Talking about Your Weaknesses

One of the trickiest parts of interviewing is describing your weaknesses to an employer, and it comes up in almost every interview. Employers love this question because it is difficult and gives them a better idea of an applicant’s true character. Additionally, it also gives applicants the ability to think creatively, but most don’t take it as an opportunity to do so. Applicants are often afraid of this question because they don’t want the employer to get the wrong impression about their abilities. Another problem is that applicants are often afraid of saying that they have the wrong weakness and hurt their chances of getting the job.

Describing your weaknesses

While these are valid fears, they are not something you need to worry about if you know the trick to answering the question and selling yourself. I’m not talking about that old joke about making your weaknesses into strengths, such as, “I work too hard,” or “I care too much.” Employers know that trick and won’t respect you for using it. I’m talking about owning your weaknesses using your strengths to offset them.

Own Your Weaknesses

Everyone has weaknesses, and employers respect employees who realize this. They aren’t going to penalize someone for saying they are bad at something. They will pass on a candidate who says he don’t have any weaknesses or doesn’t know what they are. You need to understand your weaknesses and be honest about them.

It’s okay to say you struggle with prioritizing, as long as you know how to talk about it. Don’t make excuses and be honest.

Know Why and How They Hinder You

You need to understand what your weakness is and how it impacts your work. For example, if you have trouble prioritizing, you need to be able to explain why and how it could potentially affect your ability to do the job. The employer has already made this connection in his or her head, so it is okay to go ahead and explain how it can potentially affect your work. Employers will give you credit for not only knowing your weakness, but also knowing why it’s a problem.

If your relationships with your peers have suffered in the past, you can talk about how you know that it can potentially make it difficult to complete projects that require multiple people’s help.

You do need to clarify the nature of the problem. Rather than just saying you have trouble building relationships, you need to express what the reason is, because you don’t want it to seem like you are argumentative or difficult to get along with. If you don’t build relationships with peers, you should say that it is because you process information very internally, and you forget that other people need to understand your thoughts and reasoning before they are able to help you.

When you say this, though, you need to follow up with how you have learned to offset this weakness with one of you strengths.

Talk About Your Strengths

Don’t deflect from talking about your weaknesses by only talking about strengths. Use your strengths after you have explained your weaknesses to offset the problem. You want the employer to see that you don’t just focus on problems without finding solutions.

In the above example about having trouble building relationships with peers, you might talk about how you have learned to compensate for your natural tendency to process information internally by being a great communicator. By being naturally good at phrasing information, it has made it easier for you to try to communicate that information to your peers. While it still isn’t natural for you, your ability to communicate will help make it less of a struggle.

Talk About How You’re Improving

Any time you mention a weakness, you need to talk about what you are doing to improve. Employers want employees who don’t just see problems, but take the initiative to fix them. Talk about how you have learned to slow down and explain your thoughts to your peers, and that you try to communicate via email as you have thoughts on projects, so that you can keep your peers better informed. By talking about specific steps you have taken to neutralize the problem, your employer will see not only that you understand the problem, but that you have figured out how to fix it in order to not let your weakness hold you back in business.

Tips:

  • While employers truly want to know what your weakness is, you should be careful. If your weakness is a key function of the job, it may not be best to talk about it in the interview. You may choose to use another weakness for interviewing, or consider a different type of work, since you will have to work around your weakness every day.
  • Don’t list too many weaknesses in an interview. You may just want to list one or two. Trying to talk about too many may confuse you or get the interview off subject.
  • Most interviews ask about your strengths and weaknesses, so if there is one question you should prepare ahead of time, it is this one. Come up with a great answer ahead of time and practice delivering it, so that you are ready for your interview. This is a hard question to answer unprepared and a good answer makes you look like a great candidate, so do take the time to work on this.
  • Make sure that you are honest when you answer the question. Don’t say that building your relationships is your weakness if it is really something else. Your employer will figure out what your real challenge is when he works with you, and may not be happy if you lied.
  • If you are unsure what your weakness is, it isn’t because you don’t have one. You may not have thought of it in those terms. It doesn’t have to be something you are bad at, but rather, may be something that isn’t easy for your or isn’t natural for you to do.
  • Your weakness should be related to business, so don’t talk about your inability to pitch a baseball.
  • If you have trouble finding a good way to talk about your weaknesses, practice with a friend or talk to a staff member of a career resource center.
Peggy Carouthers

Author: Peggy Carouthers

In a previous life Peggy worked as a human resources and hiring manager for a major national retail chain. Her expertise is in job hunting, hiring, and HR. These days Peggy works as a writer, crafting content for a range of publications.
Peggy Carouthers