideas in writing so that you’re sure they are clear.
  • Public speaking: If your job does not involve presentations or public speaking, then you may safely use this soft skill as one of your weaknesses. Even if you have to give an occasional presentation, say that you are looking forward to the chance to improve.
  • Leadership skills: If you are not applying for a management position, you may want to list a lack of leadership skills among your weaknesses. If leadership is not a job requirement, then you will not get disqualified for lacking the skills. Also, this choice of weakness will give you a chance to express a desire to develop leadership skills.
  • Being too honest: Being too honest can be a weakness if you have to work as part of a team. However, in general, employers appreciate a degree of honesty and they may value employees who “tell it like it is.” You can mention that you are aware of this shortcoming and working to find more tactful ways to communicate.
  • Never asking for help: This weakness may be detrimental because not asking for help can ultimately lead to more mistakes and slow down projects. At the same time, it brings to mind positive attributes such as independence and a willingness to work through problems for yourself.

How to Talk About Weaknesses

The key to talking about weaknesses during an interview is to prepare beforehand. In addition to practicing what you are going to say, you need to look at the job ad and research the company’s mission and culture to make sure your weaknesses are not related to the job requirements or the company’s values.

With proper planning, you could also use your weaknesses to discuss related strengths and positive attributes.

Show Positivity

If you plan correctly, you can positively frame your weaknesses. Discuss your flaws, but also talk about how they’re strengths in some circumstances. For example, your impatience helps you meet deadlines for every project because you work harder and push your coworkers when you get behind schedule.

Share Strengths

Take the opportunity to discuss related strengths that you have developed to overcome your weaknesses. You can talk about how you have overcome a vulnerability in the past because of a skill or trait. For example, talk about overcoming a lack of writing skill because you have excellent verbal communication skills.

Talk About Improvements

While addressing a flaw, share your desire for improvement. You can even provide details about your plan for improving your weaknesses and turning them into strengths. In some cases, you may also be able to give an example of how you have already gotten better in a weak area. This step is vital because it shows the interviewer that you are willing to make an effort to improve.

Be Truthful

Interviewers can tell if you are evasive or untruthful when talking about your weaknesses. The best policy is being honest about your flaws and then trying to communicate a desire for improvement or highlight strengths that help you overcome these weaknesses. Being honest and direct in this way will also help you feel more confident when you go into an interview.


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