how to talk about your weaknesses in a job interview

featured-on-usnFor years now, the common advice about how to answer the traditional interview question, “What are your biggest weaknesses?” has been to answer with a strength disguised as weakness: Say you’re a perfectionist, or that you work too hard, or that you have trouble leaving work behind when you go home at night. But this is terrible, vomiting-inducing advice, and you shouldn’t use it.

Over at U.S. News & World Report today, I talk about how you should answer this question. You can read it here.

{ 99 comments… read them below }

  1. Erin

    My approach to this has been to identify a weakness *for that job* instead of a generalized weakness. So if a job posting had asked that someone have five years experience doing A and B and C, but my experience with C is more limited (especially if C is clearly not that central to the role), I would say “well, my experience in C is somewhat less than five years. I have, however, taken two classes in C and did do X, Y, and Z in my last job, all of which were closely related to C. I would need to get up to speed on C, but given how quickly I was able to pick up X and Y in my last job, I believe I would have no trouble learning C.” This isn’t giving anything away because the interviewer probably already made a notation on my resume that I don’t seem to have a lot of experience in C, and by bringing it up, I get a chance to hit two birds: 1) answering the question; and 2) addressing the already noted lack of C in my resume.

    1. Leslie Yep

      When I hire I usually ask this question in the context of the job description anyway, e.g. “Looking at the main roles and responsibilities of the successful candidate, what do you think you would need the most support in right away?” or “which do you think would be the hardest for you.” Always really interesting when the candidate picks the item that’s 60% of the role…but definitely more illuminating to me to focus on the areas that are most relevant to the work.

      1. But

        If they said they needed more support in a mundane aspect of the job, wouldn’t that assume that they’re not even close to what the bulk of it requires?

  2. Elizabeth West

    Here’s a related question, sort of…

    How would you answer this question if your biggest weakness, one that would keep you from doing the job, is related to a disability? In my case, it’s math (dyscalculia). I had interviews where poorly-written job postings had left out bookkeeping duties, proposal budgeting, etc., and when that came up, it brought the process to a screeching halt. I felt guilty for wasting their time and angry that I had wasted mine.

    Since I was uncomfortable disclosing that up front, I got around it by asking in the phone screen if there were accounting / budget-related job duties, but I was afraid that made me sound like it was something I just didn’t want to do. How could someone in a similar situation get around that?

    1. ChristineSW

      +1 on this question. I’ve done the same thing during phone screens, but in this case, it was asking about driving (which isn’t a weakness–it’s just something I’m not allowed to do b/c of my sight).

        1. Vicki

          FYI, I recommend the book written by the author of that article. “Shouting Won’t Help: Why I — and 50 Million Other Americans — Can’t Hear You.” by Katherine Bouton.

          1. ChristineSW

            I thought that might’ve been her! I downloaded a sample of that book on my Kindle….think I’ll go ahead and buy it now :)

    2. Tax Nerd

      I’d probably just say something like “I’m not a numbers person, so bookkeeping, etc. aren’t really my forte. I hope that’s not a problem”. If they need you to do that, then it’s going to be a problem, so you might as well stop the process there. If the job doesn’t entail that, then it’s not a problem. (I’ve never heard of dyscalculia, but saying “disability” may sound like a more global problem than it is. Nevermind that it’s not a good idea to mention disabilities before getting a job offer.)

      I’ve answered the “biggest weakness” question with things that are only somewhat related. I say that I get nervous in public speaking situations. At first glance, it seems unrelated to taxes, but I say that I can train staff, because I’ll know the subject matter, but that I’ll need extra mental prep before going into oral presentations before clients or potential clients. Because that seems like a bit of a cop-out, I’ll say that I’m also a night owl, and that I’m much more productive staying late rather than coming in early. Potential managers either say that that’s fine, people can come in and leave when they want, within reason, as long as the work done, OR they hem and haw that they want people there early in the morning, full stop. A workplace that doesn’t care if I come in at 9:30 because I’m there ’til 7 or 8pm (or later) is much better for me than one that wants me there at 8:00am sharp.

      1. Elizabeth West

        I’d probably just say something like “I’m not a numbers person, so bookkeeping, etc. aren’t really my forte. I hope that’s not a problem”.

        That’s a good answer. I wish I’d asked this/seen this thread before going through all those dumb interviews that led nowhere because they wanted bookkeeping.

        1. Chinook

          As someone else who has dyscalcula, I feel your pain. But, do know that it is sometimes possible to work past this. I was first “diagnosed” when I was a summer student in an accounting department in a car dealership. The two women I worked with had the exact same issue and they showed me how to focus my eyes, look for mistakes and, most importantly, how not to get frustrated. While I would never choose to be an accountant, I have successfully tracked expenses in a number of jobs and even typed up financial statements for auditors! In the last job, they hired me knowing fully my disability but I was able to also tell them how I countered these problems with the steps I learned years ago.

          Now, your issue may be worse than mine, but know that it is possible to work around just like dyslexics do. I look at my brother who will never read for pleasure (either on computer or with a book) but is more than capable of reading a story to his boys, follow a recipe at work or sign a contract he has read thoroughly. It may not be pretty to watch but we can do it.

    3. nyxalinth

      I never understand why if it’s a significant part of the duties or something they’re really keen on, why don’t they say so in the damn ad? After my last trip-up with this, I’ve been asking in phone screens or when setting up the interview something like “Are there any additional skills important to the position that may not be reflected in the ad?” and go from there, based on the answers.

      1. Pussyfooter

        I think Nyxalinth just got me a job!
        I can anchor phone screens with this AND result in being more confident in my interviews.

      2. Esra

        During my last job hunt (which ended, new job next Monday!), I had a terrible interview like that. The guy was kind of a jerk the whole time, after I’d finished going through my portfolio he said “I let you do your spiel, because you seemed into it, but why did you apply for this job? What you have here has nothing to do with X.” and I said, “Well, your job posting mentioned ABC, and YZ, all of which I have experience in.” He says “I laid it out pretty clearly that we need X,” then he pulls out the job description, looking completely smug, “See! Right here it says… well it says ABC, and then here! It says… … …okay. I see how you thought this was a different role. Well it’s not. You need X, we’re wasting each other’s time.”

          1. Esra

            The super weird part is after he said that, he still wanted to show me the office and offer me the job. At that point I was like, no no, I agree with you. This is definitely not a good fit.

      3. Elizabeth West

        I don’t know either–that’s what tripped me up before. There was one lawyer’s office, really small, that wanted one person to to EVERYTHING, including the billing, and did not even mention that in the ad. It only sounded like they needed a receptionist/typist. Rawr. I have a great job now, but I still get mad thinking about that.

      4. Kelly O

        Don’t get me started on this.

        Trust me, I’m living with a job right now that has a world of difference between the duties as outlined in the interview and the duties as they actually exist. (Never mind the whole “corporate culture” question that in hindsight was only answered in part.)

  3. louise

    I’ve asked a similar question of interviewers a few times, as in “What are some weaknesses in the department that you’re hoping to round out with this new hire?”

    Several interviewers have had great responses that helped me tailor my thank you/follow up note to their needs. One time, however, the interviewer, an attorney, looked at me with a stunned expression and said “You know, I really don’t feel we have any. We’re pretty much doing everything well here.” That was a few minutes after he off-handedly remarked that there had been 7 people in this position in the last year–and one of them had stolen a car from them!! I’ve never been so glad to not hear back from an interviewer before. :)

    1. Pussyfooter

      Sounds like you interviewed by the straight man in a comedy film. (And I’m stealing your question :)

  4. Malissa

    My weakness–some days mass quantities of caffeine are needed for my brain to function.
    Honestly of all the interviews I had in the last year only one had a version of this question. It’s been used too much and I hope it’s falling out of fashion.

    1. Mrs Addams

      +1

      Maybe it’s just in the UK, but I’ve had several interviews in the past month and not once have I been asked this – the majority of interviews have been competency-based “tell me about a time when…” type questions, which I’ve really enjoyed, rather than the standard old-school interview questions.

        1. Pussyfooter

          Elizabeth,
          When I found out that there’s actually a list of trees and their supposed meanings, I made a point of choosing:
          Amboyna burl (bet that’s not on their list) ;’)

      1. Woodward

        I was asked that once and (without thinking – my mistake!) I replied,”a peach because they are juicy and luscious!” with this HUGE smile! The interviewer paused for a really long moment, then went, “…ok…moving on…”

        I’m not sure if there is a good fruit answer? Maybe a grape because you do better in a group?

        1. Manda

          That’s why it’s a bad question that won’t get them any useful information.

          Mental note: Don’t say peach or grape. I think I’d be a crab apple…cause I’m crabby. But that’s a bad thing to say too.

      2. FarBreton

        I’ve gotten favorite fruit, favorite vegetable, and favorite animal (or maybe what kind of animal I’d want to be). All were better than an interviewer recently asking me a series of fast-paced either/or questions “to see how you think,” which included “boxers or briefs?” Not that it would ever be an appropriate question, but I’m a woman.

    2. FormerManager

      We were encouraged not to ask this at my last job which involved extensive hiring. By describing the job and what it entailed (cold calling ) up front (and also in the ad) helped weed out those with weaknesses that would affect their performance instead of sitting there listening to a canned response.

  5. dangermash

    “So, Mr Mash, what is your biggest weakness?”

    “My honesty”

    “I don’t think honesty can be considered a weakness”

    “I don’t give a **** what you think.”

    1. Cajun2core

      I like the “honesty” answer and it applies to me. If I think you are doing something wrong or if I disagree with you, I will let you know. If you want a “yes man” or someone who will keep his opinions to himself, don’t hire me!

      1. A Bug!

        Actually, that’s a pretty good one. I’m generally honest and practical, and so I don’t always mesh well with people who get personally invested in their ideas. I mean, I don’t say “That’s really stupid”, but with some people, any criticism at all is received that way.

        Whereas for me, I’m of the mind that any idea benefits by a good-faith discussion of its potential merits and flaws. If that benefit is “let’s set this idea aside for now until the flaws can be worked out”, so be it.

      2. Ask a Manager Post author

        Just to prepare you, a really good interviewer will ask you questions to draw out exactly how this is really a weakness — has it interfered with your ability to get along with people, get things done, etc.?

      3. Kit M.

        I don’t think you’d want to call bluntness or outspokenness “honesty” though. Otherwise, the implication seems to be that tactful or reticent people are dishonest.

      4. The IT Manager

        I don’t think that’s honesty – full stop. IMO opinion it’s better called lack of tact, lack of politcal savvy, bluntness, depending how being too honest is a weakness.

        I would say something like: “Sometimes I am so honest that I can be less than tactful especially when I disagree with the proposed solution.”

  6. Anonymous

    I don’t fully understand how perfectionism is a fake answer. I am a very type A person who gets freaked out if I don’t do something right and feels like I’m going to be criticized. It comes from when I was a kid who usually got good grades in school, but even on good grades, if it wasn’t the perfect 100%, the grade was scrutinized by a parent. It occurred throughout schooling and therefore carried in adulthood. I want to have things error free so the good will be commented on instead of a minor error. I’m sure others use it as a fake excuse, but for some it’s real. Eventually the weakness bank will be used up.

    1. Ask a Manager Post author

      If you use perfectionism as a weakness, you need to explain how it will negatively affect the employer, not just you, because that’s what they’re looking for with this question.

      Some ways perfectionism can negatively affect an employer are if you misallocate resources perfecting something when those resources are needed elsewhere, or if you miss deadlines because something isn’t perfect enough.

      But very few people who cite “perfectionism” will want to offer those up.

      1. A Bug!

        “I’m such a perfectionist that my coworkers often feel inferior next to me. This won’t be a problem unless your employees are lazy slackers, in which case my presence will harm morale.”

      2. The IT Manager

        +1. You need to explain why is perfectionism a weakness because perfectionism by itself is not a weakness. Possible better answers –
        – I over edit documents so much that they are often late
        – I have such a desire for perfection that I sometimes an unable to start (procrastinate) for fear of the end result being perfect
        – I am afraid to work on things that I don’t already know that I am good at
        – Being perfect is so important to me, that I put too much presure on myself and other I work with

        etc. etc. etc. Frankly saying perfectionism is a weakness is hiding your real weakness which is caused by your desire for perfection.

      3. JenTheNiceHRGirl

        I once had a candidate tell me that his weakness was that he was so good looking that his co-workers often got distracted from their work. I laughed, because I thought that he was cracking a joke, but apparently he was 100% serious. He wasn’t extremely unattractive, but not incredibly good looking either, once I realized he was serious, it took every once of self control for me to keep my composure and not laugh again (I didn’t want to embarrass the poor guy or wound his ego)…now that I think of it, I believe that this was one of the very last times I asked a candidate that question.

      4. Ellie H.

        It does strike me that those are significant enough (even if accurate) that they may not be appropriate to mention in a job interview?

        I have a possibly related weakness which is something I really struggle with, almost every day at work – anxiety about a task inhibiting me from working on it as effectively as I could. Obviously I care a lot about my work but it’s a really counterintuitively self-defeating loop, when the more I regard something as a priority the more anxiety I have associated with it and the harder it is for me to get it done in an efficient manner. I’m always working on different strategies for how to overcome this but it seems like a more serious issue than I would want to bring up as a weakness. I could be thinking about it wrong, though.

        1. Ask a Manager Post author

          Yes, I think they’re not ones you’d want to mention in most interviews, because they are pretty significant. But that’s basically my point — if you’re saying “perfectionism” and you want it to be taken as a serious answer, you’ve got to realize that you’re actually saying something pretty serious (whereas most people who use that as a BS answer don’t realize what it would really mean).

    2. Cait

      It sounds like the problem there may be more with accepting criticism, and perfectionism is just a result of that problem.

      Either way, the problem with using “perfectionism” as an answer is that interviewers don’t know how true it is for you, they just know that they’ve heard it a million times before. It doesn’t give them any useful information because they have no way of knowing whether you’re being sincere, or whether you’re just another person trying to dodge the question.

      1. Nancie

        I agree. If the problem really is perfectionism, instead of saying that, maybe you can narrow it down to the symptom that causes the most problems. “I can get so carried away with details that I may forget about the big picture.”

  7. nyxalinth

    Since I’ve mostly worked in call centers, my main weakness is empathizing a little too much with the caller, and wanting to help so much that the call sometimes goes over the preferred length by a few minutes. Call centers have annoying metrics, like how long you’re on a call with someone. So I might say something about being very punctual when it comes to arriving on time, and back from breaks and lunches on time, but when it comes to helping the customer, I sometimes get so wrapped up in my work that the call goes a little overtime.

    1. Pussyfooter

      empathizing a little too much with the caller, and wanting to “help so much that the call sometimes goes over the preferred length by a few minutes. ”

      THIS.
      I’ve heard of call centers that rate performance by problems resolved in fewest calls, etc. but never learned the name for this style of review. It does exist.
      Nyxalinth, I feel like we have kindred call center souls.

      **rant warning**
      I was the go to for special hand-holding newbies, knew a ton of obscure details about getting my job done correctly, and overheard fellow employees giving out mis-info and basically messing up accounts–which I actually ended up fixing in later, longer calls.
      I know for a fact I made less money than a newer guy whose mistakes I spent extra talk-time fixing. His *Talk Time* was great! Mine was at margin, except on customer calls, where I was routinely over. Never could bring myself to screw over strangers by not properly addressing their account problems for a talk time.
      *However–food for thought–the single day I got the most gratitude (and one salesman wouldn’t hang up/was trying to flirt with me at the end of his call–these guys usually acted like barracuda on the phone!) was the day I was sick as a dog and did my work asap without trying to be careful of the callers’ feelings. (I wasn’t rude & didn’t cut corners, I just didn’t have the energy to mother hen anybody.)*
      **end rant**

      1. Jessa

        I hate it when you work in a call centre for a company that is all about “we want one call resolution, we want very happy customers,” but then you get written up for taking the time necessary to get the job done. I’m not talking about going over because you’re chit chatting, I’m talking going over because you had to call three departments and the shipping company. You cannot win in those jobs. Seriously.

    2. Mander

      Ugh, I can sympathize. I used to work in customer service for a large health insurance company that was constantly screwing over both its customers and its providers. The customers were mainly elderly people who were terrified by receiving huge bills and when they called us they were angry and scared.

      I did my best to fix these cases but this took time to research and usually involved calling the provider and another internal department. We had so many calls and so few staff that I literally would never have a moment between calls to do this — the only way to stop the next call coming in automatically was to keep the first person on hold while I made the necessary outgoing calls. We were supposed to resolve all calls within 2 minutes, which was frankly impossible. When reading the notes on what the person had been told on previous calls (and there always seemed to be previous calls), I would find that other people in the department had told them all kinds of ridiculous and false things in order to get them off the phone as soon as possible, so the problems never got resolved and people had to call again and again until they got someone who could be bothered to listen to what they were saying and take the right steps.

      This went on all day, every day. As soon as the phone lines opened in the morning we would have hundreds of calls in the queue, trying to get through to a staff of about 10 people. As soon as one call ended the next one would automatically be answered, so if you didn’t hit the break button on your phone fast enough you would be stuck taking a call over your lunch time. You would get in trouble for not clocking in/out on time for breaks but it was pretty much impossible to time it exactly right, and if you were more than 30 seconds off it would be noted in your performance review. So I was always on notice for taking too long to answer calls and clocking out for lunch late, even though I regularly got praised by customers and the manager for actually taking the right action so that people wouldn’t have to call again.

      I’m not sure how I would translate this into a weakness, though! “Well, I’m really bad at ignoring reality and making up lies to make customers shut up and get off the phone so that I can meet my call time targets. But I’ve been working on developing a cynical and uncaring attitude so that I can cope with these situations. Keeping a flask of whiskey in my desk drawer has helped a lot.”

  8. BCW

    I think this is just a bad interview question for the exact reasons given. Many people don’t give real answers, and why would they. I mean really, if there are 2 people equally good for a job, you don’t want your “weakness” to be the deciding factor of you not getting the job. Its just hard to put your best foot forward and be honest at the same time. I much prefer something like “What was a work issue you had to work to overcome” because I think that gets to the heart of what they want to know in the same way.

      1. Elizabeth West

        That one always made me wish I had a trapdoor. Any time I had to put words in an old boss’s mouth, it always made me think what if there were something (s)he hated and didn’t tell me, and then the hiring manager called and then Oldboss said “OH MY GOD SHE SAID WHAT? HA HA HA HA HA OH HELL NO!!”

        The longer you job hunt the more paranoid you get!

        1. Manda

          I worry about that question too. I hate to sound conceited (’cause I’m really not), but I can’t think of any honest negative feedback I got at my last job. Sure, I guess I made the odd mistake, but I was a good employee overall and I wasn’t really given anything I needed to improve on. (Unless I’m having a serious mental block here.) That’s not to say there wasn’t room for improvement, but I guess there was nothing I did poorly enough to warrant criticism. Sometimes I thought I worked more slowly than other people, but I wasn’t really scolded for it. So if I point that out, it’s possible that they could ask in a reference check and then find out it wasn’t as big of a deal as I thought. Or, maybe they noticed and just didn’t point it out.

      2. JMegan

        I was once asked “What is one thing your manager would say about you that you would disagree with?”

        Which is actually a pretty good question, but I was totally unprepared for it at the time. Not least because I was coming off a job where I had just been fired, and there were a lot of things that my manager and I had disagreed on!

        I forget what I managed to stumble out in the interview itself, but I did get the job. And have since formulated an excellent answer to that question, in case it ever gets asked again.

    1. Greg

      +1000. My biggest problem with this question is that every candidate is seemingly coached within an inch of her life to come up with an answer. As a result, it’s no longer a genuine question, but rather a set piece. You’re just getting whatever canned response the candidate has rehearsed.

      My favorite interview story (via a friend-of-a-friend, so almost certainly apocryphal) is the candidate who responded with the standard pabulum about perfectionism, and was told, “That’s the same BS answer everyone gives.” To which he shot back, “That’s the same BS question everyone asks.” The interviewer smiled and said, “Touche.”

  9. Elsajeni

    Do you think “lack of experience” or a related issue is a good answer to this type of question? I have been interviewing for what would be my first teaching job, and in the one interview where I was actually asked this question, my answer was that I am inexperienced, and I know I’m inexperienced, and that can sometimes lead me to doubt my own judgment and defer to a more authoritative-seeming source, even when I was actually right — backed up with a story from my student teaching about a textbook chapter that presented topics in an order I thought was weird, but I went with it, and sure enough it confused the heck out of my students and I should have trusted my instincts.

    1. Anonymous

      As long as at the end you tell them how you overcame the weakness and what you learned. If you don’t it sounds like (IMO) a good reason not to hire someone. You want to put yourself in a positive light so saying “doubt my own judgement” sounds risky.

  10. ChristineSW

    I am EXACTLY the same way!

    People have complimented me for my attention to detail, which I think will suit me well for some of the roles I’m contemplating. However, I’m sure even in those types of jobs, learning to at least appreciate the bigger picture would be helpful; I’ll admit to sometimes getting so lost in the details that I forget to step back every now and then.

  11. tcookson

    The thing I hate about the “What is your greatest weakness” question is that, now, people also use the same canned answers to it in a social context, not just a professional one. For example, the mom’s club I used to belong to when my kids were little would do a monthly bio on a new member, and Every. Single. Person’s. biggest weakness was that they were just so darn perfect. Really, people? Where are my people, whose weaknesses are anything BUT being perfect?? /end rant

  12. Vicki

    I’ve never understood this advice (to use a perceived strength as a weakness). Especially when, to my mind, being a perfectionist or being unable to leave work at the office _is_ a weakness.

    A true perfectionist never finishes her work. A person who works too hard or who can’t leave work at the office can’t delegate or doesn’t get enough time away. These are real weaknesses that can lead to real problems. The latter two, in particular, can lead to health issues.

    Perhaps, if we can’t convince interviewers to stop asking the question, we can convince them to probe deeper. Ask “Tell me more. What makes this a weakness for you? How are you working to overcome it?”

    1. Guesty

      A true perfectionist is someone who will spend 10 minutes making sure a stamp is on straight. (Or something of that sort.) Wasting a lot of time on little things that don’t really matter much.

      Is it good to double-check and proofread your work? Of course. Is it necessary to spend a half hour composing an email to a colleague to ask a very simple question? No.

  13. JenTheNiceHRGirl

    I stopped asking candidates this question a long time ago because nearly every single person told me that they are a “perfectionist” or that they “work too hard”. Finally I just gave up and no longer ask that question. I have also had interviewers ask me this question and I just try to give an answer that is sincere and also relates to the position if possible. In my last interview, which was about a year ago, I answered that question with “I am not a morning person and have trouble arriving to the office and diving into work immediately. So I like to arrive to work a little early so that I can get my coffee, check messages, and go through my agenda for the day. That way when everyone else arrives, I am awake and ready to go” ok so not the greatest response by any stretch, but it is 100% true and I ended up being offered the job so apparently I didn’t scare them off. So my theory on this is that unless you sound like you lying, or say something extremely wacky that scares them off, you should be fine.

    1. Anonymous

      I like this answer. My experience has been that the interviewer just wants a reasonable, sincere answer and then they want to move on.

  14. CEMgr

    I never ask about anyone’s “weaknesses”, as I’ve never liked that word in a job context. Instead, I ask for “areas of development”, after a preamble that makes it clear that everyone, including me, has (or should have) such areas. That sets up a conversation that allows me to quickly see whether the candidate is self-aware and is working on continuous improvement.

    Every now and then, someone will claim that they have no “areas of development”. Typically, they have areas NEEDING development apparent on their resume or during the interview. These are easy rejects, for me. They’ve made it clear they either can’t see what development might be needed, or they’ve chosen not to work on it.

    P.S. My areas of development are that I need to focus more on building strong relationships by using a lot of facetime.

  15. Elizabeth West

    I have the same issue and I’ve actually said it this way. I told someone once that the way I got out of that was to build in checkpoints where I step back and look at the whole thing, kind of like stepping back from a painting instead of focusing on the bark of the tree (we had been talking about Bob Ross – don’t ask me why because I don’t really remember). Although I didn’t get the job for other reasons (they were afraid I would bail when I graduated), they thought that was a good answer.

  16. Mary

    Hi all – I seriously need help with this – I am asked this question at job interviews (I usually work as a contractor in marketing in Silicon Valley) and I am wondering if my answer is a hindrance to me being offered a position.
    I say impatience (which is somewhat true, I know enough not to say perfectionism, etc.)
    with procrastinators. I am then asked how do you deal with that. I reply I sit back and ask myself if what is needed by me just as much needed/as important by the person I am asking it of. If no, I wait for a response, if incredibly important and on a time crunch, I explain why I need it and who else is waiting for it. Why am I doing wrong? Or should I just make up another weakness. I do like the non-experience in some aspects of the job description someone mentioned. May have to use that.

  17. Anonymous

    In the past I have taken an actual item from a recent annual review and talked about how I fixed that issue. One thing I’ve used is when a manager told me that I sometimes “worry prematurely” during projects. I had transferred departments and my first manager praised me for my attention to detail and being proactive. The second manager saw it as worrying. So I explain how one manager praised me for this and another saw it as a weakness. I explain that I learned that I needed to gauge my manager and ask them what kind of communication style they prefer. It is easy for me to flesh out this answer since it is a real life weakness.

  18. JJ

    Ah the timing of this post was perfect! I’ve been struggling to come up with weaknesses that aren’t significant (but are still related to the job). What are some weaknesses you’ve used?

  19. Hope

    I’m a bit confused about this one. If you’re using your weakness as a way to weed out jobs that won’t be a good fit, then why would you give ways that you’re improving on the weaknesses. For example, one of my weakness is that I am a bad salesperson, so I just don’t apply to jobs that will require me to sell something, not work on improving my sales techniques.

    1. Ask a Manager Post author

      Ah, but you wouldn’t talk about a weakness in sales skills for a job that didn’t involve sales. You’d want to talk about something more likely to be of interest to them.

      1. Hope

        Well, what if you don’t know everything the job requires. For example–and I am totally making this up–you apply for a small company to be a bookkeeper, but the boss expects all his/her employees to go out and get clients. Wouldn’t using your weakness be a good way to make sure you don’t get that type of job?

  20. Manda

    I’m pretty sure my biggest weaknesses would disqualify me from a lot of jobs if I admitted to them.

    I have poor time management skills. I’m always running out the door at the last minute; barely on time or running late for things. I constantly misjudge how long it will take me to complete a task, no matter how many times I may have done it before. Unfortunately for me, damn near every ad says something like, “excellent time management skills,” or, “ability to adhere to strict deadlines.” But sometimes I wonder if it really is the hectic environment they make it out it to be, or if it’s just a case of that’s what they all say.

    I’m also not very organized. It isn’t for lack of trying either. It’s just something I seem to fail miserably at no matter what. I really do make an effort to be organized. I enjoy sorting by size and alphabetizing and things like that, but I struggle to be overall organized. Often when I try to get organized, I have good ideas and intentions, and I get off to a good start, but somewhere along the way it all goes to hell. Of course, a lot of jobs seem to want someone who is “hyper-organized” or whatever, so I’m screwed there.

    I also lack the “strong interpersonal skills” that a lot of employers want. I pretty much avoid any job that says that, but I can’t rule out every job that involves some customer service (as long as it’s not all customer service) because that’s where my past experience is. I can act friendly and polite when I need to, it just doesn’t come naturally to me. I can’t exactly admit I’m not a people person, since I may end up having to tough it out and take a job like that anyway.

    If I ever get asked this question, I think my best bet would be to say that I’m not a good writer. I would have to be careful how I say this though because I wouldn’t want to give the impression I’m a terrible writer when it’s more like something I could stand to improve upon. I wouldn’t take a job that involves a lot of writing, but there’s bound to be a little somewhere. I think I would just point out that I can usually get the spelling and grammar right, but the actual content takes a lot more effort. Sometimes I really struggle to figure out how to say what I need to, without it sounding stiff, and without starting too many sentences with the same words. I have to do a little at a time, and just start out with anything even if it’s poorly worded. Then I can go back and think about what to add and what needs editing, but it can end up taking a while.

    1. SilverMaple

      Thank you for admitting you are not a great writer. I have not (yet) been a hiring manager, but it seems that everyone wants writing/communication skills and most people swear they have those skills….and some people really, really don’t. One candidate for a position on my team even submitted a huge (unsolicited) portfolio of writing in her interview and no one even read it except me (I was bored one day). She had papers she had written in school and they were awful. Spelling, grammar, clarity – everything. Yup, they hired her without ever reading it. Turns out her reading comprehension matched her writing abilities.

      She was a great person, super nice and it really came through on the phone, though, so I think she did okay in the job as long as she stuck to that.

    2. Mander

      Wow, are we the same person? I have similar problems. If I were totally honest, my weaknesses include: I’m an introvert and often awkward around people, although I try to be friendly and open; I tend to procrastinate, I underestimate the time it takes to do things and get places and hence am often late, I struggle with depression and anxiety, and I generally come across as weird and out of touch with popular culture. My background is mainly academic and I tend to write everything as if it were a research paper, which isn’t necessarily *bad* writing but it isn’t always appropriate, and I have a hard time writing in a more causal style. My computer files are generally well-organized but my desk is always a disaster area.

    3. llamathatducks

      Yeah, I’m in the same boat where I have a couple weaknesses that I really should not mention because they would be immediate red flags. Like, my number one difficulty with like, anything in life is that I suck at waking up in the morning and being punctual. (I’ve improved recently, but still.) Number two is that, in part because of probably-depression, I sometimes have trouble pushing myself to do my work.

      Whereas in most everything else, I tend to do pretty well, so it’s hard to think of *other* weaknesses.

      Maybe I’ll go with the “not a morning person” thing someone mentioned upthread.

  21. Manda

    It’s not that I “really, really don’t.” I just know it’s not one of my strengths and I’m not gonna BS anybody into thinking it is. And since I’m staying away from jobs that involve a lot of writing, pointing this out probably won’t be a deal breaker. Is that really something people rarely admit to? Or is it just that common for people to think they’re better writers than they are?

  22. Joanne

    In my limited experience, the mental health field is not known for its amazing interviews – but my answer has always been that I get bored easily with routine and monotonous tasks, and that I am looking for a job that won’t require much of that sort of thing. It has always gone over well, because the mental health field is anything but monotonous (in most cases).

  23. Natalie Anne Lanoville

    I have a BIG problem with this question, mostly because it is asking a candidate to be very ‘candid’ with an interviewer who may not be trustworthy with the answer.

    To wit, I once was asked that question in an interview, was hired, and both my manager and his boss during my entire tenure (I lasted 6 months) constantly second-guessed my actions with, “Don’t forget that you sometimes focus too much on the details, this isn’t that, is it?” or “We noticed that you aren’t as friendly with Marcy as with the other xxxxxers. Don’t hold the fact that she’s getting a divorce against her, we know how you don’t like people to bring their personal lives to work.”

    I personally (as a manager) find I get much more revealing and useful information by asking candidates which elements of the job they are applying for they find the most potentially challenging or intimidating, and why.

    Which doesn’t really answer the original question; my feeling is that I’ve had such bad experiences from managers who ask about my weaknesses in interviews, that I now wouldn’t take a job where the interview asked that question.

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