Seven tips for answering the question about your weaknesses

Melanie Pölking 02.12.2014
It’s one of the standard questions in any interview: “What are your weaknesses?” But do you know why this question is actually asked and what sort of answers are expected? We all have negative character traits. To deny that in a job interview would be to ruin your chances right out of the gate. Here are a few points that will help you give good answers to the questions about your positive and negative traits during job interviews.

Admittedly, the question about your negative traits is not an easy one. That’s probably why some people try to evade it with humor: “You know, actually my weaknesses are beautiful women and beer.” Yet the aim of personnel managers isn’t to uncover your “defects” during the interview and expose you. Rather, they want to know whether you can look at yourself objectively. And if so, what you do with that self-awareness.

2. With regard to the question of weaknesses in the interview, that means:

Take a close look at yourself. Find out what some of your bad traits are. Create a list with all the traits that you would consider negative: little practical experience, impatience, not very good at tolerating disagreements, being a perfectionist, preferring to go it alone, etc. For your interview, select the traits that are negative but not necessarily relevant to the job. If you’re applying for a job as a helicopter pilot, for example, it wouldn’t be very good to mention your latent fear of heights in your response.

3. Avoid platitudes when possible

Naturally, you can use popular guides on how to apply for jobs to help you answer the questions about positive and negative traits during the interview. But in your answer, you shouldn’t make the mistake of simply parroting traits that you’ve read about. The examples listed in section 2 above are classics that human resources specialists hear all the time. Do the traits in question really apply to you? And if so, why? To back up everything you say, you should always be able to provide examples from your prior day-to-day job experience.

4. Caution!

Human resources personnel earn their living by asking people questions in job interviews and sounding them out. Many people try, and fail, to steer clear of the question by incorporating a supposedly clever weakness into their answers. To give a negative example: “I’m awfully ambitious. I never go home before 8 P.M. and don’t feel good until I’ve taken care of everything.” Avoid pseudo-weaknesses of that kind. They’re the source of only pseudo-strengths, after all. The human resources specialist will then try to uncover your real negative traits with specific questions.

5. Instead, show the interviewer that you’ve reflected on it

“I don’t especially like speaking in front of a large group. I remember a situation at the last company meeting where I was pretty unsure of myself. At that point, I decided to work on it, and I attended a course on public speaking.” With answers like that, you not only demonstrate honesty but also show, at the same time, that you are prepared to work on your negative traits. Dealing with your weaknesses in a constructive way is good and absolutely speaks well of you.

6. Avoid extremes

The sentence above could also be formulated differently. “I’m a terrible speaker. Whenever I speak publicly, I fail utterly and completely. When I think of the last company meeting, I get cold shivers down my spine.” Be careful not to lay it on too thick! The more hopeless you portray your weakness as being, the more difficult it will be for you to propose a solution to address it.

7. Nothing is absolutely negative

When you have your list of negative traits in front of you, take a close look. What are at first glance bad traits always have positive sides too. Consider this example:

“One of my weaknesses is that I always let everything lie and then finish it all at the very last minute.”

By implication, that means: “I can work well under pressure and get a lot done in a short time.”

So whether an aspect is considered negative or positive is always in the eye of the beholder. It might be an area that you feel needs improvement, but your potential employer may see it entirely differently.

For more tips on the question about your weaknesses, watch the careerloft video:

Become a careerloft member and apply for the online Scholarship Program

Benefit from attractive support services and make valuable contacts with top international employers! At careerloft you’ll be able to find the perfect job and employer for you.

Register for free Icon careerloft Icon arrows