Discussing Weaknesses in a Job Interview

One of the most dreaded moments of any interview is when, after you have batted carefully on a difficult pitch elaborating your achievements and strengths in a painstaking manner, the interviewer gives you a strong disapproving look and throws a bouncer, “Tell me about your weaknesses”. Enterprising candidates have been known to come up with clever responses like, “Ummm….er…..my greatest weakness is…..eh….that….I don’t really know about my weaknesses!” Take that!  Cool

Imagine the horror of the interviewer when a interview went like this…

Interviewer: “Tell me about your weakness.”

Candidate: “Well…..Sir, I have got weak knees.”

Interviewer: “That’s what I’m asking you. Be specific. What’s your weakness?”

Candidate: “I told you sir. I’ve really got weak knees!”

Interviewer (quite irritated by now): “No..no…you don’t get my point. I want you to listen to my question carefully, think over it and give me a considered reply. WHAT IS YOUR WEAKNESS? Do I make myself clear?

Candidate (thoroughly alarmed): “P..Please believe me sir. I’m telling you the truth. I h..have very weak knees. I…I can show you my weak knees if you wish sir!”

Interviewer (completely blowing his top): “What the @#$%^&! Are you a moron? You want to SHOW me your weakness? Where is it? Inside your jockeys?”

Candidate: (badly shaking by now) “I said weak knees sir….I’ve got weak knees….WEAK KNEES…see here? And…you are b..being very rude and dirty…so @#$% you and your company….huh!”

Well, jokes apart, the question of discussing one’s weaknesses is understandably one of the most critical issues of any job interview. Battle hardened candidates, who have appeared in scores of interviews vouch for the fact that it is only the relatively-new-on-the-job HR guys who put up such a pomp and show of asking about misgivings and weaknesses minutely. Experienced business managers seldom trudge into the ‘weakness’ territory. If you fit the bill otherwise, a good interviewer wouldn’t even dream of asking you this question. Nevertheless, it makes sense to prepare yourself, for you never know what’s on the interviewer’s mind.

First of all, let us try to fathom why an interviewer would want to know about your weakness(es). Assuming the interviewer too is human, it would be his or her foremost concern to find a candidate that fits the job, and not the opposite. To err is human. Most human errors arise out of inherent weaknesses, not strengths. So, it makes sense to understand that awareness of one’s weaknesses is an effective way to cut down on possible errors while at work. In business, errors translate into losses, sometimes running into billions. The recent fire at a petroleum storage terminal in Jaipur, Rajasthan (not very far from where I live), was a result of an avoidable human error. So the hiring manager is well within his limits to seek the strengths and weaknesses of those who would build his future team. Nothing wrong there.

So, what would be an appropriate reply??

Not these, for God’s sake..

1. I am a workaholic (tomorrow, you may become an alcoholic; not my problem)
2. Kindness and simplicity (er…go join Missions of Charity, that’s the place for you)
3. I cannot work in a suffocating environment where everybody plays politics (sorry, we don’t keep oxygen masks here)
4. I’m often jealous with successful people (duh…suicidal; even God can’t save you)
5. Dissatisfaction…even though others look satisfied (O! Our ideas match! Even I am thoroughly dissatisfied!)
6. I work very hard and also I study for 6 – 8 hours a day…(all work and no play makes Jack a dull CRA)
7. My emotions are my weakness (where’s the tissue paper…I feel like crying a bit….sniff…sniff)
8. I have trouble sharing responsibilities with others (and I’ll have delegating responsibility to you)
9. I burn toasts while cooking breakfast (you really need a structured course in cooking..get that first)
10. Weaknesses? I have none. (O! We forgot to tell you…we don’t have any jobs either!)

So? What is to be said?

Without going into the specifics, I can only say that honesty is still the best policy. However, that does not mean you shouldn’t be clever too. The most important thing to be kept in mind while answering this tricky question is one must show an overpowering urge to rectify the mistakes of the past and take concrete steps to turn weaknesses into relative strengths.

1. I am poor at computers, but I am learning fast. I have joined a training Institute.
2. If I’m focused on one subject, I have a habit of missing deadlines on others. But nowadays I am learning to multitask.
3. I have been too much of an optimist in the past. Optimism isn’t bad, but I’m learning to be realistic too.
4. I am told that I’m slow on occasions. But that’s because I care too much for perfection.
5. I am a bit harsh with my subordinates sometimes, but that’s because I want them to excel in their careers (claps! claps!)

These are just a few examples, and I really wish that all of you who read this article come up with appropriate answers in the comments section. I assure you it will be a lively and fruitful discussion if we debate this topic threadbare.


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15 Comments on this article. Feel free to join this conversation.

  1. Daniel November 2, 2009 at 10:14 am -

    A former boss once told me that ‘impatience’ would also be a good answer. It’s a weakness that’s actually a strength.

    • Rofl Indian November 2, 2009 at 10:41 am -

      Yeah…something like “Earlier I used to be fretful and impatient, but marriage has mellowed me a lot” 😀

  2. Vee November 3, 2009 at 2:36 am -

    That is one question which can put anyone in fix… what to say? what not to? and how to say? Well, you gave some really nice ones.. #3 and #5 stand out as the perfect answers…

    RI: Hey Thanks!

  3. The Count November 3, 2009 at 7:14 pm -

    I’d say: I think managers are assholes (the truth) but now I have discovered that they can be fixed by continously kicking their asses (cleverness).

    RI: And when you are done with kicking their asses, it’s Nirvana! 😉

    • bharathiganapathi December 3, 2009 at 9:45 pm -

      sahi bola …100% ..ooparwaala meharbaan to gabhi(manager) bhi pehalwaan…

      RI: Well said 🙂

  4. Ms Taggart November 5, 2009 at 12:40 pm -

    My standard answer is/was – I am too ambitious, I try to do too many things at one time, and do them too. I know I should cut down on it for my own health’s sake..
    And I always got away with it.. *grins with glee*

    RI: That’s smart! 😀

  5. Shanu November 7, 2009 at 6:45 pm -

    A totally unexpected post!! But a gr8 read never the less!

    RI: Expect the unexpcted in an interview !

  6. Whatsinaname November 9, 2009 at 1:57 pm -

    So, what happened at the interview? Hope you bagged the job 😉

    RI: Or…the job bagged me :p

  7. Ekta Khetan November 18, 2009 at 8:00 pm -

    1. The weakness is that I hate jargons esp coming from half brained HR people. When such people say things like big picture, sustainability and co policy, I smeel rat and get red.
    2. Oh I have this weakness of sleeping in the office loo…I hope yours is as clean as my last office. Hee hee
    3. I have weakness that I hate diplomatic, double standard people and kills if I spot one.
    4. My greatest weakness is that I hate the word ass in any form whether it is working your ass off or ass lick your seniors

    RI: Those are quite candid admissions! The HR guys would have to behave or else they’d be in for some trouble!

  8. gyanban November 20, 2009 at 8:57 pm -

    Corny interview questions don’t seem to end…and more often than not a good candidate is lost because of a poor HR intellect.If you get some time – please let me know your thoughts on something similar I’d written…


    RI: I’m sorry for the delay in replying. I’ll surely read your post.

  9. KM December 19, 2009 at 8:11 pm -

    If you want to know my weakness call my wife and let me call your’s 🙂 http://bit.ly/6tt1WF

    RI: That’s an interesting proposal. But the wives must agree first.

  10. nursemyra January 1, 2010 at 6:22 pm -

    I like #3 about optimism. Good answer.

    RI: Thanks Nursemyra. What is the wierdest question you have faced in an interview?

  11. nursemyra January 5, 2010 at 1:43 am -

    the German heiress I used to work for asked me for my star sign and Chinese year of birth. She then left the room to consult a horoscope book, then came back in and told me I was hired.

    RI: LOL! She probably had been told to watch out for ‘horoscopically-incompatible’ employees 😉

  12. Amit March 6, 2010 at 9:30 pm -

    Awesome post!!
    Well you know its better to substitute the word “weakness” with opportunities”. This is what we do at our place. Sounds more positive 🙂

    RI: Interviews are more a test of nerves than knowledge. You have to have a way with words to succeed 🙂 Welcome Amit.

  13. Salaryman March 28, 2010 at 4:48 pm -

    Dude, you would put me out of job. The best answer is ” My weakness is that I can watch Karthik calling Karthik in mute for Deepika Padukone”