It’s one of the most challenging interview questions to answer. “Can you tell me about your greatest weakness?” Why would a hiring manager ask this question?
Companies often ask this question during a job interview because they want to hear how you answer it. It’s a good sign when a job seeker displays traits like self-awareness and learning from mistakes. Here are some tips on how to approach this question.
1. Take A Positive and Honest Perspective
An ideal candidate would not deny that they have weaknesses. The key here is not to mention weaknesses that are in conflict with the requirements outlined in the job description. So try taking a positive perspective and give a hiring manager an honest answer about things you might have struggled with in the past, and how you overcame them. The more genuine, personalized, and specific your response is, the more memorable it will be for the hiring manager.
2. Identify A Skill You Can Improve
Nobody likes generic responses like “I’m a workaholic” or “I’m too detail-oriented” but identifying a specific weakness can be equally tricky. Start by asking yourself:
- What is my least favorite part of my current job? Why?
- What does my manager point out as an opportunity for improvement?
- When did I fail to deliver a project and didn’t get the expected results? Why did it happen?
- When was the last time I learned something new? What motivated me to learn it?
- What do you admire in your coworkers in a similar role, and do you think there are areas where you can learn from them?
These are just a few questions that can help you narrow down your list of weaknesses and opportunities for improvement.
You can also refer to this list of skills and see if you struggle with any of them in your day-to-day:
- Time management
- Team collaboration
- Delegating tasks
- Managing meetings
- Writing efficient emails
- Being articulate in meetings
- Managing change
- Presenting in public
- Presenting virtually
- Making team members feel connected
- Clear communication when the team is distributed
- Being focused
- Speaking up
- Setting up expectations
- Providing context
- Being calm, efficient, and decisive during a crisis
- Navigating conflict with grace
- Accepting and sharing productive feedback
Remember, the best answer will 1) mention your real weaknesses, and 2) show what you’re doing to correct them.
3. Show the Hiring Manager How You’ve Overcome Past Weaknesses
Use a business analogy and give specific examples of you overcoming past weaknesses to your hiring manager. Your ultimate goal is to use this question as an opportunity to show that you have a high level of self-awareness and can overcome personal weaknesses to become a better team player, to be more efficient, to improve your management skills, etc.
Don’t be shy to walk them through a specific example. Start by providing context, what you were trying to do, and how things turned out in reality. Share your perspective about the goal as well as the perspective of another person, or team. Show what happened at the moment, and its negative consequences. Follow with your stance on why these consequences were negative (impact on the team, project deadline, you and your teammates mental health, efficiency, led to burnout, etc). Now it’s time to give examples of how you corrected the course. Showcase all the steps you took to improve:
- Took a step back to analyze what went wrong
- Asked my colleagues for honest feedback
- Researched online what tools can help and started using them
- Read books about X (management, leadership, change management, prioritization)
- Watched YouTube videos and online courses about X
- Practiced X skill with friends and family
- Set clear achievable milestones for myself and started hitting them
- Found a mentor who is exceptional at X skill
And finally, show how this experience helped you change your perspective, your work philosophy, and your operational playbook. When talking about takeaways, start with specific examples and follow with high-level takeaways. Here are some business principles that are might be worth mentioning:
- Better done than perfect
- Trust but verify
- Lean in
- Lead by example
- Disagree and commit
- Prioritize ruthlessly
- Rely on your team
- As a leader, your #1 goal is to define reality
- The no-blame culture in times of crisis
- Give and ask for honest feedback
Still not sure how to get started? Here are some sample answers to this tricky question about your greatest weaknesses.
Sample answers to “Tell me about your biggest weakness“ question
Here is the list of weaknesses you can mention:
- I have difficulty giving feedback to my peers
- I’m not a natural public speaker
- I tend to get caught up in details
- I have trouble delegating tasks
- I have a hard time letting go of a project
- I can have trouble asking for help
- I dislike confrontation
- I can seem overly straightforward
- I obsess over documentation
I have difficulty giving feedback to my peers
“I find it a challenge to criticize a coworker or someone who reports to me even when asked. I become concerned about hurting the person’s feelings. A few months ago, though, I decided to work on how I respond in these situations. When I needed to edit a document written by someone I was training, I took the opportunity to respond thoughtfully, pointing out specific issues and making a few suggestions for improvement. They were very grateful to get this kind of feedback. Once I realized that constructive feedback is valuable to people trying to learn and grow in their jobs, it became much easier to handle.”
Why it works: Framing your answer within a real-life example is an effective way to show how you’ve grown. Employers seek out confident employees who invest in helping their coworkers develop alongside them.
I’m not a natural public speaker
“I tend to get very nervous if I have to get up in front of people and speak. I don’t like having all those eyes on me at all. It’s probably one of the reasons I gravitated toward the tech field. Much of this work is done at a desk and doesn’t often require public speaking. Still, I think it’s important to improve when you have an issue like this. Not only do you gain confidence around that skill specifically, but you can apply the experience to other areas where you might need to improve. What worked for me was taking a Tastemakers class. Each week, I’d have to deliver a short speech and get tips about how I could improve. By the end of the course, I was much, much more confident in front of the mic. That felt great.”
Why it works: Not only does this answer show personal growth, which is a highly valued skill among interviewers, but it also focuses on a skill that isn’t vital for the job in question. It’s not going to detract from your duties if you have a problem with public speaking, but it could be an asset should the need arise.
I tend to get caught up in details
“I can get too caught up on the small details sometimes. This means I rarely miss anything important, but being overly focused can be an issue. It can affect my overall efficiency, for example, or create a bottleneck in the team’s workflow. I’ve gotten better at recognizing when I’m slipping into that mode, though. I’ve found that when I take a short break, it gives me a chance to look at things from a big-picture perspective when I get back to work. I can move past small details and consider projects in a more helpful way. And when I do need to tackle something that needs a detailed list, it’s easy for me to switch back into that mode.”
Why it works: Detail-oriented people are often drawn to the tech industry because the jobs in this field tend to feature a rigid, predictable structure. Being detail-oriented is a must for many tech positions. However, as this answer demonstrates, too much of a good thing is still too much. This answer addresses the issue head-on and then details how this person was able to shape this weakness into a useful tool.
I have trouble delegating tasks
“I love to help other people so much that it can become a problem if my workload grows too big. I can wind up feeling burnt out and overwhelmed. I decided to work on this tendency over the past year or so and learn how to prioritize better and delegate tasks. What has helped the most is maintaining a visual organizer of my priorities, finding opportunities for automation, and connecting more with my teammates to see if there is an overlap in our workload. It’s easier to say no when I can envision my workload in this way. And it’s incredible what you can learn from delegating some tasks to your peers. While it can be challenging at first, it teaches you what is truly important and helps you discover opportunities for automation”.
Why it works: Being unable to say no is a common problem, and this answer strikes at the heart of why it’s particularly problematic at work. The solution is simple but effective and shows self-reflection and initiative.
I have a hard time letting go of a project
“I can have a difficult time closing a project. I want to make sure I’ve reviewed every small detail, and I tend to be too critical of my own work. Going over the same project, again and again, is clearly not the best use of my time, so I decided to work on some strategies for moving on from projects more smoothly. One thing that has helped is to set a deadline for revisions when I’m scheduling tasks related to the project. If there’s a genuine issue that needs addressing, I can adjust this, but most of the time, this helps keep my work flowing”.
Why it works: This answer is a twist on the classic humble-brag response, “I’m a perfectionist,” which every interviewer has heard more than once. It’s essential to show the interviewer how you’ve learned to manage issues that can affect your work, which is precisely what this answer does. The solution to allow only a set amount of time for review is both compelling and unique.
I can have trouble asking for help
“I’ve learned that while it’s important to be able to work independently, there are times when everyone needs some help. The trouble is that sometimes, I hate asking for it. I don’t want to appear unknowledgeable or incapable of getting my work finished. I decided to reach out to a manager I admire and ask her if she’s had this issue before. Lucky for me, she had, and she had overcome this tendency. She shared some strategies for recognizing when it’s time to ask for him, and she pointed out that I have coworkers for a reason. Many of them have knowledge or skills that could improve the project I’m working on, but I am missing out on those benefits if I never ask them to help.”
Why it works: This answer works because the interviewer gets a sense that this person is an independent, reliable asset. It’s good that this person recognizes that not being able to ask for help can impact the outcome of a project and has worked to overcome it. Turning to a mentor is a smart move, too.
I dislike confrontation
“I try to avoid confrontation sometimes by compromising on what I want or need, in the interest of being nice. This can get in the way when I need to lead a team through a challenge, especially if the team is made up of people with differing opinions. There are times when you have to tell people things they don’t want to hear. I’ve worked to develop a leadership style that is direct and helpful. When I stop and listen carefully, and then work together with someone to find a good solution, there usually isn’t even a true confrontation. It’s just two people tackling a problem together. It takes patience but that shift in mindset has made a big difference for me.”
Why it works: Confrontation in the workplace is something every manager wants to avoid, but there are times when a leader needs to take charge. This answer shows how the person was able to change their behavior by shifting their mindset.
I can seem overly straightforward
“I have learned that there’s a fine line between coming across as straightforward and coming across as too harsh. It is helpful sometimes to have a ‘take-charge’ nature, at times when strong leadership is a must to get a situation under control. However, I realized I was taking on that role at times when it wasn’t necessary or helpful. I asked my career mentor for some advice, and she helped me to hone my leadership skills. Now, when confronting a challenging situation, I am able to lead with confidence without slipping into drill sergeant mode. I’ve improved my empathy and have better relationships now with my coworkers.”
Why it works: This is a brave, authentic answer. Admitting to a personality flaw, especially one that could affect the way you handle teamwork, can be risky. When you explain that you took some time to reflect on the issue and then worked to be better, however, you’re showing the interviewer that you are self-aware and capable of overcoming obstacles with grace.
I obsess over documentation
“In my current job, things change super fast and often last minute. When new team members join, it’s tough to do a knowledge transfer quickly and efficiently. So what I’ve learned over the years is that thorough documentation helps a lot. It’s usually not an especially big deal, but I find it that I spend a lot of time documenting things, and I am sometimes worried that I’m documenting for the sake of documenting instead of getting work done and helping the team. I talked to my mentor, and she gave me some tips on how to find the right balance. If I approach documentation as a vehicle to reach information symmetry on my team, then I would only document things that matter. I also learned that it should be a responsibility shared among all team members. So I created a shared document repository, and now more team members are using it to collaborate. It wasn’t an easy change, but it’s making a big difference already.”
Why it works: This answer shows that the person took the initiative to find a better solution when they realized what they were doing wasn’t efficient. Knowledge management matters more in some jobs than others, but it’s valid to worry about proper time management.
Turn Your Weaknesses into Strengths
When you encounter this question, be honest, and demonstrate self-awareness. Remember, answering these questions gives you the chance to show the interviewer that you can recognize and overcome personal challenges.