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How to answer: "What are your weaknesses?"

It's there's one interview question that everyone dreads, it's "What are your weaknesses?" Of course, it's natural to want to do one of two things here. Either you want to reply "I don't have any" or start reeling off every single flaw that you have.

The key to answering this question successfully is to show restraint.

'The key to answering a "weaknesses" job interview question is to show restraint'

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We've put together a list of how to answer "What are your weaknesses?" in all its different forms. Before you begin reading though, take a look at this useful video from FireBrand Talent on how to approach this type of question:

What am I being asked?

The first thing you need to be aware of with the "weaknesses" interview question is that there are several variations. You won't always be asked "what are your weaknesses?" outright. Sometimes, the question will be asked in a more indirect way, or masked behind specific wording. Some variations on the question include:

  • What would your current manager or colleagues say is your biggest weakness?
  • What has been your biggest mistake in your career to date?
  • If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?
  • Are you working on any development goals at the moment?
  • What areas in your career do you feel you need to improve on?

Although each of these questions may appear to be asking completely different things at first, they actually all warrant the same type of response. There are two parts to answering this question.

The first is identifying your weakness and the second is explaining what you’re doing to overcome it.

What approach should I take?

How to answer "What are you weaknesses?" depends on what your weakness actually is! There are two main ways you can choose to answer the question: directly or indirectly.

Here are some common ways you can respond to this type of question directly:

  • My biggest weakness is that I'm too honest. If someone asks me what I think I can't help but speak my mind and answer honestly and truthfully. I'm working to improve this by taking the time to think of my response before I speak.
  • Try turning your weakness into a positive when

    answering the big question

    My greatest weakness is that I'm too eager to please. Sometimes I'm so fixated on over-delivering that I go above and beyond to help customers and colleagues. However, I aim to develop this weakness by continually referring to my job description and what's expected of me.
  • My weakness is that I don’t like confrontation. If have to deal with a complaint or an angry customer, I tend to defuse the situation by reassuring them that I will help fix their problem. I plan to improve on this by building my confidence when speaking with customers.
  • My weakness is that I work too hard sometimes. I've been told by previous managers that I don't need to take on as much work as I do. I'm overcoming this however, by taking regular breaks throughout the day and asking for help when I need it.
  • My greatest weakness is that I become too involved in my work. Sometimes I become so passionate about my job that I find it difficult to detach myself from projects. I'm working to improve this however, by taking the time to appreciate when I've really achieved something.

Turn a weakness into a positive

The key to answering the question "What are your weaknesses?" question directly is to choose a weakness that you can turn into a positive. Don't choose anything that can be viewed as too negative, e.g. "my greatest weakness is that I'm lazy". Instead, choose something that isn't really such a bad quality to have.

What you're aiming to do in your response is to leave the interviewers with the feeling that you answered the question in full but that your weakness won't affect your ability to do the job and may in fact actually help.

How to respond indirectly

Choose a weakness that isn't directly related to the role

If you feel it's more appropriate to answer the question in a less obvious but clever way, you might want to choose a weakness that has nothing to do with the job you're interviewing for. For example, if you're interviewing for a job in transport and logistics, you could say that you're weakness is with advanced IT. In reality, it's unlikely that you'll need any advanced IT skills for this type of job and therefore your weakness will be seen as irrelevant.

Show that you no longer have a certain weakness

Another way to answer the question indirectly is to focus on a weakness that you used to have but no longer do. The key here is to focus on explaining how you overcame the weakness. For example, you a good answer might be:

When I first began my career in engineering, I was too shy to share my opinions. However, 2 years on I've worked hard to overcome my hesitations and now I feel confident in expressing my opinions.

Dismiss the question in a tactful way

An effective way of answering the question could be ignore it altogether. Now, we're not suggesting that you simply refuse to answer it, but if you change the focus of your answer to something different altogether, you can still give the impression that you answered it fully. For example, a good response could be:

I honestly don't think I have any weaknesses that would affect my ability to do this role. When I first saw the job advertised I was so excited about it that I simply had to apply straight away. I've heard so much about the company and I just know that it's the type of organisation that I'd like to work for. I feel I have a lot to offer the business.

Now you know how to answer "What are your weaknesses?", check out how to tackle other common interview questions.

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Image credits

Lead image by Freepik

Thinking man by Freepik