What is Your Greatest Weakness?

No human being is flawless. We all have weaknesses. Little wonder recruiters ask the common interview question - “What is your greatest weakness?”.

So what exactly is the right way to answer this interview question? Are you supposed to deny that you have a flaw? Or go all confession time on recruiters and share your biggest and most genuine weaknesses?  

The answer is neither. What you do is turn the situation to your advantage by framing your weaknesses positively. You don't want to cast any doubt on your ability to do the job.

You don't want to respond, "I tend to work too hard," or "I am too much of a perfectionist." That can easily come across as scripted and insincere at best and lacking in self-awareness at worst. Alternatively, you don't want to respond with weaknesses that will prevent you from succeeding in the role. For instance, if you're applying to be a project manager, you don't want to admit that you’re “not very good with time management."

In this article, you'll find a guide on how to answer the interview question about your biggest weaknesses, and what—and what not—to say when you respond, with example answers too.

How to answer “What is your greatest weakness?” interview question

The first step to answering “what is your greatest weakness” correctly is to understand why recruiters ask the question in the first place. 

When recruiters ask you to identify your greatest weaknesses, they are looking for the following three things: 

  • Honesty. They want to know if you're honest enough to give a real weakness.
  • Self-awareness. The ability to analyze yourself and recognize the areas where you need to work on. 
  • Willingness to improve. Everyone has weaknesses - even recruiters themselves. That’s why they don’t expect you to lie about it. What recruiters do expect, however, is that you’re willing (and trying) to improve. 

When you know just what the recruiters are expecting from you, the interview question doesn’t seem as hard, does it?

There are three ways to answer "what is your greatest weakness" in an interview:

  1. Mention skills that aren't essential for the job
  2. Discuss skills you have improved on, or
  3. Turn a negative into a positive.

Discuss Non-Essential Skills

One approach to answering this question is to analyze the key skills and strengths required for the job you are interviewing for and then come up with an honest shortcoming that is not essential for success in that job.

For example, if you’re applying for a position as a truck driver, you could focus on a skill that isn’t required for the job, as in the example below.

Yes, I have a couple of weaknesses. My biggest weakness is my inability to work well on a team. That’s why I became a truck driver. I get to spend most of my time alone.

Mention Skills You Have Improved on

Another option is to discuss skills that you have improved upon during your previous job or that you are actively working on improving. This shows the interviewer that you’re committed to self-improvement. Take a look at a sample answer below to illustrate this point.

My greatest weakness is time management. I have always been very detail-oriented, so it sometimes takes me longer to finish a project than I initially think it will. This is why I started using time-tracking software in my last job. It made me more conscious of the time a task takes me and helped me never miss a deadline again. 

Turn a Negative Into a Positive

Another option for answering is to turn a negative into a positive. For example, a sense of urgency to complete projects can be turned into a positive; e.g., you are a candidate who will make sure a project is done on time. Or perhaps you find yourself with an attention to detail that leads you to triple-check every item on a spreadsheet and proofread every email you send twice.

Regardless of what you say, it is critical to indicate that you are mindful of this trait and capable of preventing it from interfering with your productivity. See sample answer below.

I have a very strong attention to detail. Sometimes, this can turn into a tendency to perfectionism. In the past, I found this leading me to triple-check every item on a spreadsheet, closely proofread emails to ensure I’d communicated what I was trying to get across in a clear, concise way, or fiddle with the layout of a presentation to ensure that it was perfect. I’ve since learned to successfully budget my time and gauge which tasks require and actually benefit from this level of precision.

More sample answers for “What is your greatest weakness?” interview question

Review more examples to help you answer the interview question “What is your greatest weakness?”:

  1. “Because I am independent and enjoy working quickly, it has been difficult for me to ask for help when I need it. I have learned that it is much more beneficial both for me and the business to reach out when I do not understand something or feel burned out with my workload.

    I also understand that many experts around me have specific knowledge and skills that can make my work better. While I am still working on it, I have been able to produce more high-quality work as a result of getting help from those around me.”

  2. “When I'm working on a project, I don't just want to meet deadlines. Rather, I prefer to complete the project well ahead of its due date. While this means I never miss a deadline, it also means that sometimes I can find myself rushed when I’m working. I’ve since learned to slow down, be more patient, and give each project the careful attention it deserves.”
  3. “In the past, I have found it difficult to work with aggressive personality types. While I understand diversity in personalities makes a business strong, I tend to quiet my own ideas and opinions around louder colleagues.

    To combat this, I have made it a point to spend more time with colleagues I feel uncomfortable working with. By learning more about them, their communication style and motivations, I am better able to collaborate with these personality types so that we both equally contribute our strengths and skills.”

  4. “I used to wait until the last minute to set appointments for the coming week, but I realized that scheduling in advance makes much more sense. I’m now much more proactive about scheduling meetings, and this allows me to plan and segment out my work for the week without having to guess at when I’ll need to leave time for meetings.”

  5. “In the past, I have sometimes struggled with confidence. It has been helpful for me to keep a running document of the impact I have made on my team and at my organization to better understand why I should be confident about the skills and unique talents I bring to the table.

    I have also made it a point to voice my ideas and opinions during meetings when I feel they are appropriate and will add value to the conversation. Because of this, our team ended up adopting my idea for a new financing process, which resulted in a 10% decrease in time taken to plan our annual budget.”

Examples of weaknesses on the job

Do any of these weaknesses ring a bell? Note that these aren’t good choices for your answer if the job requires specific skills in these areas.

  • Inexperience with specific software or a non-essential skill
  • Tendency to take on too much responsibility
  • Hesitancy about delegating tasks
  • Discomfort taking big risks
  • Lack of Patience
  • Lack of Organization
  • Trouble with Delegation
  • Timidity
  • Lack of Tactfulness
  • Fear of Public Speaking
  • Weak Data Analysis Skills
  • Indecisiveness
  • Harsh Self-Criticism
  • Micromanaging
  • Talkative
  • Trouble with Work-Life Balance

Below are other ways the interviewer might ask the "what are your weaknesses" question:

  • What is your weakness?
  • What is your biggest weakness?
  • What do you consider to be your weaknesses?
  • What would your current boss say is your weakest area?
  • What are some of your weaknesses?
  • What are your weakest areas?
  • What are your weakest skills?
  • Tell me about a time you failed.
  • What are your strengths and weaknesses?
  • Describe a difficult work situation and what you did to overcome it.

Finally, always remember, a great way to prepare for interview questions is to have a friend or family member pretend to be the interviewer who asks you questions while you practise your answers.