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How to effectively discuss your weaknesses in job interviews

Written by Barbara Matthews
May 17, 2024
Barbara Matthews


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There’s one question you can almost bank on in a job interview: what are your weaknesses?

Answering this question well can help you create a great first impression. But how can you discuss your weaknesses without selling yourself short? 

The trick is to demonstrate that you know what your weaknesses are. That’s step one. You also have to explain how you’ve taken the initiative to turn your weaknesses into opportunities for professional growth. 

This article offers strategies to frame your answers to this common job interview question in a positive light and, in turn, demonstrate your potential as a job candidate.

Understanding the importance of the “weaknesses” question

Navigating the “weaknesses” question can demonstrate self-awareness and commitment to growth in your career.

Let’s look at why interviewers even ask this question and how cultural differences might come into play here.

Why do interviewers ask about weaknesses?

When an interviewer inquires about your weaknesses, they’re not trying to “trap” you. Instead, they’re seeking insights into your self-awareness and commitment to personal growth. 

Your answer to “What are your weaknesses?” serves as a lens through which the hiring manager can evaluate your ability to reflect, accept feedback, and strive for self-improvement.

Being candid about your weaknesses demonstrates maturity and a realistic view of your skill set. It’s not about highlighting flaws that undermine your candidacy; rather, it’s about showing your awareness of areas in which you have room for growth.

For instance, if public speaking isn’t your strong suit, acknowledging this fact and detailing the steps you’re taking to improve, like attending workshops, reflects a growth mindset. And a growth mindset is one of the top soft skills that recruiters look for.

A hiring manager appreciates a candidate who can critically assess their skills, understand feedback, and take proactive steps to improve.

Pro tip: Choose a weakness that doesn’t directly conflict with any of the core requirements listed in the job description.

The impact of cultural differences in global interviews

In the realm of global HR, cultural differences significantly impact how strengths and weaknesses are perceived and communicated. For example, being direct and forthright about one’s weaknesses is valued in some cultures, while in others, it can be seen as inappropriate or too self-critical.

Similarly, what’s even considered a weakness can vary. For example, in cultures where public speaking is highly valued, a lack of confidence in this area might be seen as a significant shortcoming.

Understanding these nuances is crucial in a global work environment. Fortunately, this cultural sensitivity is a strength in itself, as it demonstrates adaptability and respect for diverse work practices.

How to identify your weaknesses

Knowing your weaknesses is a crucial step in your personal and professional development. It’s about not just acknowledging areas for improvement but also embracing a growth mindset. 

Here are some strategies to help you accurately pinpoint your weaknesses and prepare your answer to the weaknesses question.

Reflect on your experiences: Whether it’s a professional skill that needs polishing or a personal trait that requires refinement, your history holds valuable clues. Think about instances when you faced challenges or received constructive feedback. These moments can reveal areas where you need growth or improvement. 

Get feedback from others: Don’t shy away from asking for constructive feedback. Whether from colleagues, managers, or mentors, perspectives from others can provide an unbiased view of areas you might overlook.

A collage of logos from four leading self-assessment tools—16 Personalities, Holland Code, Enneagram Institute, and Ikigai

Here are some continuous learning and feedback tools you can use to help you identify your weaknesses:

  • 16Personalities: This tool helps you understand your preferred work style based on your personality type, which might offer insights into potential weaknesses.

  • Holland Code (RIASEC): The Holland Code matches your interests to careers by highlighting areas you’re less drawn to — or potential weaknesses. You can also learn about what you are drawn to, or potential strengths.

  • Enneagram: Understanding which of the Enneagram’s nine personality types you fall under can reveal core motivations and areas for personal development.

  • Ikigai: Ikigai, a Japanese concept, helps align your passion, mission, vocation, and profession. This helps you indentify areas where you might not feel as fulfilled or competent.

Using these self-assessment strategies and tools can give you a clearer understanding of your weaknesses and your strengths. This process isn’t about dwelling on shortcomings but recognizing them as opportunities for growth and development.

Expert strategies for discussing 7 common weaknesses in interviews

Discussing weaknesses in job interviews can be a strategic opportunity. Here’s how to turn seven potential negatives into positive traits:

common professional weaknesses

1. Overcommitment

Overcommitment often arises from a desire to be highly involved and contribute extensively, reflecting a strong work ethic and commitment. However, it can lead to stretching oneself too thin, affecting the quality of work.

The positivity of this trait lies in thoroughness and responsibility, showing an eagerness to engage and do one’s part. It also suggests that robust time management and prioritization skills are still developing.

Sample answer: “I’ve realized that my eagerness can lead to overcommitment. I’m learning to prioritize more effectively, ensuring that each task receives the attention it deserves while maintaining a healthy work-life balance.”

2. Shyness

Shyness in professional settings can initially seem like a barrier to assertive communication and visibility. However, it’s often accompanied by excellent listening skills, thoughtfulness, and a capacity for deep work. It suggests an individual who’s observant, reflective, and able to contribute meaningfully from a unique perspective. 

This trait can be particularly valuable in roles that require careful consideration and attention to detail.

Sample answer: “I tend to be shy, so I have had to work on both my interpersonal and public speaking skills. However, this trait has honed my listening and observation skills. I’ve found that it allows me to contribute thoughtfully and meaningfully, particularly in providing constructive feedback.”

3. Self-criticism

Being overly self-critical can prevent you from acknowledging achievements and maintaining confidence. 

However, this trait is also typically linked to a deep-seated drive for excellence and continuous improvement. It indicates a commitment to personal and professional growth, an eagerness to learn from mistakes, and the ability to continually adapt and enhance one’s skills.

Sample answer: “I’ve been overly critical of my work in the past, but I see this as a drive for self-improvement. I’m learning to balance my self-criticism by acknowledging my successes while striving for further growth.”

4. Procrastination

Procrastination is often viewed as a sign of poor time management. However, it can also indicate an ability to work well under pressure and handle last-minute challenges effectively.

This trait can be beneficial in fast-paced environments where adaptability and quick thinking are valued. It suggests a potential for creative problem-solving and the ability to deliver quality results, even under tight deadlines.

Sample answer: “I’ve noticed a tendency to procrastinate, which I’m addressing by working on my time management skills. This trait has also helped me develop the ability to perform well under pressure, and I’m known for turning urgent tasks around quickly.”

5. Impatience

Impatience can impact team dynamics and collaborative efforts, but it also indicates a person driven by results and efficiency. It reflects a proactive, goal-oriented mindset that thrives on achieving goals and seeing projects through to completion.

This trait can be an asset where work is fast-paced, as it shows commitment to progress and efficiency.

Sample answer: “My impatience stems from a passion for seeing projects through to completion efficiently. I’ve been working on my leadership skills, though, and I’m learning to channel this energy into motivating my team. My goal is to drive progress without compromising work quality.”

6. Perfectionism

Striving for perfection can hinder one’s professional life by leading to excessive focus on details and potential delays in project completion. However, this trait is also closely tied to a dedication to producing high-quality work. People with perfectionism can produce results with the highest standards. 

When well-balanced, perfectionism can be a catalyst for excellence. It drives individuals to produce exceptional and detailed work that stands out for its quality and thoroughness.

Sample answer: “My perfectionism is rooted in my commitment to quality, which I consider one of my most essential skills. I’m focused on producing exceptional work, and I’m learning to balance this by setting realistic standards and acknowledging the value of progress over perfection.”

7. Overthinking

Characterized by excessive analysis or rumination over decisions, overthinking can lead to delays in action and decision-making. However, this trait often comes from a desire to thoroughly understand situations and consider all possible outcomes. It indicates a deep level of engagement with tasks and a careful, analytical approach to problem-solving.

Overthinkers tend to be detail-oriented and conscientious, qualities that are invaluable in roles that require meticulous planning and risk assessment. Their deep thoughts can lead to innovative solutions and thorough strategies.

Sample answer: “I tend to overthink things, but I believe this reflects my thorough approach to problem-solving. I’m learning to channel this tendency into productive analysis and implementing decision deadlines to make sure they are well-considered and timely.”

Highlighting strengths during your interview

When discussing weaknesses during an interview, it’s important to weave in your strengths, too. This balance helps you present a well-rounded narrative, showcasing your self-awareness and ability to grow. 

When mentioning a personal weakness, follow it with a strength that either compensates for or is directly related to it. This approach transforms a tricky interview question into an opportunity to highlight your skills that are relevant to the position you’re interviewing for. 

For instance, if you discuss a tendency to overthink, pair it with your strengths in thorough analysis and problem-solving. This shows that you can turn a challenging trait into a valuable skill. 

The key is to not give a cop-out answer but to maintain honesty and a reflective tone — in addition to making sure that your strengths align with the weaknesses discussed. This strategy not only answers the question but also shows you are introspective, adaptable, and growth-oriented.

Interviewing for remote jobs

With 65% of professionals preferring a 100% remote arrangement and 57% willing to change jobs for it, the trend toward remote work is undeniable.

professionals who prefer different working arrangements

If you apply for a remote position, you might have to answer the weaknesses question during a virtual interview. While online interactions aren’t the same as in-person ones, you can still show genuine interest in the position and growth mindset through the screen. 

Before your interview, make sure you’re prepared to answer the weaknesses question, as well as other tough interview questions. Dress professionally and ensure your background is clean and distraction-free. And of course, be your authentic self so your personality can shine through.

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