Talking About Professional Weaknesses in a Job Interview

Interview question: What are your weaknesses?

The worst career advice I ever received was from a professor in my undergraduate program (not at PSU!) regarding how to answer this question. When addressing weaknesses in an interview, he suggested that we should take our strengths and frame them as weaknesses.

Example: “I have been known to be a workaholic.”

So, your weakness is that you work too much? In fact, if anything, this tells a savvy interviewer that a) you have not given any thought to the question whatsoever, and b) you have poor time management skills. Essentially his advice was to portray yourself as someone that does not have weaknesses—which, by the way, is an even worse response to the question—and as an unfortunate side effect, you will also portray yourself as someone who has no capacity for self-assessment or learning.

It is often difficult to admit we were wrong and have limitations. Of course we all have things we could do better—if not, then there would not be anywhere to grow professionally.

Instead, the best avenue to answering the “what are your weaknesses” question is to candidly consider your work history and use an example of a time when you messed up, made a poor decision, or were just plain wrong. A smart employee should learn from their mistakes, and so that is exactly what you should show you have done. Bring up relevant examples that show challenges you have overcome and explain to the interviewer how you learned and grew as a professional after the situation. Alternatively, you can highlight challenges you are still working on improving, or have an action plan for accomplishing

Do not overlook the importance of  recognizing you have weaknesses. As a smart business professional you should be aware of them, and take measures to improve yourself whenever possible.

Finally, given this is one of the most popular interview questions, it is wise to prepare for it. Script several answers that are tailored for each interview you have, and be able to speak about them in a non-dictated fashion. Being well prepared, and articulate goes a long way in any interview.

Here are several common challenges professionals face to help you start thinking about examples:

  • Working in groups or on a team
  • Time management
  • Attention to detail
  • Communication issues

So, what is one of your weaknesses? Practice answering in our comments!


Ryan is a part of the Master of International Management full-time 2012 cohort, and a MIM Student Ambassador. Currently he works within the Willamette Valley wine industry as a social media consultant, and wants to broaden his career in marketing to a global level through the MIM program. His favorite aspects of MIM are networking with other students from around the world and learning Mandarin Chinese. Ryan is passionate about food, wine, and travel and writes on these topics for other sites. Visit Ryan’s site here.

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2 Comments

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2 responses to “Talking About Professional Weaknesses in a Job Interview

  1. Pingback: Talking about strengths in an interview | Portland State MIM

  2. Hi, after reading this awesome article i am too happy to
    share my experience here with mates.

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