Every candidate knows they are going to be asked about their weaknesses. Yet, this line of questioning still provokes deep fear and anxiety for many. They are unsure of how to respond well without exposing their deepest vulnerabilities or coming across as inauthentic. Below are some tips to help you ace this question, ensuring it doesn’t undermine your chances of securing the position.    

Be straightforward 

Don’t be caught off guard or act surprised by this question. I have interviewed dozens of job candidates over several decades and the worst examples of this I have seen is when people say something like “I can’t think of any” or “Ummm, now let me think… I can’t recall anything specific off the top of my head.” My alternative tip is to prepare for the question and to answer it in a straightforward, authentic, and assured way. Remember that everyone has vulnerabilities and weaker areas so you don’t need to “act surprised” or even worse, beat around the bush or try to water down your response.

Be honest and specific

One of the traps people often fall into is to be dishonest or vague about their weaknesses. They use clichés like “I don’t spend enough time on my self-development” or “I’m a real perfectionist” to disguise their real performance risks. Instead, be specific and totally honest about your one or two biggest performance risks and explain to the interviewer how you’ve learnt to mitigate these risks offering several examples by way of illustration. The interviewer will value your self-awareness and honesty which is what most interviewers are looking for. You will also avoid getting bogged down in the traps of being guarded, vague or defensive or even worse, telling ever-bigger lies to cover up if a savvy interviewer decides to probe your response.

Talk about your overused talents  

When your greatest talents are overused, they can lead to unintended negative consequences that undermine your performance and relationships. They also become viewed as weaknesses by co-workers and others around you. Recent studies show that overused talents and strengths are a greater source of performance problems for people than more obvious weaknesses and shortfalls in competence. For example, when overused, understanding others and empathy can become overinvolvement, positivity can become overbearing excitement, creativity can become idea overload and decisiveness can become recklessness. By being aware of your overused talents and sharing these with the interviewer in response to the weakness question, you will be showing excellent self-awareness. Tell the interviewer how you’ve learned to recognise the situational triggers of these overused behaviours and mitigate any negative risks associated with them. This conveys excellent self-awareness and should impress most interviewers who may not even have this level of insight themselves.

Final tips to prepare for this question

  1. Before the interview, write down the one or two biggest performance risks that show up for you. Don’t just think about your obvious weaker areas, think about your overused talents too. 
  2. Now write down the impact of these risks – for you, the team, and the organization. Think about how these risks are perceived by your co-workers and other stakeholders as you can use this insight to demonstrate you have good self-awareness during the interview.
  3. Finally, write down next to each what you’re learning and doing to improve or mitigate each weakness or performance risk.
  4. Go through what you’ve written a number of times before the interview, and you’ll nail the “what are your greatest weaknesses” question in the interview.   

About the Author

James is a leadership and talent consultant, business psychologist, and executive coach. He has over 25 years’ experience working with leaders, teams, and organizations to optimize their talent, performance, and future success.

Before moving into consulting, James held corporate leadership roles in People and Talent Management in the UK and abroad with companies such as Yahoo! and Novo Nordisk Pharmaceuticals. Since moving into talent consulting and assessment design, he has supported leaders and teams globally across many sectors and geographies. Clients he has worked with include Allen & Overy, Commvault, Equinor, Graze, LVMH, Facebook, GSK, Hilton, John Lewis, Novartis Pharmaceuticals, NHS, Oracle, Sainsbury's, Swiss Re, Tesco, WSP and Yahoo! James has founded and run several ventures, including Strengthscope®, an international strengths assessment and development business, that he sold in 2018.

James has a Master’s in Organizational Psychology, an MBA, and an Advanced Diploma in Executive Coaching. He is a regular writer and speaker on talent assessment and development, leadership, and the future of work.