how to explain your weaknesses in a job interview

Most people, when interviewing for a job, aren’t especially eager to talk about their weaknesses. How, then, are you supposed to answer the so-standard-it’s-now-a-cliché interview question, “What are your weaknesses?”

After all, we all have tons of weaknesses. Which one are you supposed to tell your interviewer about? And are you just supposed to lay out all the reasons they shouldn’t hire you and wait for the rejection email to arrive? In a situation where you’re hoping to impress, it can feel like an unfair question, or even a trap.

But it’s not an unfair question. It’s actually in your best interests to have an honest conversation with your interviewer about both your strengths and your weaknesses … because if your weaknesses happen to be particularly calamitous for this particular job, it’s better for you to find that out now, before you end up in a job that you’re terrible at or get fired from.

Of course, believing honesty is in your best interests requires you to buy into the idea that interviewing for a job is a two-way street. If you walk into every interview already convinced you want the job, just hoping to convince your interviewer to hire you, you’ll miss out on opportunities to figure out whether this is even a job you’d enjoy or be good at (not to mention, whether you’d want to work for this particular manager and at this particular company). Not being honest drastically increases the likelihood that you’ll find yourself in a job where you feel unhappy or don’t perform well.

Instead, you’ll get far better outcomes for yourself if you use the interview as a chance to figure out whether or not the job is a strong match for you, taking into account what you’re great at and what you’re not-so-great at. You should want to make sure your interviewer is aware of your weaker points and doesn’t think they’ll be big obstacles in the job.

Plus, in addition to helping you screen out positions that are wrong for you, this approach is likely to make you come across as self-aware and comfortable with yourself — both things that are appealing to hiring managers. Presenting yourself as a thoughtful partner in figuring out whether or not this is the right match — as opposed to someone who’s just desperately hoping for a job offer — is tremendously appealing as well. There’s actual data backing this up; studies have found interviewers rate candidates more highly when the candidates seem more concerned with being seen accurately than positively, and when they acknowledge real weaknesses.

So, if you’re convinced, how do you actually answer the question? The best way to prepare is to spend some time thinking seriously about your weaker points as they relate to work. Think: What have you struggled with? What doesn’t come naturally to you? What have managers encouraged you to work on in the past?

That’s part one of your answer. Here’s part two: What are you doing about it? You won’t be able to include that in every case, but ideally you’d talk about what you’ve done to ameliorate the impact of the weakness on your work.

Here are a few examples of what it might sound like:

• “A few years ago, I realized I wasn’t as naturally organized as I wanted to be. Without a system to keep track of all the tasks I was juggling, I had trouble keeping track of everything I needed to cover. So now I make lists religiously and check them every morning and every afternoon to make sure that nothing has slipped through the cracks and all my priorities are on track. But it’s definitely not a natural strength; my natural state is a less organized one.”

• “I tend to be fairly reserved. I’m more of a listener than a talker. I realized that could come across as not being confident in my work, so I’ve worked to develop my presenting skills and I’ve volunteered to facilitate sessions on X and Y to get more comfortable with speaking up. But compared to many people, I can be on the quieter side.”

• “I’m more of an editor than a writer. I’ve gotten consistently positive feedback from managers about my ability to polish other people’s writing, but that’s a stronger area for me than writing pieces from scratch. I canwrite from scratch when I need to, but it’s not what I’m best at.”

• “I sometimes get caught up in details and lose the forest for the trees. I’ve learned that I have to be deliberate about building in checkpoints where I’ll step back and look at the whole project and make sure that I haven’t lost sight of what’s most important.”

• “I’m not a numbers person, so anything that’s heavy on numbers — like reconciling accounts — isn’t my forte.”

What you should not say in response to this question is “I’m a perfectionist” or “I work too hard” or “I need to be better at not taking work home with me.” These answers have been so often suggested in job-hunting guides — and so frequently used by candidates trying to avoid talking about real weaknesses — that they’re widely recognized as BS, and you’ll come across as disingenuous if you use them.

One last thing: Keep in mind that this question may not present itself as a straightforward “What are your weaknesses?” Interviewers have realized that candidates see the question as tired and cliché at this point, so you may hear it worded differently. For example, you might hear it phrased as, “What have your previous managers encouraged you to work on improving in?” or “What are you currently working on improving on, and how are you going about it?” or even, “If I called your current manager, what would she tell me have been your biggest challenges?” Be prepared for these versions as well — but know they’re all ultimately getting at the same thing.

I originally published this at New York Magazine.

{ 159 comments… read them below }

  1. league*

    Another strategy I try to use when asked about my weaknesses is to tell them something they already know – that I don’t have experience with Thing X (which they know about already), etc.

    1. Lynn Whitehat*

      Yeah, I like that one. “I tried my hand at X, but then I realized my strengths are really in Y, which is why I’m so interested in this job as a Senior Y-er!”

    2. All About that Action*

      Yep, this is what I’ve always done and literally no one has pushed back to get a more generalized weakness! I’m surprised that I rarely see this suggestion in articles offering guidance on this type of question.

    3. Sarah*

      I hate this as an interviewer. I get a lot of “I don’t have experience in X industry” or “I’ve never used Y software.” I’m not going to push back for a better answer but mentally mark the candidate as “didn’t answer weaknesses question.”

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Yeah, it’s not ideal. This is sort of what I was talking about in the article — you’re doing yourself a disservice if you don’t have a real discussion of it and just look for an easy out.

        1. league*

          It’s possible, though, to go this route AND have a real discussion about it. “I’ve never worked specifically with chocolate teapots, having spent much of my career in the caramel teacup industry, so I’m thinking I’ll need to brush up on the different melting points and get some basic education on how the lids are fitted.”

      2. buttercup*

        It’s a bad question. Anyone who asks me this will get “cupcakes” as an answer every time.

        1. Kivrin*

          Well, you’ve just given me a new “stall for time” answer for this one – “You mean besides chocolate? Let me see….

      3. Sleepy Librarian*

        I disagree with the notion that it’s a bad question. I barely even care what the weakness is (unless it’s “I just can’t stop myself from clubbing baby seals!”). What I care about is that the candidate seems honest about themselves and is self-aware, seems willing to ask questions or admit when they don’t know something or are having difficulty, and address shortcomings rather than trying to gloss over them or fudge their way through. I’m not interested in employees who try to pretend they’re perfect, who act like they know everything, or who think there isn’t possibly anything that they maybe could work on more or learn more. I get so sick of hearing humblebrags and references to software I mentioned earlier in the interview. It tells me nothing. And makes me think the candidate is not genuine or trustworthy to the level I need them to be.

        1. Sleepy Librarian*

          Though also: I don’t ask “what are your weaknesses”? I ask questions about a time when they received constructive feedback, and another later about what they hope to learn in the position.

        2. Kenneth*

          I also dislike the trend of trying to frame a desirable trait taken to its extreme as a weakness. Statements such as, “I am too detail-oriented” or “I spend way too much of my free time volunteering” inspire zero credibility in my opinion.

  2. Trout 'Waver*

    A friend of mine answered this question by asking his partner to make a list of all the things he did wrong around the house. Like overcook waffles and fold socks wrong. He then pulled it out of his suit pocket and read the list to the interviewing committee. He said it landed well and he had the interview committee laughing out loud.

    I personally only think it worked because he knew most of the committee, so I can’t really recommend that strategy as advice.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Yeah, I would not do that in your average interview situation. It’s going to come across as not answering the question / not understanding why it might be asked.

    2. nep*

      Yeah–no. I don’t see that as going over well in any setting I’ve known. Candidate would come across as immature and trying too hard to be funny (and failing).

      1. Trout 'Waver*

        I meant it as an amusing anecdote and not job hunting advice. There are definitely settings where this kind of thing would go over well, though.

  3. Rebecca!*

    I am very aware of what my weaknesses are: Working too quickly and missing out on details, and being diplomatic/interacting with people I have personality clashes with. These are things I’m aware of and trying to remedy, but they are by no means gone. I worry that those will be seen as red flags that are too big to take a risk on by interviewers. Am I wrong in thinking that?

    1. Washi*

      I guess I would talk about this in a way that acknowledges both what you’re good at and what you struggle with. Something like “For a lot of tasks, there’s a spectrum between doing something extremely slowly and with perfect accuracy and getting it done quickly without such a focus on accuracy. I’ve found that I tend to be on the faster side of that spectrum, which means that I’ve learned to put reminders on my calendar (or whatever) to double check my work before it’s finalized.”

      Or for the personality clashes one, maybe something like “I tend to be very direct, which I’ve found sometimes clashes with other people’s communication styles. I’m continuing to work on the balance between saying what needs to be said, and being tactful, since I know that maintaining strong relationships with my colleagues is also incredibly important.”

    2. Specialk9*

      I wouldn’t talk about the personality clash thing. I’d hear that and interpret it as you potentially being hugely difficult and causing interpersonal strife at work.

      Focus on the first example, and how you’ve built a system to not do those things.

      1. Rebecca!*

        Thanks, guys! I think I will stick with the first one if it comes up. The personality clash thing is rough for me – I hate office politics and putting on a “face” for certain people, but I think it can be off-putting and intimidating to people that I’m pretty direct and honest.

        1. NotAnotherManager!*

          My general tactic to working with people that I don’t personally like (in some cases, at all – like the weaselly person who doesn’t return calls or emails and likes to try to chuck me under the bus when they drop the ball) is to stay solution- and work-focused. What do we have to do to get this project done? What does this do to solve the problem? I also find I get more traction when I need management interference if I’m talking to them about impacts to work rather than how Fergus is a jackass who thinks he knows everything but never once turns in anything on time or in a format that I don’t have to completely rewrite.

        2. Partly Cloudy*

          Some people consider this to be an asset or a strength, not a weakness, FWIW. If that helps you mentally justify omitting it from your answer. :)

        3. Sleepy Librarian*

          I heard a candidate frame something similar as being a little too blunt in their communication style for others and having worked on that and adapting communication styles. They got the job! And they’re awesome at adapting their communication, btw. So perhaps just a facet of why or how personalities clash would be more productive. You don’t have to have the same or compatible personalities, per se. You do need to get along with people despite that.

        4. Shelby Drink the Juice*

          I’m also very direct. In my last interview what I said is something along the lines of “When I’m focused on closing an issue I tend to be very direct, yet professional. Some have commented that I come across as ‘aggressive’. For instance we had an issue getting a xyz person assigned to the X Project so that we could continue work. I went to the lead to tell them the issue and got it resolved quickly, so we weren’t at a stop work. I wouldn’t say I was aggressive, but I can see how someone overhearing the interaction and my directness with the lead as aggressive.”

          This was understood by my tone (and said with a smile) that it really was another “women are aggressive, men are confident” thing. Which is what it was.

  4. AlexandrinaVictoria*

    Would it be one of those bullshit answers to say you don’t delegate responsibilities well and sometimes end up taking on too much? Or is that along the same lines of “I’m a perfectionsit?”

    1. rldk*

      If you’re interviewing for a manager role, I think that’s a legitimate weakness! The main point is to be self-aware and say “I make sure I check in with my reports to get a better sense of their workload versus mine and how I can try to delegate more tasks to them” or whatever

      1. AlexandrinaVictoria*

        Thanks. It’s a legit weakness, but I can see how it could come across as smarmy!

        1. KHB*

          I think it depends a lot on how you talk about it. If you act smarmy about it, like you expect them to see it as a non-problem or a strength, then that won’t reflect well on you. But if you make clear that you’re aware of the real problems that can arise from your failure to delegate, and that you’re working on getting better at it (or at least seeking out situations that are set up so that you won’t have to delegate so much), then that’s something else entirely.

          1. NotAnotherManager!*

            I agree with this – it’s all in delivery as to whether it comes across as a genuine weakness or a no-one-does-as-much-work-as-well-as-I-do type thing.

            I would personally see this as a legitimate weakness, but what I do is very, very deadline dependent. When people don’t have the necessary judgment re either delegating or asking for help, deadlines are jeopardized, and we could miss a court filing or other mandatory deadline we may not get a second chance at or an extension for.

      2. AdAgencyChick*

        Is it a BS answer if you’re a manager, though? I often hire people who are currently managing their first direct report, and if I heard this from one of them (not that I ever ask “what are your weaknesses?”), I’d want to know more. Depending on the follow-up answers, I might think, “This candidate is awesomely self-aware, and I’ll hire her knowing she needs a little more coaching since she’s new to managing,” or “danger, control freak ahead!”

        If I heard it from someone who has no reports, though…yeah, I’d smell BS.

        1. Becky*

          It can be a legit weakness even if you aren’t a manager. I am a Quality Analyst for software and I have had to teach myself where the “good enough” line is for quality rather than “perfect” which is what my detail focused brain wants. I can also go down a rabbit hole to perfect something trivial. Those are fully legit “perfectionist as a weakness” but I would likely figure out a way to phrase it differently specifically because of the way it usually comes across to people.

        2. nep*

          Someone could even acknowledge the reputation such a statement has for BS-ness, but then frame it well, putting it the context of the importance of delegating efficiently and effectively as a manager.

    2. Sleepy Librarian*

      I think not delegating is actually my current boss’s biggest weakness (yep, I’m lucky to have a boss where THAT’s their biggest weakness!). So I agree with Alison, but also think it could be more genuine if you talk about it from the angle of how it negatively impacts your unit instead of just making it sound like “I’m a perfectionist and work too hard!” and leaving it at that.

  5. rldk*

    I ran into an issue with the “If I called your current manager, what would she tell me have been your biggest challenges?” formulation during my last job hunt. My biggest challenge in ExJob was the fact that the role turned out to be very different from the advertised role, and the manager both a) would not acknowledge the difference from expectation to reality and b) ultimately wanted a skill set with a very different focus. So she would have said my biggest challenge was “being able to anticipate her needs” when I’d expected the role not to include the exec/personal assistant skill set as much as it did. Would I respond in the same way in that case?

    1. Staircase wit*

      Oh no you don’t answer such a question literally.

      You give the theoretical answer a competent boss in a functional workplace would give.

      1. hayling*

        Agree with Staircase wit. They’re not looking to trick you or to get you to say bad things about your manager. They’re just looking to ask the question in a way that elicits a natural response (whereas “what’s your weakness” can prompt people to give a BS response, or freeze up).

      2. Partly Cloudy*

        … and hope they’re not actually going to call your current/former manager and ask her! And I guess if they did that, regardless of what kind of answer they got, it would be a red flag that you probably won’t want to work there anyway.

    2. Ali G*

      I have similar problem (and it would vary depending on which of my 4 former bosses you spoke to at OldJob). If it was my most recent (but shorter lived) one the problem was she didn’t want me working for her. So the biggest challenge for me…was that I existed and persisted on showing up every dang day to do my job?

  6. Gwen Soul*

    My last interview didn’t ask this but I brought it up myself just for the reasons you said. My weakness is that I get anxious without feedback or regular check in’s, so I specifically asked how the manager communicated with his team and mentioned I needed that to feel confident in my work. Now that I am past the “I need any job ” point in my career and left a job I loved but was bored at, I used this to really make sure the cultural fit was right for me.

    1. Mimmy*

      Oh goodness, this is me too!! How would I say this without coming across as overly-needy? I think I’m driving my poor supervisor batty with my constant questions and requests to meet -.-

  7. TonyTonyChopper*

    My husband always answers this question with “tortilla chips” and then laughs and gives the real answer.

  8. C in the Hood*

    But what if your biggest weakness *is* being a perfectionist? Is there another angle to take on that?

    1. Drea*

      I’ve had success elaborating on how it can negatively impact my work and the strategies I use to address it. When I interviewed for my current position, I talked about perfectionism sometimes leading me to neglect bigger picture items because I so much wanted to get a relatively small detail perfect when good enough was more than adequate and then talked about how I recognize those moments to rein myself in.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Yeah, then you’ve got to talk about real problems it can cause in your work so that it’s clear it’s real and not a fake answer looking to score points/avoid the question. You’ve got to frame it in how it may negatively affect the employer, not just you, because that’s what they’re looking for with this question.

    2. Gently Screaming into the Void*

      Well, how has that affected your work- does the perfectionism mean you’re missing deadlines or stretching beyond your capabilities? How has your perfectionism affected your relationships with your coworkers and supervisors? What are you doing to make sure you don’t fall into the traps you’re setting for yourself? What kind of accountability are you establishing for yourself?

    3. Tau*

      In addition to what the other two have said, I’d deliberately avoid using the word “perfectionist”. Like Alison says, that word is tainted.

    4. Jessie the First (or second)*

      Don’t use the word perfectionist, but talk about the problem that results (push up too close to deadlines because you couldn’t let the work go? Sometimes have been too focused on details and had to remind yourself to look at the big picture?) and then say what you have done to solve the problem? Of course, you don’t want to wave a red flag at employers’ faces that you can’t meet deadlines, so that’s something you’d have to word carefully.

      I think you just want to avoid phrasing your weakness as a problem with “Oh, I am just so focused on being awesome at my work without any mistakes, it’s such a drag!” and talk about it in a way that addresses the actual problem with it.

    5. Rosemary7391*

      What I used to think of as perfectionism I know think of more like this: I find I end up in a “can’t see the trees for the forest” situation – I get very invested over doing something the way I initially thought of it, or determined to do it one way when a quicker way would be sufficient. Or I don’t recognise when to drop something that isn’t working and look for another approach. So I would probably answer something like that?

      1. nep*

        I would certainly go directly to the thing you do that needs work and why, and how you’re addressing it. You don’t need any labels like ‘perfectionism’ or ‘hard time seeing the forest for the trees’ or what have you. Go right to ‘I can fail to let go of a process and that can impede my seeking other, possibly more efficient, approaches….’

    6. Ann O'Nemity*

      Talk about the specific negative outcomes (e.g slows you down, discourages you from innovating if you think you won’t do well, hurts relationships with team members) and the strategies you use to mitigate it.

    7. Bea*

      My perfectionism can negatively impact others because I’ve found myself doing too much work and getting frustrated with others who aren’t on my level. I’ve worked through it by digesting my frustration and putting it on me to deal with. AKA not showing them my that inside my head keeps exploding because of their errors or omissions or lack of polish etc.

      You have to elaborate and accept it’s something to work on.

      1. GermanGirl*

        Actually that still sounds like a veiled strength to me.

        But I’ve used the perfectionism answer as well – the interviewers rolled their eyes so I did as well – we all laughed and then I explained my perfectionism problems.

        Mine are that I want work items to be perfect before showing them to others so I spend too much time on getting them from good enough to polished, when good enough would in fact have been good enough.
        And I’m reluctant to ask questions on half finished work items – also because I like my work to be perfect before I show it – like “I’ve done it / I’m thinking of doing it this way but that’s bad because X and the only other way I could think of has drawback Y” – I’ll chew on the problem for a long time before finally asking a colleague for help, when it’d have been perfectly reasonable to interrupt a colleague with this after coming up with two alternatives (X and Y) and no good solution.

        I’m aware of the problem and have gotten better at getting this right, but it happens sometimes that I overcompensate by declaring almost done work as ready or by bothering colleagues with stuff that I could have figured out by explaining it to the wall.

  9. Staircase wit*

    What you want to say

    “I don’t suffer fools gladly”

    “Bullshitting glib answers to crappy questions”

    “[after giving a nice conventional answer]..
    ..Hey, can i turn the question around – what would you say this company’s greatest weakness is?”

    1. Specialk9*

      I’m assuming this is sarcastic?

      Because the first two are bad ideas, but the 3rd – turning it around – is good.

        1. Greg*

          I did once. I didn’t specifically turn it around after getting the weakness question , but I was meeting with both HR and the hiring manager on the same day, so I focused my HM questions on the job and my HR questions on the organization, including what the company was good at and what it needed to do better. The HR manager (who I really liked) paused and then said it was a great question that she hadn’t gotten before. I definitely think it helped my candidacy (I made it to the final two but ultimately didn’t get the job).

          I could easily imagine a scenario where that question wouldn’t go over as well, but that reaction would probably tell you something about the organization and what it’s like to work there.

  10. KL*

    How would you feel about a weakness on teamwork/delegating? (I do think this is a genuine one for me, and hope it doesn’t sound like the “perfectionist” thing!)

    Here’s how I might phrase it:

    “I’ve worked solo on most of my previous projects before this year, and I’ve realised that my inclination is often to push ahead with stuff on my own when I’m on a roll rather than looping people in. What I’m doing to remedy this with my current team is to schedule weekly meetings to feed back, and also setting myself electronic reminders to touch base with people when I reach certain points in the work. My current project has made me realise I actually really enjoy the dynamic of working in a team and bouncing ideas around! So even though it’s not something I’ve done lots of before, I’m definitely keen to develop further in that area, because when it works well it makes such a difference to our results.”

  11. A username for this site*

    What if your most common weaknesses are ones that are actually an asset in the workplace? I often get called out for not being adequately female at work, ex: not smiling enough, not being cuddly enough, cupcakes-and-birthday-cards type of stuff.

    1. Washi*

      I think the weaknesses question is usually looking for your actual weaknesses, not unfair criticisms you’ve heard. So I would just go with an actual weakness you have, since if you answer that your coworkers wish you would bake for them more or whatever, that might seem like you didn’t understand the point of what is being asked.

    2. Bea*

      That’s not a weakness. That is sexist people trying to berate you into something they think women are supposed to be.

      I’ve been in heavily masculine environments my entire life and career. It’s on nobody’s interest to try to spin it like that.

      Also if smiling and baking is part of the job, you’ll hopefully know and self select to not apply for that position.

    3. Detective Amy Santiago*

      Those aren’t your weaknesses. Those are the inappropriate expectations of other people.

    4. Specialk9*

      I tend to lean away from things that sound like you’re overly fixated on things like sexism (though I am!) because that can land in someone else’s ear as “she’ll report me if I even just smile”. Just not worth the risk. The exception might be if it’s a social justice org.

    5. AliceBlueGown*

      Depending on the workplace, those weaknesses could very well be legit weaknesses that hold you back, though. “Soft skills” really do affect job performance and success. My workplace involves a lot of spur-of-the-moment collaboration on small projects, and the people who are known to be friendly and approachable are…well…approached a lot more often than the ones who are not. That increases our productivity stats, goes into our yearly performance evaluations, leads to good projects to add to our CVs, etc.

    6. buttercup*

      What??! What kind of backwards, sexist place do you work for?? That is not industry standard, at least not in the U.S.

    7. nep*

      You get called out at work for not smiling enough, not being cuddly enough?
      I wouldn’t want to abide that for one second. Wow.

  12. Persimmons*

    My answer goes like this:

    1. “My attempt to *do uncommon thing X* failed spectacularly.”
    2. (Relate backstory involving weird company practices and event cascade/comedy of errors that is unlikely to occur elsewhere, and tends to get a chuckle.)
    3. “While that’s an extreme example, in general I’m not that comfortable doing *general thing Y of which uncommon thing X is a subset* and I’m looking for a position that minimizes the need for thing Y.”

  13. Tau*

    I always try to go with a genuine, serious weakness/thing about how I work. The idea being that it’s something where if it’s a problem, I wouldn’t want that job anyway. E.g.: “I’m not great at working solo for long stretches of time and do a lot better if I have a team I can bounce ideas off of. I can and do work alone, of course, but especially when it comes to planning and architecturing I often need to talk to people or I end up thinking in circles.” (Aka: if this is a job where it’s going to be only me handling stuff with no teammates and no one to talk about work to, count me out. If me being on the chatty side for a dev is going to be a problem, count me out.) Or something about organisation not coming naturally to me, because any job where you want me to take on a serious organiser role would have me quitting in short order.

    1. Specialk9*

      Exactly. Be honest but choosy about your honesty.

      For me, I need to be trusted to run my own program, and not be micromanaged or talked down to. I’m not sure that’s the one to go with, though, because that’s half manager style and half baggage.

      What I go with is my memory is terrible – but as a result I have killer organization and documentation. If you’re looking for someone who can tell you a detail from a year ago on the spot, I’m not that person. If you can wait for me to look it up and get back to you, that will work well.

      1. Persimmons*

        I’ve flipped this backwards successfully, as in having “good baggage”. During a conversation about office culture, I mentioned the micromanagement issue like this: “I’ve been allowed a high degree of autonomy once I proved myself in previous jobs. I think I would have a difficult time going back to an environment that requires extensive supervision and doesn’t allow me to make judgement calls about X or Y.”

      2. soon 2be former fed*

        Working in chaos is not for me. I’m orderly and attempt to impose order even when it’s not going to happen.

    2. zora*

      Yes, this is good. I go with something I don’t actually like doing and don’t want to do a lot of, so I can be extra sure it’s not a major requirement they forgot to tell me about.

      I also want to be super honest to make sure that the job is a good fit for me, and that I won’t end up having to struggle to do things I’m bad at 90% of the time. Had the problem where the interviewers thought a job was more of an organizing job, but it turned out it was really an analyst job, with heavy, complex writing requirements. And I was terrible at it and struggled through for years before I finally got out of there. I have found that using the “weaknesses” section really helps uncover any misconceptions the interviewers might have about how the position is advertised and makes sure I don’t end up in a job that is a bad match.

      1. Mimmy*

        I have found that using the “weaknesses” section really helps uncover any misconceptions the interviewers might have about how the position is advertised and makes sure I don’t end up in a job that is a bad match.

        Probably a stupid question, but do you mean that, in hearing your answers to the “weakness” questions, the interviewers realize they don’t understand the position as well as they thought?

        1. zora*

          They don’t necessarily ‘realize’ it, but I’m being clear that I am not good at, and don’t want to do a lot of X. And they might be like “Oh, well you should only do X about 50% of the time” if they are more clueless, or they might be straight out, “Ah, well if you aren’t good at X, that might be a problem, because that is indeed a big part of this position”.

          I just mean I don’t gloss over my weaknesses any more, or say ‘Oh, that’s probably fine’, I am more upfront about what I do not like to do and how much of it I am willing to do, and that causes more details to come out from the interviewers’ side of things. It’s easy to be vague in a job description, or even different people have different meanings of “a lot”, so I make sure to use the interview to elicit more specific answers. An interviewer might say “Light phone work” but they mean 50% answering phones, and to me, 50% is heavy, not light (for example). I’m not writing very clearly today, because I’m really distracted, but I hope that is more clear?

    3. Triumphant Fox*

      This is what I gave in my last interview. I also cannot take on long projects solo with no outside input. I need feedback, teammates and deadlines to keep me motivated. I also do very poorly if I’m isolated and have too little to do. Then I do literally nothing.

    4. Cristina*

      Mine is exactly the opposite: I’m strongly introverted and I can only cope with people and teams for certain stretches of time, I start to get a bit cranky and can’t concentrate. I have successfully lead small teams, mainly by setting boundaries like no-interruption hour, and working from home a day a week. Most of my work is solo anyway (software development), but if teamwork is more than solo work, I need to know that upfront because that would not be the job for me.

    5. Sleepy Librarian*

      I love this! I might have to keep this in the back of my mind for future interviews, because I’m the same. I worked solo for a while and HATED it.

  14. Jady*

    I always wonder how my usual answer to this question comes across: I’m a blunt person.

    I say that as a legit ‘weakness’, because it has caused me problems in the past. Some people love that trait – plus my job is suited to it – but some people absolutely hate it, to the point it’s caused fights or reports to my manager.

    I’ve never been reprimanded for it, or asked to handle it differently by any superiors, and it’s never worked negatively against me in getting the results needed. But it has affected relationships with coworkers before. (Note it’s extremely rare for my words/behavior to become inappropriate for work.)

    I try to be patient/sensitive with coworkers… I do. But my tolerance levels are not impressive. A lot of the posts we see on this blog boggle my mind with how far things escalate because of people being patient or sensitive and tolerate sometimes!

    And in the end it’s a legit weakness for some jobs… any job that requires a lot of red tape and playing politics it’s NOT a good idea to hire me.

    But I worry the idea of being too blunt is taken as one of those “oh this is one of those fake answers”.

    1. LadyByTheLake*

      This is my problem too, although my communications would be fine if I were male. How does one say “my hardest struggle is that when I use my words, they are perceived as being blunt because I am female.”

      1. Specialk9*

        You might get away with that by saying that you communicate like a dude, and make it a joke. But it’s risky.

      2. soon 2be former fed*

        Yeah, I’m the same and in a government office hating office politics and just focusing on just doing excellent work gets you absolutely nowhere, so I feel you. Appearing off-putting and intimidating is definitely a weakness and you are being encouraged to be dishonest, and I don’t agree with that. If it is an environment that believes in superficial niceness and indirect communication, especially at the cost of getting things done, this may not be the best place for you. I think you can phrase it as playing office politics is not something you enjoy or that comes naturally, but you have learned the need to temper your strong task orientation with other considerations that affect the working environment. You could even just say that you are task focused and efficient, and sometimes speak in a direct and honest manner but are aware of your impact on your audience. Then try to do these things, haha.

        This message may not be nested properly due to laptop wonkiness.

      3. HNL123*

        OMG are you me? This is my exact weakness, pointed out by two managers here. But in previous jobs where I had a male boss, our communication was on the same page and they loved me.
        Here, I was told I make some people feel insecure.

    2. En vivo*

      I don’t think it sounds like a fake answer; I also have the same issue. I’ve been told that I’m too direct/ blunt, and it can truly be a problem. I hate that I have to hem and haw when I can just get to the point. Being direct is not the same as being rude, and as long as I’m being respectful , I don’t understand why some have a problem with directness. It’s something that I’m always mindful of when speaking or writing emails at work.

      1. En vivo*

        At my job, playing politics is the main way to get ahead (not only, but it’s harder), and I don’t want to play.

    3. Bea*

      Thankfully I’ve only ran into one case in my career where being blunt was suddenly thrown in my face as a “weakness/problem”. “When you’re busy, you’re short with people.” Well…no shht, you want me to expand my already 60hr weeks so that I can cuddle someone a bit and give them a long version of “Send a call-tag. I’ll credit the account.”

      And I’m actually extremely loving and happy to help. But not when I’m trying to get people paid on a tight timeline.

      I think that since none of your superiors asked you to change, it’s truly only a thing to very specific people. Like in my case. Most people like that I don’t waste their time.

      1. Ozma the Grouch*

        I think you touched on another aspect of having a blunt personality. I don’t particularly enjoy working with micro-managers -or- people who need to be micro-managed. People needing extra training or help from time to time is totally acceptable. But when it comes to endless micro-managing, my patience only goes so far before I completely burn out.

          1. Tax Nerd*

            Are we all the same person? I hate hate hate being micromanaged. I’m also not very good at micro-managing others. Sure, I’ll do it for a new hire, or someone whose performance is struggling. But I won’t enjoy it. Anyone who knows what they are doing, and does it? Yeah, I’m not gonna spend a lot of time demanding status reports.

            1. soon 2be former fed*

              My other weakness. No breathing over my shoulder or unnecessary follow ups. If there is a deadline problem, I will let you know. Never blew one now, why you worrying me about it? My current manager foisted his insecurities on me this way, and I was doing this job well long before he came along.

        1. ctstud2008*

          From my experience Personality Type B people often benefit from micromanagement. Type B people are less driven and tend to be more go-with-the-flow. As a result, sometimes they can be lackadaisical and unfocused on the work.

      2. soon 2be former fed*

        Yes! Some people hate it but some love my direct style. It probably helps that I have a good sense of humor and take some interest in people. But I’m all about the business, want to do my work and go home.

    4. SarahTheEntwife*

      That doesn’t seem like a fake answer, especially if you can demonstrate how it’s cause issues and how you deal with it.

      Talking about the opposite weakness was actually what I used in the interview for my current job — I’m one of those terrified-of-confrontation people and while I’m much better about it now, it in particular makes me not a great supervisor because I can be kind of terrible at correcting people past the initial instruction phase. (Again, working on it, getting better, but this is a big reason why I’d like to move away from having student — or any — employees, or at least not as many as I do now).

    5. Ozma the Grouch*

      Haha. You and me both. I would rather people know that up front though and appreciate it, than not know and hate me for it. I’ve been told that I sound “too” authoritative and that I always sound like I know what I am talking about even when I’m just giving an educated guess or opinion, or simply throwing my idea into the mix. Best I can tell it’s a cultural difference. Worst part is that I am genuinely unaware that I am doing it.

    6. soon 2be former fed*

      I feel you so hard on this. I am a no-nonsense, no BS, confident, task-oriented efficient woman and in my 40 years in the workforce, it has caused me problems. So many people expect softening, mushy language from females, and a weak tone also. I’m never rude, or unprofessional, but some take it that way. So annoying. And yes certain jobs and occupations are definitely not for me, although I soldier through when I need to. I wish I had been a prosecuting attorney.

        1. Close Bracket*

          I’m an engineer, or I was, until politics led to my last job imploding. There’s no field that is devoid of gameplaying and backstabbing.

          I can’t tell your gender, but if you were also hoping female scientists/engineers can be blunt and don’t have to be mushy and cuddly, then I am afraid I have to burst that bubble, as well. Politics was only 50% of my last job imploding. Sexist double standards for behavior were the other 50%. I’m on the spectrum, and I am literal and blunt, as many people on the spectrum are. Women are not allowed to be literal or blunt even when they are engineers/scientists.

        2. Michaela Westen*

          Sorry late, but you can still do that type of work. I didn’t finish a degree, but my detail-focused ways caused me to drift into data and finance support, and now I’m an analyst.
          You may not be an engineer or scientist, but you can work with them. :)

      1. HNL123*

        I’ve not worked quite as many years yet, but OMG this spoke to me on a cellular level. There is not a day that goes by where I don’t think about not becoming an attorney. (A bit too late to start on that career path for me)

    7. Cedrus Libani*

      That’s my weakness too. In my last round of interviews, I brought up the distinction of “ask” vs “guess” cultures, and admitted that I’m a bad guesser. Indirect communication tends to go right over my head. I’m not good at sending it, either, so I can struggle to express concerns or give feedback to a “guess” person in a way they don’t perceive as rude, even though that’s not my intent. I’ve done some reading on communications (see!) and have gotten better at aligning myself with different styles. But I’m genuinely more effective in contexts where I’m expected to use my words, and can trust others to do the same with me.

      It worked for me. My general intent – priority one, avoid getting a “guess” person for a boss (been there, done that, never ever again), and priority two, make it clear that my “direct” is not codespeak for “insufferable”.

    8. nep*

      There should be another way to frame/phrase it. To me, ‘I’m to blunt’ or ‘I’m too direct’ would border on the non-answer answer.

  15. govvie*

    Yes to all of this advice!!! I love asking this question in interviews because of the self-awareness the answer can show. Let’s face it, everyone has weaknesses – if you can’t identify them, are you really a person who will be able to identify and modify your work when necessary. Or worse, if you are unwilling to identify them, how will you handle constructive criticism and can I trust you are providing me with the whole picture?

    But the next step the answer if the key component – showing that you have taken steps to find solutions and/or mitigate these issues shows that you are the type of employee who can/will learn and grow.

    Same goes for the variation of “what has been your greatest failure?”

    1. buttercup*

      Question: Would you be willing to share this information about your workplace if the interviewee asked you this question?

      1. Cedrus Libani*

        As an interviewee, I’ve been seriously impressed by hiring managers willing to give a straight answer about what the challenges of working there are. I’ve also put at least one job in the “only if it was the last paycheck on earth and there were no more dumpsters to dive in” category based on the level of evasion and/or irritation generated by this question. Every workplace has things that suck and aren’t going to change…might as well screen for people who don’t consider these things deal-breakers.

    2. nep*

      In a phone interview the interviewer asked me: ‘Tell me about a time when you failed.’
      (Incidentally, each time she posed one of these cliché questions, she prefaced it with something like: ‘So, this again is one of the questions we just generally ask in interviews…’ as if apologising for it.)

      I’m happy to tell y’all AAMers about a time I failed–I spectacularly failed said phone interview, including that question. I’m sure going to be better prepared next time. Articles and threads like this are super helpful. Ta.

  16. Staircase wit*

    “Oh none really. By the Dunning-Kruger effect I’ve compensated for my minor weaknesses and I’m blissfully unaware of my major ones”

    “What did Deming say? Performance is 95% system and 5% individual, eh?”

  17. Detective Amy Santiago*

    In my interview for my current position, I responded to this by saying that I am sometimes impatient with people who do not pick up on things as quickly as I think they should and people who do not actually listen to what I say and explanation that was why I was looking to get out of customer facing roles.

  18. Hiring Mgr*

    Personally, I never ask this question, or any of its variants. For me, even the good answers don’t reveal much that’s useful.. But it’s an interesting topic nonetheless.

    1. soon 2be former fed*

      Yes, just know what you need and if in doubt, ask if a candidate thinks they have certain qualities and traits that you require. It would be useful for either party to realize when it isn’t a fit, without playing games.

    2. nep*

      Are you hiring?
      Good to know there are hiring managers out there who forgo this type of question.

  19. President Porpoise*

    Mine is something I’ve spent a lot of time tracking down and am actively trying to improve. I know a lot about what I do, and I come to meetings with plans and ideas that are more or less ready to go. I’ve always seen this as a strength, but the feedback I’ve gotten is that people feel like I don’t listen to them or incorporate their feedback or ideas into my work. This is clearly a problem and a huge blind spot for me, so I’ve been working to mitigate it by actively listening and discussing their inputs, explaining why I’ve decided to take the path I have chosen, responding to people (in the moment or after the fact via email) with a summary of the issues raised and the path forward, and incorporating their feedback when it makes sense to do so. I don’t want to be a know it all, or dismissive of people’s input. That’s a crappy way to behave. But I also know that I’m smart and stubborn, so I really have to be careful.

    So, my advice to people is when possible seek true anonymous feedback on strengths and weaknesses and really take it to heart and try to fix it, so that you have real examples of real weaknesses and real examples of steps taken to nullify them.

  20. jm*

    Weakness 1: I’m not a morning person, and have a 60 minute commute and two kids who take forever to get ready for school, so if work starts at 8:00 a.m., I am usually 15 minutes late…I have a new boss so I’m currently getting up at 4:30 a.m. in order to make it into work by 8:00 sharp.
    I’m trying to overcome this weakness by moving closer to work, and creating better morning routines for my kids, so we can leave the house faster.
    Weakness 2: My default is to do things for co-workers, instead of teaching them to do things for themselves. Part of this is because I’m a people pleaser, part of this is because I want to continue to be needed/essential/have job security, and the other part is because it’s faster to do it for them, instead of taking the time to teach them.
    I’m trying to overcome this weakness by reminding myself that it helps the org as a whole if lots of people know how to do things, and if other people know what I know, the org will run more smoothly if I on vacation/sick/move to another job.

      1. Tau*

        I know this is a joke, but there are offices that consist mostly of night owls and where being a morning person can be just as tricky as the other way around – I work in one. Can we just agree to live and let live?

        1. soon 2be former fed*

          I wished I worked in one of those when I was an office dweller! Even with flextime, the early crew though the late crew was composed of slackers, even though the morning crew ate breakfast and performed grooming tasks. They were eating dinner and I was still working, but they didn’t recognize the equivalency at all.

        2. Jennifer*

          I’ve never heard of such a thing existing in my life. I am always surrounded by people who wake up voluntarily at 3 a.m. and pass out by 7 p.m. And being smug about it too.

          I’ll trade you!

    1. Gloucesterina*

      Feel you on mornings! Having dependents and a commute is not a weakness, and regardless of how effectively or not so effectively you cope with that situation, it doesn’t seem particularly relevant to a job interview.

      I think your #2 is interesting because it could invite the interviewer to provide information that will allow you to assess fit with the role/organization–like maybe they actually want someone who’s a jack-of-all-trades who will swoop in and fix things for others, or maybe they do envision the person in the role sharing their expertise with co-workers.

      1. jm*

        I think being late on a regular basis, even 15-20 minutes, doesn’t look good. In my org, it is definitely considered a weakness — definitely unprofessional and maybe even a character flaw (I know, sounds bad, but it feels true). I work in an office but we’re all required to clock in, and the non-exempt folks have to clock exactly 40 hours per week, or have paychecks docked. In hindsight I don’t think I’d bring up lateness in an interview, but at my next job I definitely want to be in a culture that puts less value on “butts in seats” time.
        Good point on #2! It could go either way for sure. And an interview would definitely be the time to figure that out.

    2. nep*

      Joking aside, I don’t see ‘not a morning person’ as a weakness. Doesn’t fall into same category as some of the things generally discussed as weaknesses as a candidate. It’s a habit or way of life, perhaps, but not really a weakness.

  21. Mimmy*

    I am nodding “yes” in agreement with quite a few of you!

    Answering questions about weaknesses (and strengths too, tbh) can be really hard. I tend to underestimate my strengths and overestimate my weaknesses. That’s why I dread those questions.

  22. Anonymosity*

    Well, my biggest weakness is one you all told me not to disclose until the offer, and that’s my dyscalculia. One of my friends shared a careers link to his giant company, so I just applied for a job in publications. I’d have to get a secret clearance, so I will HAVE to disclose everything because I can’t lie about why I was fired from Exjob. If I even get an interview, which is doubtful. I can cover the fired-for-being-an-anxiety-ridden-bitch part. I’ve gotten fairly adept at asking questions to determine how much math is involved in a job’s day-to-day, if it’s not spelled out in the posting.

    I still get surprised sometimes because employers are terrible about communicating job duties, and it’s hard to explain that I can use Excel but not do math in it. If there’s a lot of math in the job, say so! I wish they would specify between data entry and having to create big spreadsheets with lots of equations. “Must have Excel skills” conveys nothing. They need to say it like, “Creating Excel spreadsheets, using pivot tables and Martian algorithms with averages of purple aliens in customers’ orange juice.”*

    I’ve left mention of my disability out of cover letters, but I check “Yes I have one” on applications. I like the wording in the article — “I’m not a numbers person, so anything that’s heavy on numbers — like reconciling accounts — isn’t my forte. I could also offer what accommodations are helpful to me, such as procedural documents (which I can also write) and pre-made spreadsheets, but I can’t do anything about double-checking data if it’s mathematical. If I had to include a table of data in a document, I could format the table rows and columns, but I wouldn’t have any idea if the data was valid or not.

    *that’s literally what formulas look like to me

    1. Mimmy*

      Sorry but I had to laugh at your very last sentence, because that’s pretty much how mathematical formulas look to me as well! Putting them together can be tricky, though I think it’s more of a visual-spatial thing for me. (I’ve only worked with very simple formulas, or that auto-sum thing, but even then I have to think about it sometimes).

    2. Close Bracket*

      Have you ever gone through the clearance process before? It sounds like maybe you haven’t. You don’t have to disclose in the interview the same things you disclose as part of the clearance process. At my last job, I did not disclose my depression when apply for the job or interviewing, but I had to disclose to the security office that I had seen a doctor for mental health when my company applied for the security clearance. I also consulted with them a few years later when I started to see a therapist to ask whether I had to disclose to the government. My boss was not privy to any of that. Your boss should not even see your clearance paperwork. That stuff is highly sensitive, and only the security office should have access to it (I say should bc there are assholes in all departments).

  23. HR Expat*

    In my current company, it’s well known that one of the senior HR execs will always ask you for your weaknesses. And he keeps going. If you’re internal, he’s already discussed it with your leadership chain so he knows what they are. You give him the first three, and see asks “What else?” This continues for quite awhile. Your weaknesses aren’t necessarily held against you unless they truly would impact your ability to do the job. He’s really just probing to see how self-aware you are and how seriously you listen to feedback and development areas from your leaders. It’s an interesting approach.

    1. The New Wanderer*

      If by “interesting approach,” you mean hugely off putting or the absolute wrong way to go about it, then I would agree. I think it’s hard enough to come up with a good way to talk abut one or two weaknesses, but to be grilled on three or more would make me feel like I was on trial or like he was waiting to hear a specific answer, not like someone was after how “self aware” I am. I would not want to work with or for that guy after an interview like that.

  24. HR Expat*

    Alison- how many weaknesses would you generally prepare to answer as a candidate? I can think of three weaknesses, but I’m not sure if it would be overkill to discuss all of them, or use one for the question and include the others as examples for other questions.

    For me, I would say that my 3 main ones are: 1) being too collaborative and wanting agreement from everyone before making a decision, 2) needing to think through situations before I answer, which can be an issue in large meetings when people expect a response right away, and 3) large project management mostly because the cadence of it is very different from my day-to-day job. Luckily, I have examples where I’ve been able to mitigate these weaknesses and can show where I’ve actively asked my manager for opportunities to develop these skills.

    Oh, and I can get annoyed with people pretty quickly when they ask the same thing a million times over, but that’s not something I would ever mention in an interview.

    1. Mimmy*

      I’m not Alison, but I would suggest not bringing up all three in the same answer. Think about the particulars of the job you’re interviewing for and choose one that seems the most relevant.

      That said, I hear you – I can think of a few weaknesses myself.

  25. Phil*

    I think the most interesting version I’ve had with this one was “who would you say is your biggest threat to getting this role?” (internal promotion, all candidates were within the same team). It kind of got me to think of other peoples’ strengths that I might not have, rather than my own weaknesses.

          1. Phil*

            Yeah, I think they just got bored with asking the same questions. Also, considering the candidates were all people they’d known for quite a while at this point, they would already know how they’d answer a lot of the standard questions. Knowing the interviewers was also great because it put me at ease and I was able to make so many jokes throughout because department manager and I get on great and share a similar sense of humour. :P

  26. buttercup*

    I’ve never actually been asked this question! And I’ve been on A LOT of job interviews, including plenty of weird ones. (I’m a terrible interviewer :/)

  27. ctstud2008*

    My response to this question has always been the same: I can be a very serious person.

    I don’t think there is anything wrong with being serious but some people take it wrong.

  28. quiet anon*

    Would anyone have suggestions for how to phrase a weakness/improvement of mine? I think the most honest answer to this question for me is that I can be a bit reticent to speak up and ask questions, particularly during the early stages of a role where I don’t have as much of my own knowledge to draw on.

    I think this partly stems from the fact that one of my first jobs gave very little training about complex procedures, so I then had to ask a loooot of questions in order to not make really basic mistakes, often to very busy people who clearly weren’t thrilled about it.

    I don’t have a problem saying some version of this in interviews, especially since the language is quite similar to the example Alison gives of being quiet. However, I’m really not sure what concrete examples I could give of how I’m working on it – I try to push myself to ask questions anyway, and to think of a solution first and present it as “I have x problem. Should I try y, or would you suggest something else?” instead of just “What should I do about x?”, which tends to make me feel better about speaking up.

    I’m just not sure if that sounds like “well, I have this problem, but I’m just choosing not to do it anymore.” Anyone have any better suggestions on phrasing here?

    1. Gloucesterina*

      Hi quiet anon – My initial thought might be some verbiage along the lines of “Some strategies I’ve used to keep this tendency in check are doing X and Y, but it’s something that I have to be vigilant about as I’m ramping up in a new role.” In short, maybe consider signalling that this is an ongoing thing that you are actively working on, as opposed to a button that you just switched off and never had to worry about again, if that makes sense. Others might have other ways to handle it, though!

      1. Gloucesterina*

        I would also add that if I were to take this route of “here’s this tendency I’m actively working to keep in check” (and I find this particular issue very relatable, by the way!), that delivering it with smile/eye contact would be particularly important for me, so it’s not coming off as “if I let my guard down once, I will either be: (1) an insatiable question-monster without regard to anybody’s time, or (2) someone who just wanders around the dark forever not knowing what to do b/c they were afraid to ask a question.” :)

  29. queequeg in his coffin*

    I usually answer that my biggest weakness is that I only speak English, which means that for my (public-facing) career path there are inevitably going to be some customers that I can’t serve effectively. I usually talk about how it’s not a realistic goal to be fluent in all the languages our community might need, and then explain that I’ve learned to fingerspell and am trying to teach myself very basic ASL, and that I’ve been brushing up on my high school Spanish. Most interviewers are surprised by that answer.

    My partner manages a cinema and hired someone on the spot one time because they deadpanned “Kryptonite.”

  30. nep*

    I sometimes prepare with a weakness that is very specific to the job for which I’m applying. For example, I’d say something like: ‘As a candidate for this particular job my greatest weakness is that I don’t have deep experience in (Excel, video editing–one of the skills on the employer’s list of desired/preferred).’ Then I go on to say but I’ve done x, y, z similar thing or I’m taking x class / currently doing a certification in x…’

  31. Late To The Party*

    What if your weakness is tardiness? This is a legitimate issue for me with relying on the busfor transportation, especillay for my last job where i had to be at work at 6:30 am. It’s something I’m really working on, but I’m afraid if I say that it’ll be an automatic disqualification. I’m thinking I should maybe go with the I’m on the reserved side one.

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