How to Describe Your Worst Qualities in a Job Interview

When an interviewer asks about your worst qualities or greatest weaknesses, he’s not looking for an itemized list of your flaws. Instead, he’s watching how you well you handle the question. What employers want in a response is an indication that you have the self-awareness to recognize areas you need to improve. When you answer the question, frame your response in a way that’s honest but also portrays you as someone dedicated to learning and improving.

Be Honest

In TheLadders article “How to Respond to the Weakness Question,” corporate trainer Rob Sullivan says some applicants try to avoid the question by framing their answer in a positive way, such as saying “I’m a perfectionist” or “I’m a workaholic.” Employers recognize these cliched answers, Sullivan warns, which could be enough to turn them off. Be honest and choose a quality that is indeed a weakness, such as difficulty with math. Admitting to a weakness likely won’t cost you a job, especially if you demonstrate how you’ve kept the weakness from hampering your performance.

Show How You Overcame a Weakness

Instead of describing your weak areas as problems that hinder your job performance, portray them as obstacles you’ve recognized and addressed. For example, tell the interviewer you’ve always had a fear of public speaking. When you realized your fear was holding you back professionally, you took public speaking courses and volunteered for work projects that required you to speak in front of a group. Career website WetFeet recommends breaking your answer into three parts: identifying the weakness, describing what actions you took to improve and how your comfort level has improved.

Stick to Job-Related Qualities

Keep your answer professional and focus only on qualities related to the job. For example, you might mention that you need to improve your computer skills, but never mention personal weaknesses, such as having trouble maintaining relationships or being forgetful. Focusing on work-related qualities sometimes has the benefit of establishing a personal connection with the interviewer, who might confess he’s struggled with the same issue.

Describe the Weakness as a Preference

In the CareerCast article “Handling the ‘What Are Your Weaknesses’ Question in a Job Interview,” leadership and career coach Douglas B. Richardson suggests framing your worst quality as a preference instead of a weakness. For example, tell the employer that given a choice between projects requiring frequent collaboration and those requiring solitary work, you’d be more comfortable in the second role. This is a gentler way of saying you’re an introvert, but it still honestly represents how you interact with colleagues.

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