“What are your weaknesses?”This is one of the most common interview questions, and like many others, it’s a question you need to be well prepared for. Spending some time thinking about it is crucial, especially since it’s such a common question that interviewers know that most people are aware of it and have time to prepare.

If you fumble it shows that you didn’t care enough to put in a little time getting ready for a question the interviewer will think you should have known was coming. Even worse, if you can’t manage to come up with a single weakness, the interviewer will believe that either you’re incredibly arrogant (no one is perfect, and thinking you are is a bad sign) or you’re so insecure about your strengths that you can’t bear to admit that there’s anything you don’t do well. Neither of those is a path to sounding like the right person for the job, so get a good answer ready by considering the following ideas.

Why Are They Asking?

The first key thing to think about in preparing for any interview question is what the interviewer actually wants to know. Interviewers are always looking for some sort of information with every question, even if it isn’t exactly what they’re asking. If you know what they’re looking to find out, you can provide an answer that helps them see why you’re a great choice for the job.
When asking this question, the interviewer is not usually not actually trying to find out where you’re weak. Instead, he or she is trying to see that you’ve given the idea some thought and are willing to be honest about something that doesn’t make you look good. Most of the questions will give you obvious opportunities to talk about things you do well, so this one is a change of pace that gives the interviewer an idea of how you deal with quickly changing up what you need to think about. But, because it lets you show off positive qualities that don’t come up with most other questions, this one is an opportunity in disguise. You just need to be sure you’ve got a good answer that gives interviewers the information they want.

What Should I Avoid?

  • There’s a lot of advice out there about this question, and some of it is a disaster. One of the most common suggestions is to flip it on the interviewer.
  • You would do this by answering with a “weakness” that’s really a strength, turning a question about something undesirable into another opportunity to brag about how great you are.
  • That kind of answer would go something like, “I’m too much of a perfectionist. I just can’t ever do anything without putting in lots of extra time to make sure it’s perfect, so I sometimes work way too hard. Even if it means I’m putting in extra hours and giving up personal time, I just can’t let it go until I’ve done everything just right.”
  • The thinking here is that what you’re presenting as a weakness is really something that sounds like it would make you a great employee, since employers love people who will go the extra mile.
  • The problem with that idea is that interviewers can see through it and know it’s dishonest. True, it shows that you’ve thought about the question, but you’ve refused to answer what you were actually asked and instead just talked yourself up. That might actually be even worse than not having an answer ready at all. This is to be avoided at all costs.

So What Should I Say Instead?

You can turn the answer to this question into a positive for you, as long as you do it in a way that actually answers the question in the first place. Start by identifying a real weakness that you’ve seen in yourself; telling an interviewer about something you really aren’t great at shows honesty and a willingness to admit that you’re not perfect–those are both strengths the employer will appreciate. But don’t stop there. Your answer should also include an explanation of what you’ve done to try to improve on that area of weakness. That way you also show that you’re willing and able to make a real effort to get better at the things you don’t do well.

Can You Give Me An Example?

Of course! Say you’ve decided that you’re not so great at delegating responsibility. That’s a common problem for people who are new to supervising others–you’re used to doing things yourself, and it can be hard to feel comfortable relying on someone else to take care of important tasks that you’re ultimately responsible for. You might say something like, “When I first started having other people working under me, I realized I wasn’t doing as well as I could at giving them work to do. I held too many things back for myself to do because it was more comfortable for me to know it was going to be done. Since them, I’ve started reminding myself regularly that I need to let them do their jobs and that’s what lets me do mine. I have great people working for me, and knowing that I can trust them to do their part makes me better at my job too.” This makes clear that you understand your limitations but you also will put real effort into fixing them. As a bonus, it also shows that you respect the people you work with–an important point for any employer in any industry.

Summing It Up

The basic idea is that you need to give an honest answer that shows three very important things about yourself: you understand yourself well enough to know where you have room for improvement; you’re honest enough to admit that you’re not perfect even in a situation where you want to present yourself in a positive light; and you care enough about being a good person and a good employee to work at improving where you’re weak. Have an answer ready that will do that for you, and you’ll be well on your way to getting that perfect job.

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