The weaknesses question: here´s how you answer it

By Robert Half 04/02/2017

One of the standard questions that you can get during a job interview is what your weak points are. Often one first asks what your strengths are, and then continues by asking what your weaknesses are. Naturally you’d probably prefer not to talk about any of your weaknesses, because this could have a negative impact on your chances in the application procedure. So how do you give a frank answer to this question without making a bad impression on your interlocutor?

The underlying purpose of the question

Before we say more about the best way to respond to the job interview question on weaknesses, it’s important that you understand the underlying purpose of the question. Most people think that the underlying purpose of the question is get to know the applicant, but there’s another important reason for asking it. Your interlocutor wants to know how well you know yourself, and whether you’ve already become acquainted with your possible weaknesses, but above all what you’ve done about these weak points. By asking what your weaknesses are, your interlocutor immediately gets a clear picture of your level of self-knowledge and personal development. So the question isn´t important so much in order to get to know you, but to test your self-knowledge and personal development.

Good answers to the job interview question on weaknesses

If you get the question about what your weak points are, there are three ways to answer it in a smart way.

  • Name a bad characteristic that can actually also be interpreted as a good characteristic. For example, if you´re a perfectionist, then you can give this as a bad characteristic, because perfectionism can also be interpreted as a good characteristic.
  • Name a bad characteristic that doesn´t really have any impact on the job you´re applying for. For example, if you´re applying for a position as a copywriter, you can confess that you´re rubbish at mathematics.
  • Name a bad characteristic that actually just happens to be good for the job you´re applying for. If you’re applying for a dynamic position where you’ll have to do a lot of travelling and will always be very busy, you can say that you´re no good at sitting still.

Bad answers to the job interview question on weaknesses

Along with ways of answering the question well, you can also respond to the question about your weak points in an altogether wrong way. For example, if you indicate that you don´t have any weaknesses, your interlocutor will probably conclude that you either have absolutely no self-knowledge or are hopelessly arrogant. If in response to the question you mention genuinely bad characteristics such as aggressiveness, laziness or arrogance, well of course that isn´t going to go over very well with your interlocutor either.

Here´s how you give the right answer

The easiest way to answer the question well about your weaknesses is by turning a weak characteristic into a good one. An example of a good answer to the question is the following: ´I sometimes take on too much work, because I want to be sure that jobs are done carefully and correctly. In my previous job I learned to delegate more, so that I can also make use of the expertise of others´. In this case, you first acknowledge that you have a weakness, in order to turn this weakness around and indicate how you’re dealing with it.

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