Careers advice

How to answer the 'your biggest weakness' interview question (with examples)

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

What you’ll learn:

  • Why do interviewers ask this question?
  • The approach to take in answering this question.
  • Examples with of weaknesses to use in an interview (with samples).

“I’m too much of a perfectionist”.

“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. As well as outlining the approach you should take, we’ve got some example answers using different weaknesses that you can adapt and use yourself in the job interview.

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

Why do interviewers ask the biggest weakness questions?

There are three main things that employers are hoping to learn about you by asking this question. These include:

  • Your self-awareness: being self-aware is an important trait for employees. People who aren’t self aware don’t understand how their actions impact those around them, which can make them difficult to work with and, sometimes, downright unpleasant.
  • Your honesty: everyone has their weaknesses, so if you attempt to make out that you have no personal weaknesses, this is a pretty good indication that you’re not being entirely honest with the interviewer. What’s more, talking about your weaknesses is difficult, so being able to do this truthfully is another indication of your honesty.
  • Your desire to improve: every ambitious professional should have something (or somethings) they’re looking to work on. This could be a technical skill, like learning a new coding language, or a soft one, like getting better at communicating. In many ways, this question is a great opportunity to demonstrate that you’re someone who’s keen to learn and grow.

Talking about weaknesses in job interview: 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 an engineering manager that 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

Good examples of weaknesses to use in a job interview

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 that you don’t have problems in smaller groups, and that you’re keen to work on this weakness by practising in front of increasingly bigger audiences. For example:

“I’d say that one of my biggest weaknesses is that I get very nervous about having to speak in front of large groups of people. I don’t tend to have an issue in smaller settings like team meetings, but the nerves do kick in when it’s larger groups. I’ve been working on this in my current role by talking in front of bigger and bigger groups, and I’m hoping to do a speech making course later in the year to take this a step further.”

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.

Note: we would not recommend using this one if you’re applying for a management or people leadership position, as delegating is such a core management skill, that being unable to do it well could be too much of a red flag. 

“Something I’ve found difficult in the past is being able to delegate tasks to others effectively. I think this comes from a place of wanting to do everything myself so I can be sure about getting the right result. However, I realise this isn’t beneficial for either myself or the organisation, and I’m working with my current manager to take control of projects where I have to delegate, and then establish processes that grow my leadership skills, as part of my professional development.

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.

“Sometimes, I get nervous providing feedback, because I don’t want to make anyone feel bad about themselves. However, I understand this is an important part of an open and constructive team environment, so it’s something I’m trying to get better at. I’ve found it very helpful, in my current team, that we have sprint retro meetings, where we discuss what we achieved in the last sprint, what went well and what we could have done better. This is a really productive process, and one that has allowed me to become more comfortable providing feedback to my colleagues.”

4. Getting impatient when projects run over

You don’t want to come across hot-headed, but we’ve all gotten impatient from time-to-time when projects don’t run to schedule.

Here, you need to show you've adapted your approach to avoid getting frustrated, and ensure projects run to time. Tell the hiring manager how you’ve learnt to motivate people, without micromanaging, or worked with struggling colleagues to help them up their game. Crucially, you don’t want to appear to blame your weakness on others. Ie. this isn’t about the other person delivering work late, it’s about your frustration. You could frame this as follows:

“My biggest weakness is that I can get stressed and frustrated when projects don’t run on time. I tend to be quite punctual myself, so I find the idea of missing a deadline quite uncomfortable. However, I’ve come to realise that getting stressed or frustrated doesn’t help move things forward, so I’ve taken a few steps to make improvements here. Firstly, I’ve tried to plan better so that I never find myself or my team in the position where we risk missing deadlines. Secondly, if this does happen, I’ve tried to work on my motivational skills so that I can encourage team members to be more efficient, without also stressing them out.”

5. Being too blunt

This weakness is a good one to use because being a direct communicator is a good thing, unless you take it too far and are unempathetic to how your colleagues may perceive you. You don’t want to tell the interview panel to think that you’re rude, but it’s a good thing to be able to acknowledge a personal weakness, and how it can affect those around you.

“I tend to be very straightforward in the way that I communicate with others. I think this is a good thing to an extent, but I’ve come to realise it can also come across as rude, even when I really don’t mean it to. To try and counter this, I’ve tried to become more aware of how I speak, and to tailor my communication style to the person I’m communicating with, to ensure there is no misunderstanding of my tone."

6. I struggle to ask for help

This is somewhat similar to delegating, but instead of struggling to offload tasks to other people, perhaps you’re not good at seeking assistance when you need it. Again, this can be tied up with personal pride and wanting to do everything yourself. However, it can be bad for both you and the team if you end up becoming a bottleneck where work doesn’t move forwards.

“In the past, I’ve found it difficult to ask for help when I’m struggling with something at work. I’ve been worried that people might think I’m not good at my job, or that they’re having to carry me. However, I’ve been getting a lot better at this as I’ve set up a process for how to manage these situations. Depending on the size of the potential problem, I’ll set myself a window where I’ll try to resolve it on my own. If, however, I’m not able to do this, I’ll ask someone for help. This way, I can feel confident I’ve done everything possible to resolve the situation, while also preventing the issue from holding everyone else up.”

7. I’m not good at saying no

This can be problematic because you will likely end up overloading yourself, which can lead you to make silly mistakes, or to suffer from a poor work/life balance. You need to be careful not to make this sound like the awful “I’m too much of a perfectionist” answer, but this is definitely possible.

In past roles, I’ve been guilty of finding it hard to say no when colleagues or my manager asks me to take on extra tasks. Obviously, there are positives to this, but I’ve ended up feeling overwhelmed and unable to tick tasks off my lists. To help counter this tendency, I’ve started becoming more ruthless with my prioritisation, and I’ll vet requests I get to determine whether they align with my own personal KPIs, as well as those of the wider team.”

Other good weaknesses to use in a job interview

  • Inexperience with a non-essential skill
  • Timidity/being shy
  • Being too sensitive
  • Indecisiveness
  • Micromanaging
  • Spontaneity (i.e. you like to have a plan)
  • Dealing with confrontation
  • Getting bogged down in details
  • Creative writing
  • Being overly self-critical
  • Being too competitive

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.