WHAT ARE YOUR GREATEST WEAKNESSES? – TIPS FOR THE JOB INTERVIEW
“What are your greatest weaknesses?” or “What are your biggest challenges?”
If you’ve been invited to more than one job interview in your working life, you’ve almost certainly been asked the above question once or twice – or five times.
But while it’s become a bit of a cliché that may instinctively make you want to roll your eyes, there’s a reason why your potential employer wants you to put your personal challenges into words.
The question about your greatest weaknesses often has an important function in the job interview, and it can definitely pay off for you to spend some time thinking about how you will answer it. Not all answers are equally good, if you want to land an employment contract.
WHAT IS IT YOU ARE REALLY BEING ASKED?
Once you’ve worked out your employer’s motivation for grilling you about your weak points, you’re more likely to hit the nail on the head with your answer.
So before you open your mouth and let your inadequacies tumble out like skeletons from a closet, it might be a good idea to reflect on what considerations may lie behind the question in the first place.
Or to put it another way: What are you really being asked about, when you are asked to describe your weaknesses? Once you’ve worked out your employer’s motivation for asking you about your weak spots, you’re more likely to hit the nail on the head with your answer.
A SHORT CUT TO THE RIGHT JOB
When a potential employer asks you about your weaknesses, it’s rarely with the aim of getting you to reveal your darkest secrets or recount a career-related failure in excruciating detail.
On the contrary, it is usually a simple question of risk assessment. The recruitment process is often both time-consuming and expensive, so it is important that the employer chooses the most suitable candidate without wasting too much time.
When you also consider that the average job interview lasts just 30-60 minutes, it’s no wonder that employers often choose to cut corners and cut to the chase. So when you are asked about your weaknesses, you are really being asked this: Why should we not hire you?
For the same reason, it’s no wonder that many jobseekers find it difficult to answer when they are asked to identify their faults and defects. After all, few candidates want to sabotage their own chances of being hired. It can therefore feel like a bit of a minefield to navigate when you’re looking for the right answer – but don’t worry, you can still go home with the prize, as long as you’re prepared.
5 good answers to the tough questions
If you ask employers what they are looking for when they ask candidates to outline their strengths and weaknesses, they usually name several things:
First of all, the question can be a good tool to judge whether you, as the job candidate, have done your homework and prepared thoroughly for the interview – which in turn says something about how you work. It can also reveal whether you have self-knowledge and the ability to reflect. Finally, your answer can give the employer an impression of your personality. Are you overly confident, for example, or self-effacing?
Fortunately, there are several good ways to approach the question when you’re on the other side of the table. Below are five suggestions for good answers when you are asked to describe your weaknesses.
However, it is of course important that you always answer truthfully, so that you do not give the employer a false impression of your personality.
Of course, if none of the answers below apply to you, you shouldn’t just say that you find it difficult to say no when asked for help, for example, or that you find it challenging to let go of tasks. But you can still use the answers as inspiration for how you might tackle the question at your next job interview.
Being focused on details may not sound like a bad thing, but it can easily create a bottleneck in your work if you spend too much time fiddling with projects. Sometimes you just need to get the job done, even if you don’t feel completely satisfied with the result.
But by mentioning attention to detail as a weakness, you also imply that you are thorough in your work and therefore rarely make sloppy mistakes. However, make sure you also explain how you might address this weakness if you are offered the job.
Example: “My greatest weakness is that I often tend to focus on details. When I’m working on a big project, for example, I sometimes get very caught up in the small things. But I’m aware of this weakness, so I make sure to keep myself on my toes and not lose sight of the end goal. That way I can do a good job without compromising my productivity.”
While an employer may not be crazy about the idea of an employee who is hung up on details, the chances are they will wish to hire a candidate who strives for quality and balance.
Following through on tasks to the end is not usually a trait that causes problems at the workplace – unless it also means that you find it hard to complete them because there is always something that can be improved. This can result in never-ending projects and frowns from the boss.
If you choose to highlight the above as a personal weakness, you also give the impression that you always perform your work tasks as thoroughly as possible. On the other hand, it’s important to mention that you actively work to turn your weakness into a strength – for example by giving yourself deadlines early on in the workflow, in order to avoid making last-minute changes.
Example: “My greatest weakness is that I sometimes find it difficult to let go of work tasks. I am my own worst critic, and I can always find something about a project that I feel should be changed, or could be improved. I actively try to remedy this by setting deadlines for when parts of a task should be completed.”
An employer may not be keen on an employee who lets projects drag out, but they will be positively inclined towards a candidate who strives to work in a structured manner and carries out tasks to the letter.
If you are helpful by nature, it can be a challenge to complete your own tasks while also completing tasks for colleagues. An employer will usually welcome a dedicated employee who is willing to take on responsibility, but not if it means you end up missing deadlines because you’re doing too much at once and lose track.
If you highlight it as a weakness that you have difficulty saying no, you also imply that you are diligent, willing to serve and hard-working. However, remember also to address how you will ensure that you don’t overwork yourself, and actually get your own tasks done.
Example: “My greatest weakness is that I find it hard to say no when my colleagues ask for help with tasks. This can lead to me losing track and feeling under pressure. However, I’ve found that I can use tools like calendar reminders and apps to plan my time so that I don’t get overloaded and miss deadlines.”
A potential employer is unlikely to welcome an employee who does not know his or her own limitations, but will look more favourably upon a candidate who takes the time to help colleagues without taking time away from his or her own tasks.
It’s obviously good to have an employee who takes deadlines seriously and who plans his or her tasks so that they don’t drag out. Nonetheless, it is inevitable that unexpected challenges will arise from time to time, which put the schedule under pressure. Here it is important not to let stress and frustration get the better of you.
If you choose to mention your impatience with the long haul as a weakness, you also imply that you respect deadlines and prefer tasks to be completed on time. You can also make it clear to the employer that you are conscious of the need to keep up your motivation when projects drag out.
Example: “My greatest weakness is that I get impatient when tasks take longer than expected. I prefer deadlines to be met, and I feel stressed if a task is not completed on time. So I try to be proactive about any problems that may arise from a task, and I’m conscious of not letting my negative feelings get in the way of my motivation.”
Your possible future employer may not like the fact that you get stressed out easily if things don’t go according to plan, but will be favourably inclined towards a candidate who thinks proactively and strives to deliver on time.
Although employers are usually good at placing requirements in job ads, they also know that it is rarely possible to find the perfect candidate who can tick all the boxes. So it is not necessarily a bad thing if you honestly admit that one or more of your skills could do with a boost.
If you mention lack of experience as a weakness, you may choose to highlight some very specific programmes or workflows of which you do not have sufficient knowledge. You could also choose to focus on more diffuse skills, such as the ability to give and take constructive criticism.
However, it is important that you have a good idea beforehand of whether there are any fundamental requirements towards the candidates’ skills that the employer cannot or will not ignore. That way, you won’t inadvertently shoot yourself in the foot by highlighting your shortcomings in an area that would become part of your regular duties if you were hired.