Out of all the interview questions I’m asked to help with, “What are your weaknesses?” is one that often worries people the most. I completely understand why it makes people nervous. It’s a tricky question because interviews are your opportunity to impress the interviewer and convince them that you’re the perfect person for the job. The last thing that feels sensible to do is to spell out your bad points. Another problem with this question is that we sometimes don’t know what our weaknesses are; we all have blind spots. This article will teach you how to work out what your weaknesses are and answer the interview question, “What are your weaknesses?” with confidence. There is also a free PDF document to use when planning out your answers.
The key to answering all interview questions is to keep in mind what the interviewer is actually looking for. When they ask you what your weaknesses are, the information they really want to know is:
- How self-aware are you?
- When you have an area that needs developing, do you ignore it, or find ways to deal with it and improve the situation?
- Could one of your weaknesses mean you aren’t the right person for the job?
The answers that people are often tempted to give are ones that they don’t think are ‘real’ weaknesses. Instead, they think they show them as hard-working and committed. They are usually along these lines:
“I can be too much of a perfectionist.”
“I’m so hardworking and driven, I prioritise work over everything else.”
The problem with these answers is that they seem insincere (because they are used so often) and they don’t tick off points one and two above. Also, although these answers might not have raised any red flags a few years ago, the increased understanding of mental health means that they might do now. Who of us hasn’t had a colleague, family member or friend have to take time off from work because their perfectionism or commitment has led to anxiety, depression or burnout?
The best possible answers are the ones that show you are self-aware and that you have put things in place to tackle your weaknesses. If you’re reading this thinking ‘but I actually have no idea what my weaknesses are’ there are two quick ways of figuring this out.
Identifying your weaknesses
1. Looking at your strengths: If you’re not aware of your weaknesses, there’s also a good chance that you don’t know what your strengths are. Your strengths are your highly developed skills that energise you when you use them. If this is the case, you are certainly not alone; for most of us, our strengths come so easily to us that we dismiss them as strengths and assume that they are easy for everyone (when they’re not). A great way of discovering your strengths (as well as asking for feedback – see point 2 below) is to take a strengths test. My favourite one is Gallup’s CliftonStrengths (you only need to pay for the first 5 strengths, you can ignore the upsell they will try to do to get you to unlock the rest of your strengths). If you’d like to know more about strengths and the CliftonStrengths assessment, I’ve written about them in detail here and take a deep dive into them in the video below. If you’d prefer a free strengths test, then the High 5 Test is a good alternative.