better answers to “what are your weaknesses”

If you’ve ever answered “What are your weaknesses?” with anything remotely like “I work too hard,” “I’m a perfectionist,” or “I take my work home with me,” I am here to tell you that these answers are not doing you any favors … because they’re transparent BS that make you look disingenuous.

Since every career guide out there recommends using the transparent strategy of turning a strength into a weakness, interviewers are on to the tactic and may push back for something that isn’t an obvious positive in disguise.

Furthermore, in an effort to ward off those cliché answers, some interviewers will hide the question in different wording. Rather than asking, “What are your weaknesses?” they might ask, “What’s an area you’re currently working on improving in?”  Or you might hear, “If I called your last manager and asked her what areas you could improve in, what would she say?”

And candidates who can’t or won’t speak honestly about areas where they could improve may come across as disingenuous, insincere, or lacking in insight and self-awareness — or just making it impossible to have a real discussion of their potential fitness for the job.

Most interviewers want to talk about your weaknesses not because they’re trying to trip you up but because they genuinely want sure you’re a good fit for the job. They hope to avoid putting you in a job you’ll struggle in, and they definitely don’t want to have to fire you a few months from now. Assuming you want to land a position where you’ll thrive, this should be your goal too — and straightforwardness is more likely to get you there.

So then, how to answer? The best plan of attack is a two-part answer. First, think seriously about your weak points. What have you struggled with in the past? What have past managers encouraged you to do differently? If you could wave a magic wand over your head and change something about your work skills or persona, what would it be?

And here’s part two: What are you doing about it?

Your answer should consist of both parts. It might sound something like this: “When I first started in the work world, I found that I wasn’t as naturally organized as I wanted to be. Without a system to keep track of everything I was juggling, I had trouble keeping all the balls in the air. So now I make lists religiously and check them every morning and every afternoon to make sure that nothing is slipping through the cracks and all my priorities are correct. I’ll never give up my lists, because I know that without them, my natural state is a less organized one.”

No one is going to be shocked to hear you have some professional weaknesses; we all do. The question is just how they’ll fit with this particular position, something you should be interested in too.

{ 87 comments… read them below }

  1. Dawn*

    I agree. I want to cringe when I hear, “I work too hard.”

    Something else I cringe at: “I am a people person.” Blech! That’s what EVERYONE says. Granted some really are, but I’d rather hear that you enjoy helping a customer solve a problem or want to ensure the customer has the best experience possible.

  2. Mike*

    I hate these questions in general because you have to trust that the answer you give won’t be unreasonably held against you.

    My honest answer? I suck at multitasking. I’m dyslexic, and I work better when I can do things sequentially rather than being constantly interrupted with new tasks before I’m finished with the first one. I work best when I can have a list of everything that needs to be done and then I can organize it in the most efficient manner possible. Maybe I’m just irritated with managers that prioritize everything as “most important”.

    But how in the heck would I convey that to an employer when they all seem to expect that you can juggle a bajillion things in the air at once and can seamlessly switch from one thing to another? I don’t want to make a big deal about the dyslexia, but it’s there and it’s something for me to deal with, not my manager.

    1. Elaine*

      Mike, I’m seeing a lot of articles lately about the downside of “multi tasking” because – guess what? – IT DOESN’T WORK! No one can switch seamlessly from one task to another without a lot of wasted time. And yes, managers & HR people keep saying that’s what they want. (It’s hard to respect people who are so stupid.)

      That would be my greatest weakness, too. I like to just work on one thing and finish it, then go on to the next one.

      I should have printed out those articles so I could have them in my briefcase at my next interview.

      1. Marta*

        I agree that multitasking is possible. But when irresponsible people ask An Assistant for too many things and she cannot tell no to any, she will not do majority of the things in a great way! this is why I believe that having assisting job is the biggest drama in a matter when you try to feel appreciated but actually people and managers give you all the most complicated job to resolve and they think it must be easy for you. yet you get paid the smallest amount of pennies and sometimes get fired because you tried to please everyone!!!

  3. Josh S*

    A Harvard Business Review blog post (authored by Priscilla Claman, president of Career Strategies, Inc.) addresses the same topic. I agree with Ms. Claman that the question is often more harmful than helpful, but I disagree with her approach.

    Answering with a trivial, non-informative response (as Ms. Claman recommends) does not allow a potential employer to understand your ability to overcome weaknesses or avail yourself of resources to hedge against the negative implications of weaknesses. It’s a missed opportunity for the applicant to demonstrate self-awareness and ability to deal with obstacles–even self-inflicted ones.

    Here’s the post, for those who wish to compare & contrast strategies. Enjoy!

    1. Josh S*

      PS. My typical answer to this question is the following:

      “When I’ve been faced with multiple projects of equal priority that competed for my time and attention, I had occasionally let details fall through the cracks. Because of this, I’ve become a list person. I write *everything* down (with a due date if necessary), and then I review the lists to make sure things get done in a timely manner. It’s the one skill or tool that allows me to effectively multi-task in a busy environment.”

      I can give endless examples of how I’ve done this, and usually only have to look back to a few days/weeks to do so.

      1. lark*

        Hi, this is exactly how I am and have no idea how am I going to drop the multiple project thing. Thanks for the clearing up.

      2. Anonymous*

        Thank you so much I’ve struggled with this question for years….. I didn’t know how to not make me self sound weak (which I actually did mess up in an interview by saying “my weakness was math” and tossed my self under the bus BIG TIME).

    2. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Wow, I HATED Priscilla Claman’s suggestions in that article you linked to!

      The three examples she offers are all about weaknesses in job searching, not about weaknesses as an employee. And the other one she liked (“I’m not a good judge of my own weaknesses so ask my former bosses”) is terrible too, if you assume hiring managers want to hire people who have some self-awareness / interest in improving/growing.

  4. Sorry but there's no other place to put this*

    Not digging the new logo. The font change is fine, but the character? I thought this was a business blog, not The Frisky.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I like it! If there is one thing I know about logos (and this probably IS the one and only thing I know about them), it’s that you’ll never find one that everyone likes … so I went with one that pleased me :)

      1. Anonymous*

        A related weakness…. I always seem strangely unable to hit a ‘comments’ link which is placed directly beneath a ‘share’ link which pops out when the pointer moves over it. By way of improvement, I’m trying to always approach the ‘comments’ link from beneath, but I sometimes forget, and have to waste time sooing the ‘share’ pop out away….

      2. Anonymous*

        I like the female icon at the top of the but in my opinion, I think the design is a little feminine. Not sure what guys would think when they visit.

          1. Mike*

            I think the logo is fine. Nothing wrong with adding a bit of personality to what could otherwise be a dry topic.

          2. Josh S*

            Nope. Not emasculated. It did strike me as particularly feminine, but not in any way that I construed as negative.

            Small thoughts:
            –The size of the logo/figure compared to the “Ask A Manager” title seems a bit on the large size. It overwhelms the title, and leaves a large expanse of white space. Fully 1/3 of my monitor is filled with the title bar as a result, and the top post is more than half-way down the screen (on a laptop here, so that might be part of it).
            -When I looked at the logo a bit closer, I wasn’t sure what the object is in her hands. Is it one of those ‘cheerleader loudspeaker’ things? What is it, and can you remove/replace it with something more ‘managerial’?

            Other than that, I’m glad to see you’re pumping up the branding on the site!

  5. Lexy*

    In my recent round of interviewing (about 10 interviews From October-January) Not ONE person asked me this ridiculous question! I don’t know if it’s an industry thing or what, but I was freaking ecstatic because I hate the question.

    I mean if you have an interviewer, like Alison, who knows what they’re doing they’ll appreciate an honest and thoughtful answer. But if you’re interviewing with an inexperienced manager your honest and thoughtful answer could very easily have you tossed aside for Ms. “I work too hard!” or Mr. “I’m a perfectionist” (P.S. perfectionists are horrible employees, nothing will ever be on time and their billable hours will be through the roof).

    So yeah, death to the weaknesses question! Of course the advice is spot on.

    1. Amanda*

      Well thats a little mean. I’m quite the perfectionist but being so, I happen to know how to multi-task and get things done ON TIME and the way I want them done – and my billable hours are not through the roof. There are “horrible” workers all around, and they arent all perfectionists.

  6. lee*

    Interviewer: “What’s your biggest weakness”
    Me: “I’m unable to feign interest in irrelevant things”

  7. Charles*

    It takes all my will power to NOT answer with a snippy – “giving canned answers to canned questions, please ask me something more original.”

    1. CindyB*

      @Charles – and @lee

      It may not be the most original question, but I disagree it’s irrelevant. I have always used a version of this question (as both a manager and an internal recruiter) because I want to know about your self awareness. Plus putting a square peg in a round hole is torturous for everyone concerned – mostly the person who got a job they’re not best suited for. Who wants to be performance managed for something that is intrinsic about them?

      Another thought: in many cases, a team is a sum of its parts. Imagine applying for a role where data analysis is about 10% of your work. You’re fabulous with the other 90% of the job requirements, but cr*p at analsys. Perhaps there’s someone else on the team who is lacking your great communication skills, but is a whiz with the data. No problem – perhaps the manager can team you up when it’s time for the data work and your colleague can learn from you too – you can play to each others strengths.

      Oh, and whenever someone gave me a ‘strength as a weakness’ answer, my next question would be: “Please tell me about the last time that tripped you up or caused an issue for others.” The response was usually got a stunned mullet look on their face.

      Really, we want to know how to mitigate the risk that a weakness may impact your success on the job.

      1. Phil Rozzi*

        You’re an idiot. They had a stunned look on their fave because it was just an answer and not a real weakness. I don’t have any weaknesses so if I’m forced to make one up sure it will make me look weak

  8. Anonymous*

    I would list something that would be a weakness in other jobs but not for the job I’m applying for (even if this is not a true weakness!). For example, if I were applying for a job that invovled little-t0-no public speaking, I would say that I am afraid of public speaking. (The funny thing is, I’m perfectly comfortable with public speaking.) Because the “weakness” is not related to the job, employers don’t consider it as such.

    I know that AAM frowns upon lying in an interview. She (rightfully) feels that being completely candid is important for making sure that you and the job are a good fit. However, I think that AAM downplays the difficulty of landing a great job – sometimes you need a lie to get you there.

  9. Anonymous*

    Here’s one for you on that question, “What would your former managers say if I called them?” What if your former managers are completely incompetent and would say bad things about you, regardless? How would you answer then? Say “everything?”

    I’m sorry to sound bitter. I am. I’m trying to fix my situation and get away from my toxic workplace, though.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I would try thinking about what you’d say if you were your own (reasonable) manager. If you were, what would be your assessment of areas you could improve in?

  10. Sarah Gross*

    My favorite was when I was interviewing a candidate who couldn’t/wouldn’t even try to answer the question about weaknesses/areas for improvement. She basically just thought for a minute and then said she couldn’t think of anything. I gave her another shot and asked her what her manager or colleagues might say she could work on, and she said she didn’t know but I was welcome to call her references and ask them! And this woman didn’t (otherwise) seem particularly dumb — that’s what was most puzzling.

  11. Joseph Skursky*


    I couldn’t agree more with your post. When I ask this question, it’s not tricky in any way. I simply want to know if the candidate is self-aware.

    Self-awareness, I’ve found is critical to unleashing the true genius of the individual. Sadly (and I’ll reference Peter Drucker here), most people are unaware of their strengths as well as their weaknesses, and this often leads to failure in their prospective roles.

    Lying, for your own selfish gain, is not only the wrong answer, it’s detrimental to the company as well. Nobody wins.

    Good for you to take such a bold position! Many writers would miss this point to be “politically correct”, and once again, this is the wrong answer. Not only will “the truth set you free”, it will also set you free to become all that you can be, particularly if your boss understands this as well.

    Please keep writing at this level. Let’s educate the bosses as well!

  12. Joe*

    How about a truthful response like organizational skills as your weakness? Surely everyone isn’t OCD about everything and has all their ducks in a row all the time right? Would this be a less-detrimental answer to give in an interview?

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Have you found ways to overcome it, or are you still kind of disorganized? If the latter, it can be a dealbreaker for a lot of jobs, simply because having someone who lets things fall through the cracks or forgets to follow up on items, etc. can be fatal!

  13. Anonymous*

    im not a ver detailed-oriented person. I tend to look at the big picture and not look at the tiny details

  14. Anonymous*

    Would it be bad to say that I am too blunt if I am applying for a position as a teller? It is just that I appreciate honesty and constructive criticism, so sometimes I am not as delicate with co-workers as I should be. It is just when it comes to co-workers, never customers.

  15. RandNotAyn*

    I would frankly just plainly say, it’s all relative – I was once fired for working too hard (and then I would explain how incredibly well I took the high road and how my boss didn’t and I made it work anyway for another two years because another weakness I have is getting mad a workmates who really have no self-awareness of their level of integrity and often tend to play the victim, etc… I would express the same kinds of complaints that I would expect a manager would incur and get the interviewer interested in asking me about upward mobility. I would ask a “you know how….” question to the interviewer to get he/she involved, first person, in my tale. When you do that they feel you’re honoring the effort required for their position in the conversation).

    Any open ended question can be spun in a number of ways and demonstrating thinking on your feet is quite important.

  16. heather*

    I recently work at Giant Eagle as a grocery clerk. I have just received the opportunity to become asst. Grocery Manager. I have to fill out a Development action plan, and one of the questions is what are my weaknesses. Mine is discipline i need to come up with a task on how i am going to overcome this. such as reading a book about it which i cant find one…. Any ideas on what i can work on to help me overcome this?

    1. Toni*

      If they will ask me what is my weakness.. My answer is ..
      ” I was to kind , that i cant even say NO if someone ask me a favor “..

    2. Anonymous*

      This book may very well be of help to you… The Skinny on Willpower: How to Develop Self Discipline by Jim Randel

  17. Laura*

    A question please; I do not pick up quickly at jobs. Even at simple retail ones. Should I hint at this on my phone interview or keep quiet? They will notice soon enough. I also suffer from ADD.
    I have NO mgmt exp. & I am 36 yrs. old & not really interested in getting any. The thought frightens me.Not sure what to do.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Lots of people don’t want to manage, and that’s completely fine — don’t feel weird about saying it! I wouldn’t hint at picking things up slowly in an interview, but once you start a job, if you’re feeling overwhelmed, you could say to your manager something like, “It sometimes takes me a while on the start of the learning curve, but I WILL pick it up, and I make an extra effort to learn because I know it can take me slightly longer.”

  18. Jenny*

    I think that this question tries to see if you truly know yourself. It raises a red flag if someone say, “Oh I have none” because no one is perfect. Knowing your weakness and saying how you tried to overcome it is a good way to answer these kinds of questions. It shows you put in effort to improve yourself.

    I think a good example that I heard for this is, “Coming from a different country, I’m very conscious about my accent and it hinders me from effectively communicating with my colleagues. In order to overcome this, I went to workshops and talked as much as possible in order to be more comfortable with the language.”

  19. Anonymous*

    Is saying that my worst weakness is that I don’t make friends easily–that I have a really hard time opening up on a personal level–a bad thing to admit for an office assitant job?

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      It depends on the job and culture. For some jobs, that could be a fatal weakness — for instance, if you have to quickly build relationships and connections to get the work done better. But for others, it wouldn’t matter much at all. Of course, you don’t want to end up in a job where it does matter, so that’s an argument for talking about it up-front. I might not say, “I don’t make friends easily,” but you could word it as, “I tend to be on the shyer side when I’m first getting to know people, and I’m not a very networky person.”

  20. shruti*

    i am applying for a management post grad course and in the form i have to fill my strengths and weaknesses. I don’t know how to tackle the weakness part as during the interview if they ask me to elaborate and such then i don’t want to say the wrong things. I don’t know if saying that i am a tad over-emotional, would that be a deal breaker?? Please help and tell me what kind of weaknesses should be mentioned so that it does not in anyway be a negative response.

  21. Anonymous*

    Is being a people pleaser a weakness becase i tend to make sure others are happy before i worry about my well-being i am currently working on this issue to not forget about my self.

  22. Kryston*

    I am applying for the Athletic Training Program at my college and I have an interview and I heard they asked this question. “what are 3 strengths and 3 weaknesses of yours”? and I don’t want to give a cookie cutter answer for strengths or weaknesses. To be honest, one of my weaknesses is self-confidence. I have confidence elsewhere in my life (such as my ability to work hard and be a team player, etc)but talking about myself and other things that relate to me personally is a weakness. Should I say that or leave it out? Also since we have to list 3 i came up with some others, they are: that i tend to expect others to work just as hard as I do, that I don’t have much experience in the field as a lot of individuals that are applying for the position, communication skills (I talk too quickly, slur my words, etc). I was also thinking that I could list the 3 weaknesses but counteract them with my 3 strengths of having initative to take on any task, dedicated and enthusiastic about helping others around me, commitment and determination of seeing the whole picture through, team player (i like unison), and quicker learner. I know there is more than 3 listed but I was wondering which would be the better answers and if counteracting would be a good idea? ANY advice helps, PLEASE! I want nothing more than to get into this program this year around and a lot of whether I get in is riding on this interview!

  23. Blank*

    I had a job interview today for medical assistant position the lady asked me what Is one of my weaknesses and I could think of one at the moment
    How can I answer that?

  24. Anonymous*

    Would this question qualify as a weakness? If I was to answer it saying this question is my weakness because I try so hard looking for the correct answer and just can’t come up with anything. It is hard to find an answer for this.

  25. Miss b*

    I work as a NURSE ASSISTANT in nursing homes, some fast food experience, 4 college courses in real estate…… can I relate any of that experience to a leasing agent at an apartment complex, I need to tie my background with the job I’m interviewing for

  26. kelly*

    Would saying ‘i sometimes worry too much about small things until they are resolved, leading me to be down in myself although i may not show it’ be an alright answer to this? I have a job interview on Monday and cannot seem to think of an answer for this one question :(


    my weakness is when meeting people like you, for the first two minutes i feel shy and after then the shyness goes away. I have seen massive improvement to day and i am still working on it.

  28. Khark*

    My brother once said in an interview — “I don’t have none” and apparently the manager liked that. He was hired on the spot.

    If I would say something to the question, it would be the following:

    “If I have weaknesses, I am not going to tell you. I am here to extol what I have and how I can contribute. If that is what you wanted, great. If not, that is fine too. I understand that challenges are learning opportunities for growth and understanding among employees. I hope this answers your question.”

    I have been involved in many interview panels and when people attempt to answer this very question with particular weaknesses, they were not that convincing. I will prefer someone who can think for themselves without having to please someone else at their own expense. Now there.

    Happy job hunting, folks!

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      While you can always find a bad manager who will respond like that, in general saying you have no weaknesses is a really bad interview strategy. Have you ever tried to manage someone who thinks they have no weaknesses? It’s a nightmare.

      I would not recommend your suggested response either — it sounds arrogant and naive. You and the interviewer both want to figure out if the job is the right fit for you; honestly exploring the ways in which it might not be is a part of that.

      1. J*

        Everyone is different. It’s a loaded question buddy, and everyone responds differently. My father runs the research and development division for a large companies branch in our state, this was his answer when I asked him what to say. Obviously not everyone wants to hear it but if you ask a generic question your going to get a generic response, I hate this question and think it’s a waste of time. You think i haven’t thought of what to say already? He was a very good manager and hired allot of people.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          You can always find exceptions. Just because your dad likes it doesn’t mean the majority of hiring managers are going to. I wouldn’t recommend it — it’s going to go over badly with most people.

  29. J*

    A good experienced manager most likely isn’t going to ask this question. People have canned answer waiting for you, I’m sure you can come up with more creative questions. Hardest interview I ever went on was when I had to answer every question with a story or experience in my life, I couldn’t just answer the question.

  30. Trina*

    Sometimes I have a problem with taking to much initiative and start pushing others to do the same. How should I explain that?

  31. Bec*

    Could I say:

    “I dont have a lot of experience in X (something they are looking for) however I have done YZ (similar relevant exp.) which involved these important strengths which I can apply to X- therefore I know I wont have an issue learning on the job with this, as I’m also a quick learner”

    I think that shows self-awareness but also nothing too negative as it’s simply the truth and they can see it anyway from your CV?

  32. Rain*

    Can I say that I am trying my best for the operations to run smoothly that I sometimes do the things that others should be doing but I learned that everyone in the team should do their part because that’s the reason they come to work in the first place?


    I tend to help my colleagues so much that in the end, they are the ones getting credit for the things I did. So I set limits to myself as to how much help should I give, may be teach them how to do the task if they say they don’t know how to but not do it for them.

    PS: I am applying for a customer service assistant job in an airport.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      These both kind of sound like positives described as negatives. (They’re not actually, but they sound like you’re saying “look how hard I work!”)

  33. mjg*

    In Year 10 and am trying to write down my strengths and weaknesses for a Work Experience Application… Any ideas?
    – Not easily convinced’ is the only one I have come up with so far :)

    1. Richard*

      ‘Not easily convinced’ could be taken badly; it’s too open to being interpreted quite badly, and is hard to follow up with a convincing way to resolve it.

      What’s more, you’ve got another really obvious weakness you can use; your youth and inexperience. Recognising this as a weakness is probably a good thing, especially at your age where a lot of kids tend to think that they already know everything *shakes walking stick at lawn* ;)

      Just make sure you follow it up by saying that despite your inexperience, you’re enthusiastic to learn, and you’ve got a great answer there.

  34. Ant*

    What if in the interview you say, “One weakness that I feel I have is that during an interview I never really have a good answer for this question.” Do you think it would throw the interviewer off a bit to hear that? Or do you think they would just look at it as you’re not prepared for the interview?

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      It’s no different than saying “I can’t think of any weaknesses,” which is bad in and of itself … but then on top of that, you’d also be giving a “weakness” about interviewing, rather than about at work, which is what they’re looking for.

    2. Richard*

      Nope, it’s an obvious deflection, and shows that you’re either avoiding the question, or that you’re painfully unaware of your weaknesses. Everybody has weaknesses, and that’s only a bad thing if you’re not aware of what they are so that you can work on them.

  35. Rain*

    How about this answer, I am applying for a customer service assistant position, but currently an assistant supervisor at a salon:

    I had issues in supervising people which has been a hindrance to the workplace at times. When I realized this was the problem, I seek advice from my reliable friends and re-evaluate myself as to how to be more effective in giving commands. I try to assess myself to know how much progress I am making whenever faced with issues that I need to impose the company rules.

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