Careers advice

How to answer the 'your biggest weakness' interview question

This question can seem scary, but there are some easy tactics you can use to answer it well.

“Sometimes I miss deadlines”.

“I find it hard to get on with people who don’t agree with me”.

“I get stressed easily and freeze up”.

These are all examples of how not to answer the biggest weakness interview question, which is very common in NZ job interviews.

Many applicants fear this one, but you don’t have to – there are proven tactics for responding honestly, without raising any red flags. Let’s take a look.

The biggest weakness question is a common one in NZ job interviews.

What are your weaknesses? The approach

The wording of this question varies, and common examples include:

  • “What are your weaknesses?”
  • “Tell me about your weaknesses.”
  • “What is your greatest weakness?”
  • “If I called your manager, what would they say you need to work on?”

Before we dive into specific weakness examples you can use, it’s important to think about your approach.

1. Talk about something non-essential

You wouldn’t go for an IT job and give your biggest weakness as technophobia. You wouldn’t apply to be a chef and say you don’t cope under pressure.

However, an IT recruiter probably wouldn’t care if you struggle with drawing up budgets. A restaurant owner is unlikely to worry that you aren’t brilliant at public speaking.

So, a good tactic is choosing weaknesses that won’t impact your ability to perform your job.

Of course, don’t take this too far. If you tell a construction manager you’re worried about your lack of Spanish language ability, they’ll ask for another example. But keep things sensible, and you’re onto a winner.

2. Show you’re working on it

Whatever weakness you choose, show you’re trying to improve.

This demonstrates self-awareness, and a desire to improve, both of which are attractive qualities to employers. Give examples, e.g. courses you’re taking, and tell them about any progress you’ve made.

3. Be positive

Your body language and the way you project yourself is very important in a job interview, and when answering this question in particular.

While you’re talking about negative traits, it’s crucial you stay positive and don’t let nervous habits creep in. Be sure to:

  • Gesture with open palms and keep eye contact – these habits indicate honesty.
  • Sit straight – this shows confidence in what you’re saying.
  • Avoid distractions – keep pens, phones and other items out of reach so you’re not tempted to pick them up when answering.

Use open and honest body language when talking about your weaknesses.

4. Don’t be cliched, or too honest

You’ll probably read that turning a negative into a positive is a good way to deal with the biggest weakness question. It isn’t – job interviewers see right through this technique.

This means you can write off responses like “I’m too much of a perfectionist” or “I work too hard and don’t give myself breaks”.

Perhaps even worse is claiming you don’t have any weaknesses at all. Candidates often resort to this when they’re panicking because they forgot to prepare a response. So, do a mock interview beforehand and make sure your answer is believable.

On the flipside, don’t be too honest. Telling the interviewer you get lazy in the afternoons, or sometimes make silly mistakes isn’t going to help your cause.

What are your weaknesses? Examples

The idea of ‘good’ weaknesses for a job interview is a weird one, but these tried and tested examples are a great place to start:

1. Public speaking

Being able to communicate well is important in nearly every job, but this isn’t the same as public speaking. Very few roles will require you to regularly give speeches to large groups of people, so this is a reasonable, but non-problematic, weakness in many situations.

You might want to add you don’t have problems in smaller groups, and that you’re keen to work on this weakness by practicing in front of increasingly bigger audiences.

2. Delegating tasks

This is a good weakness for three reasons:

  • It shows you take responsibility – employers love staff who take pride in their work and want to see tasks through to the end.
  • It shows consideration – this weakness also demonstrates you’re aware of other peoples’ workloads, and don’t want to add to them.
  • It’s a genuine weakness – no one can do all the work themselves, and delegating is healthy and effective.

You need to be careful not to stray into “I care too much” territory with this one, but if you can back it up and show what you’re doing to tackle the problem, it’s a great option.

Public speaking is a popular weakness to choose in job intervierws.

3. I get nervous providing feedback

Most staff provide feedback to colleagues and even to their managers from time to time.

This can be a nerve-wracking thing to do, especially if you worry about hurting peoples’ feelings, but is unlikely to impact your effectiveness in the role. Again, it’s an easy fix and you can show how you’re working on it.

4. Getting impatient

You don’t want to come across hot-headed or aggressive, but everyone has felt impatient with teammates from time to time if they deliver substandard work or miss deadlines.

Here, you need to show you've adapted your approach to these people over time. Tell the hiring manager how you’ve learnt to provide constructive criticism, or worked with struggling colleagues to help them up their game.

Remember, at the end of the interview, you’ll have a chance to ask some questions of your own. This is a great opportunity to enquire about training or upskilling opportunities, and demonstrate your eagerness to learn and develop.