Answers like “I’m a perfectionist” or “I just work too hard” don’t sound authentic or honest.
by Gili Malinsky
Among the most popular interview questions an employer can ask a potential hire is “What are your weaknesses?”, according to Monster. At a moment when you’re trying to impress a potential employer, this can be a stressful question to try to answer.
But if it comes up, don’t panic. What’s important to remember is “what interviewers are looking for when they’re asking this question,” says Angelina Darrisaw, a career coach and founder of C-Suite Coach. “They’re looking to test your emotional intelligence” and to see “whether or not you are self aware.”
The question is an opportunity to showcase how you tackle challenges and to show different sides of your personality.
Here’s how to answer the interview question, “What are your weaknesses?”
Don’t mention weaknesses that are ‘main requirements for the role’
In anticipation of this question, research the company’s culture and values and thoroughly read the description of the role you could be filling.
“If they said something in the job description like, ‘you must be detail oriented,’” says Amanda Augustine, career expert at TopResume, “obviously you don’t want to pick apart the fact that you’re not detail oriented.” Instead, Augustine suggests mentioning weaknesses that are not “main requirements for the role.”
Show an employer ‘what you’ve done to overcome it’
When you mention a weakness or work habit you need to improve on, “the key thing” to show an employer is “what you’ve done to overcome it,” says Vicki Salemi, careers expert at Monster.
Say you’re someone who works quickly. Augustine suggests you might say something like: “I’ve always found that I’m striving for the most efficient way to do anything. Over time I’ve learned that sometimes that leads to cutting corners.”
But to note how you’ve grown, she adds, include something along the lines of, now “I review my work to ensure that I’m still getting things done quickly and ahead of deadline, but that they’re also of high quality and error free.”
If you’re a manager and you discovered you’re not great at delegating, you could say something like, “I’ve engaged in 360 feedback from my team and realized that I was not delegating enough,” says Darrisaw. But knowing that, “I built out better project management tools to ensure that I was being a more collaborative team player.”
Use the STAR method
In figuring out how to tell the story of those weaknesses you’re working to improve, Augustine suggests using the STAR interview response method. STAR stands for situation, task, action, results — all the key components you want to include in your answer.
“The idea is to brainstorm out different stories from your past experience where you were either faced with a situation or you were given a task that you had to complete,” she says. “You describe the actions you took and then the end result. And even if the end result wasn’t fantastic, it could be, ‘What did I learn from this?’ or, ‘What would I do differently now that I’ve had such an experience under my belt?’”
‘Avoid the clichés’
And another thing to remember when answering this question: “Avoid the clichés,” says Darrisaw.
Supposed weaknesses that people often point to like, “I’m a perfectionist” or “I just work too hard” don’t sound authentic or honest, says Augustine.
In part, interviewers are trying to get a read on who you are as a person and whether your personality and temperament fit with the team. These clichés don’t sound like they represent you in earnest, and could even come across as bragging.
These answers can sound like, “I’m really trying to tell you I’m amazing,” says Augustine. But hiring managers “see through that.”