How to Answer “What Is Your Greatest Weakness?” (Plus Examples!)
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“What is your greatest weakness?” Honestly, there’s no other interview question that feels like more of a trap.
If you’re too truthful, you might scare the hiring manager and blow your chances of getting the position. But if you’re not truthful enough, you’ll lose credibility. So how do you make it to the other side of this tightrope-walk of an interview question unscathed?
Well, the first thing to keep in mind is why the question is being asked—and it’s not to trip you up. Instead, your interviewer wants to see if you’re self-aware enough to recognize a flaw, and then self-motivated enough to fix it. How you’ve responded to (internal or external) feedback on your weaknesses is likely how you’ll respond to future feedback, like on an important team project that’s not coming together.
Answering this question can be a great opportunity to highlight how you've overcome a challenge in the past—or are actively working to do so now. After all, everyone has areas that could use improvement, but if you can describe how you've mitigated yours, you’ll seem strong, capable, and in charge of your professional development.
OK, that’s great, you're thinking, but what do I actually say? To help you out, we’ve laid out how to answer this question, plus some weaknesses you might use and example answers for some of the most common ones.
Read More: The Best Way to Talk About Your Strengths and Weaknesses in a Job Interview
How to answer “What’s your greatest weakness?”
Luckily, you can construct your answer to this question with a pretty simple formula:
- Clearly describe your weakness (preferably with specifics, not vague clichés hiring managers have heard hundreds of times).
- Give a short example of a time your weakness affected your work.
- Talk about what you’ve done to improve your weakness.
But putting together your answer is only one of the challenges here. The other is choosing a weakness to talk about.
How to choose a weakness to talk about in a job interview
If you were asked about your greatest strength in a job interview, your first instinct might be to pick a strength that’s integral to the job you’re applying for—and that instinct would be right. Predictably, when answering questions about your weaknesses, you’ll want to do the opposite. Choose a weakness that, while honest, is not a vital piece of the role you’re interviewing for. No one wants to hire an accountant who overlooks the details or a salesperson who gets nervous making cold calls.
25+ example weaknesses for a job interview
Here are some possible weaknesses you might focus on, but remember to be specific about how they apply to you when answering this question:
- Attention to all the small details
- Cold calling
- Explanations of complex or technical topics
- Feedback acceptance
- Feedback delivery
- Judgement of how much the small details matter
- Overly high standards
- Phone conversations
- Public speaking
- Responses to vague instructions
- Sense of when to stop tweaking or perfecting something
- Sense of when to ask more questions
- Time management
- Understanding of when and how to say no
- Verbal, nonverbal, or written communication
Example answers to “What is your greatest weakness?”
Here are example answers for a few of the weaknesses mentioned above, as well as some specific advice. Be sure to note how these answers avoid cliché responses and instead get more specific—and in turn sound more genuine.
1. Example answer you could use instead of “perfectionism”
You might be a perfectionist, but your interviewer has heard this answer a billion times (and from plenty of people who aren’t actually perfectionists, I might add). However, by presenting the symptoms, rather than just naming the affliction, you’ll sound much more sincere. Here’s one way you might do this:
“I tend to get caught up in the little details, which can distract me from the ultimate goal. When I was a junior web designer at Harold’s Hats, I was asked to revamp our size guide and make it more fun and visually interesting. Unfortunately, I became so fixated on finding the perfect font that I missed the deadline. These days, I break each project down into mini-tasks, each with their own deadline. If I spend too long on an individual thing, I set it aside and move on to the next one. Usually, by the time I come back to the imperfect piece, I can be more objective about whether or not it needs more work.”
2. Example answer you could use instead of “overly high standards”
This weakness is especially broad—in what areas are your standards too high? Are your standards too high for yourself or others? Be specific about when and how this has been an issue for you in your career. So you could say:
“It can be difficult for me to gauge when the people I’m working with are overwhelmed or dissatisfied with their workloads. When I first started at my current job, I laid out what I thought were reasonable deadlines without consulting my team and by the end of my first month, we were behind on some KPIs and well ahead on others. Some of my reports mentioned being bored, while others felt overwhelmed. So now, to ensure that I’m not asking too much or too little from my team, we have weekly check-ins. I like to ask if they feel like they’re on top of their workload, how I could better support them, whether there’s anything they’d like to take on or get rid of, and if they’re engaged by what they’re doing. Even if the answer is ‘all good,’ these meetings really lay the groundwork for an open and trusting relationship.”
3. Example answer you could use instead of “workaholism”
Let’s face it: In many offices, workaholics get pats on the back, not admonitions to take it easier. Claiming to be one (whether it’s true or not) may sound like you’re bragging. Here’s what to say instead:
“I need to get much better at knowing the difference between working hard and working productively. It’s easy for me to fall into the trap of thinking that long hours in the office mean I’m getting a lot done. But unsurprisingly, I actually do my best work when I’m not super tired or stressed. At my first job, I used to pride myself on 50+ hour weeks and the number of tasks I could get done rather than the quality of the work I was doing. But six months in, I was starting to feel burnt out and my first performance eval included feedback about how sloppy my work was.
“Nowadays, I’m making a huge effort to work smarter, not longer. I’ve begun responding to emails in batches so I don’t waste hours every day sorting through my inbox just so I could tell myself I responded to emails faster than anyone. I write down three goals every morning so that I’m focused on the priorities. I try to take my meetings outside so that I get some fresh air and exercise while we talk. These productivity changes have helped me compress the amount of work I accomplish into fewer hours—which also means I can produce higher-quality work.”
4. Example answer when your weakness really is “public speaking”
Public speaking didn’t used to be such a common answer, but it’s definitely getting more popular. You can still use it, but flesh out your answers with examples so that your interviewer knows you’re being truthful.
“I’ve heard that more people are scared of public speaking than death. Well, I wouldn’t say my fear is that extreme, but I definitely find it challenging to present my ideas in front of a crowd. As you can imagine, this has proven to be a career obstacle. I used to avoid speaking up at meetings and would turn down any assignment that included a presentation to a client—even though I knew it was vital to my professional development.
“I recently joined the local Toastmasters club. We meet every Friday night, and it’s actually become one of the things I look forward to each week! In addition, I regularly volunteer to speak at team meetings. Even though they’re small, they’re definitely helping me feel more comfortable sharing my ideas. All of this experience has made it far easier to explain to a room that, say, we need to invest in big data software.”
5. Example answer when your weakness is “delegation”
Difficulty delegating can be a weakness for many employees—especially as they progress in their careers and have more people to delegate to. But the specific way you struggled, the impact that had, and your current approach will be what sets your answer apart.
“Well, when I first started managing people I had a really hard time delegating. I would just think that it takes too much time to teach someone how to do something and just do it by myself. But when quarterly reviews came up, I saw what I’d been doing wrong. Not only was I dinged for missing a few deadlines, my teams’ evaluations of me said that they felt they weren’t learning. I realized not only can I not do everything alone and expect it all to get done, but I don’t want to be the kind of manager who ignores my team’s professional development. So each time I get a new task I make sure to see if there is someone more suitable on my team to do it than me—even if that means training someone on a new task. I’ve noticed that’s made me a much better manager.”
Whatever you choose to talk about, the trick is to sound genuine and to end things on a positive note. Rehearse your response so that you can give it easily and, more importantly, concisely—if you spend too much time talking about your flaws, it’s easy to dig yourself into a hole. Get past the “weakness” part of your answer as quickly as possible, so you can get back what’s most important: your (many!) strengths.