How to Describe Your Weaknesses in a Job Interview

Written by Coursera • Updated on

Turn this challenging interview question into a highlight of your potential.

[Featured image] One woman speaks while the other listens, with a laptop in the foreground.

“What are your weaknesses?” is a common interview question and one that can intimidate job seekers because it means having to confess shortcomings to a company decision-maker. What kind of judgments will the interviewer form based on your answers to this question? How might your weaknesses affect your chances of getting the job? 

Employers want to gain a holistic understanding of you as a potential employee. By asking you about your skills and experiences, as well as how you evaluate yourself and pursue professional development, interviewers can better evaluate your suitability for the position. 

The great news is that questions about your weaknesses can actually be your opportunity to shine during an interview. With the right mindset and strategy, you can answer the weaknesses question honestly while presenting yourself as an asset to employers. 

What weakness should I talk about? 

So what are good weaknesses to describe in a job interview? In this section, you’ll make a list of potential candidates, evaluate them, and then narrow down your list, before preparing actual answers for your interview. 

1. Reframe weaknesses as growth opportunities.  

Before you do anything else, shift out of a critical frame of mind and into a positive one by thinking of weaknesses as growth opportunities. 

To make this shift, reflect on these questions and write down everything that comes to mind: 

  • What would you be capable of in your professional life if you took advantage of every growth opportunity? 

  • What would you strive for if all thoughts of failure or falling short dissolved? 

2. Explore growth opportunities in all areas of your professional life.

You’ve reframed the idea of a weakness as a growth opportunity, now identify actual growth opportunities that can help you perform your role, from skills you need to build to the productivity methods you need to implement.

Draw from these examples:

Opportunities to grow technical skills:

 

  • Mastering the latest software in your industry 

  • Improving your writing abilities 

  • Learning data analysis 

Opportunities to grow workplace skills: 

  • Practicing active listening with colleagues 

  • Paying more attention to the details of a task 

  • Coming up with solutions to problems 

Opportunities to grow interpersonal skills:

  • Asking for support 

  • Motivating and encouraging colleagues

  • Moderating difficult conversations at work 

Opportunities to improve productivity:

  • Prioritizing tasks

  • Optimizing your schedule

  • Focusing your attention on one task at a time

  • Delegating tasks

3. Reflect on feedback you’ve received. 

Look back on the jobs you’ve had, classes you’ve taken, or teams you’ve collaborated with to achieve a goal. Write down the ways in which mentors, managers, teachers, and colleagues evaluated your performance. 

For example, team members may have asked you to communicate with them more often when issues arose. Or perhaps there were tasks you could have completed more skillfully.  

Write down what you learned from this feedback and how you implemented it. How might there still be room for improvement in these areas? Who can you ask in your current network to offer constructive feedback?

4. Prioritize growth opportunities that are actionable. 

Review your notes so far and highlight the growth opportunities that you can easily take concrete action to improve upon. That way, when it comes time to answer the weakness question in your interview, you’ll be able to demonstrate not only the growth opportunity but your growth potential as a professional. 

For example, you can build new technical skills by taking courses or improve verbal communication skills by joining a discussion group. 

5. Narrow down your list of weaknesses.

By now, you should have a list of growth opportunities that you can use to answer the weakness question. It’s important to select the weaknesses from your list that will best present you as an asset to the company you’re interested in working for. Here are some strategies for narrowing down your list:

  • Exclude overused weakness examples, such as being a perfectionist or a workaholic. Interviewers hear these answers often. Instead, take this opportunity to demonstrate your ability to self reflect more deeply. 

  • Review the essential requirements of the job you’re applying for. If you have weaknesses in these areas, strike them from your list of weaknesses to describe to your interviewer, as these may disqualify you from the job. You can always seek additional skills training in these areas and ask your interviewer about opportunities to improve during a different part of the interview.

How to describe weaknesses in an interview 

Once you’ve prepared a list of weaknesses and narrowed it down, you’ll then need to prepare your answer. 

Some interviewers may be aware of how uncomfortable the weakness question can make job candidates feel, so they may come up with alternative phrasing. Keep your ears open for any version of the weakness question:

  • “What are some of your top areas for improvement and what steps are you taking to improve?” 

  • “What are some of your professional challenges and how are you tackling them?” 

  • “What would colleagues or mentors say you need to work on and what ideas do you have for doing that?”

No matter how the weakness question is phrased during the interview itself, your goal should be to answer it honestly, exhibit self-awareness and commitment to excellence, and offer value to the company.

To prepare your answer, use this strategy: 

  1. Identify a growth opportunity. 

  2. Identify how you noticed it or a situation in which it arose.

  3. Describe the action steps you’re taking to improve. 

Below are sample answers to the weakness question to exhibit self-awareness, interest in finding areas to improve upon, and commitment to excellence.

Sample technical skills answer:

“As a content writer, one growth opportunity I’ve identified is getting better at building the right information architecture. 

In previous writing positions, the short pieces I’ve written have gotten great results in the form of new subscribers, followers, and even paying customers. But as I build longer pieces of content, I’m noticing that I need a better approach to structuring content so that people read all the way to the bottom and take action.

Two ways I’m improving in the area of information architecture are: 1) taking courses in content writing, technical writing, and UX writing, and 2) testing the success of my own blog content.”  

Sample interpersonal skills answer: 

“I’d like to improve at reaching out for help and asking questions when I get stuck. 

In previous roles, I often attempted to work through challenges independently because I didn’t want to reveal gaps in my training or skill set. This would often make tasks and projects take longer than if I’d simply reached out to a colleague or manager with my questions. 

One way I’m getting better at asking for help is by reserving time each week to make a list of challenges I’m facing and then reach out immediately to people who can help.”

Sample productivity / workplace skills answer: 

“One area for improvement is sticking to my own priorities and deadlines while also being available to support colleagues. 

In previous roles, I’ve felt compelled to help colleagues with their tasks, even when my own deadlines are looming, in an effort to find allies at work. This resulted in having to work really fast on my projects, and in some cases, skip important steps in order to meet deadlines.

I’ve been working on this recently by identifying priority projects and tasks and scheduling calendar notifications. I’ve also composed an email template to use when letting colleagues know when I can offer help once I’ve met my own deadlines.” 

Next steps 

As you continue along your career path and interview for new positions, you might find it useful to keep a list of growth opportunities. Periodically ask yourself: What can I do to learn more and improve? How might I apply these learnings to my personal and professional life? That way, you can have ready-made answers to the weakness question at your fingertips and adopt a growth mindset. 

Remember to prepare thoroughly for any upcoming interview by researching the company, planning the logistics, and crafting potential answers to behavioral questions.

Build job-ready skills for a career in project management, cybersecurity, IT support, data analytics, or user experience (UX) design with a Professional Certificate on Coursera. Upon completion, gain access to resources to enhance your resume and practice your interview skills.

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