How to Describe a Weakness in an Interview with a Recruiter

August 20th, 2015

By Matthew Lester, Toronto Startup Recruiter 

What are your 3 greatest strengths and weaknesses?

We’ve all been on the receiving end of this age old interview question, and many headhunters and HR reps swear by it.  You can read about how IQ PARTNERS modifies it here, but for now, back to the question at hand.  The first part is easy – name three of your greatest strengths that relate most to the job you’re interviewing for – no problem.  But then what?

How to describe a weakness in an interview with a headhunter

Don’t say…

I’m too much of a perfectionist.

Trying to turn overt strengths into weaknesses like “I care too much about my job” is the oldest trick in the book.  Interviewers will read between the lines and press you for a real weakness or area for improvement.

What weaknesses?

Evading the question or stating that youHow to Describe Weaknesses in an Interview with a Headhunter2 have no weaknesses also won’t work.  Everyone has strengths and weaknesses.  This falls largely into the same boat as above.  You’ll end up looking egotistical or like you’re trying to side-step the real purpose of the question, which is to establish ‘fit’ – with the role, the corporate culture, and with your potential manager and/or team.

Both of the above responses also rob you of the opportunity to see if this opportunity is the right fit.  Who wants to work for a boss whose strengths and weaknesses don’t compliment yours?

I suck at public speaking.

There is such thing as being too honest about your weaknesses, or I should say presenting a weakness without an explanation.  You’re going to raise a red flag if you present an overtly negative weakness without explaining how you’re working to overcome it.

Do Say…

In the past I’ve struggled with [fill in the blank] and here’s how I’m overcoming it…

Be honest about your weaknesses but also address in specific terms how you are working to overcome them.  For example, an actuary candidate once told me:

“I’m working on getting better at presenting to large groups of people by presenting to my team every week. It’s getting easier, but to be honest it’s always been a challenge for me, which is a lot of the reason I went into this field… I was the only sixth grader I knew with a deep passion for Excel spreadsheets.”

I loved this response, and here’s why:

He didn’t evade the question,

He was honest and self-aware,

His answer gave me insight into how he would fit in my client’s team (quite well),

It showed a desire to improve by presenting to his team every week, and

It brought the conversation back around to his strengths.

Interviews can be really challenging, and some questions may throw you for a loop, but being prepared with honest answers that demonstrate self-awareness and a desire to improve will help you and your headhunter find the role that is right for you.


Click here for more job seeker tips from our Toronto headhunters.  Also, learn about Toronto Startup Recruiter Matthew Lester and connect with him on LinkedIn.

If you’re an interviewer, check out our blog, The Best Interview Technique There Is, for the fastest way to identify a candidate’s true strengths and weaknesses.

Matthew Lester

Matthew knows that preparation breeds success, which is why finding employees who fit perfectly with a company’s goals and culture is the largest contributor to a company’s long term success. After spending 5 years working in executive search within the Financial Services & Insurance industries, Matthew dedicated himself to leading Canada's top entrepreneur focused recruitment team.