How to Talk about Weaknesses in a Job Interview

Photo Credit:  Aila Images  on Stocksy

Photo Credit: Aila Images on Stocksy

Weaknesses. Liabilities. The insecurities when it comes to our jobs. That little voice in the back of our minds telling us we’re not good enough. Yes, we all have them. They are often on full display during a job transition. When we’re in the process of changing jobs, these are often the things that keep us up at night.

But it’s important when we’re interviewing, reaching for that promotion, or thinking about our goals to not let our weaknesses--perceived or actual--cloud our mindset. Instead, what’s even more important is to reshape our weaknesses into strengths—it’s a simple shift in perspective that can add a lot of confidence and value to your experience, and help managers see your worth.

I’ve listed below some of the more common insecurities that clients feel are their most pressing ‘weaknesses’ or ‘liabilities’ in a job transition. In addition, I’ve offered ways you might think about reframing the conversation.

How to Talk about Weaknesses in a Job Interview

Ever find yourself thinking some of these things? If so, the 180 degree perspective is right there to redirect you upward.

Your Perceived Liability: You’re too old.

You’re an older job candidate, and worried about being seen as “outdated, out of touch, or irrelevant” compared to younger job seekers competing for the same role.

Reframed: You have wisdom, expertise, and have deepened your professional acumen in ways that only come with time.

Age discrimination is real. Some of my clients as young as 38 experience behaviors consistent with age discrimination during job interviews.

Do your best to overcome perceptions potential employers may have because of your relative age. This could include everything from assuming you won’t be up-to-date on the latest technologies and skills to assuming your salary requirements will be too high to bring you on board.

Shift your perspective from, “I’m too old to compete with these young people,” to “I have a rich experience of opening up to new insights and possibilities.”

It’s important for organizations to have people who have a deep history in an industry and a wealth of experience in their career. They bring a level of expertise and understanding that candidates with less experience simply can’t offer yet.

Your Perceived Liability: You got laid off.

You’ve been laid off due to a major company restructure, downsizing, or acquisition.

Reframed: You are able to function and thrive in volatile, high-stress, and high-pressure phases or an organization’s existence.

Layoffs can take a major toll on our sense of confidence and psychological safety. That in turn influences our ability to excel in a job search and make strategic decisions about what’s next and what’s best for us from a professional perspective.

Shift from, “I lost my job, who will ever want to hire me again?” to “I have experience with working through a volatile, high-stress, and high-pressure phase in an organization’s life. I bring a unique insight into how teams can manage challenges, how to effectively support and be supported by colleagues, and how to come up with creative solutions in a demotivating and demoralizing environment.”

Your journey is important, and what you’ve learned along the way is valuable. Even your unpleasant experiences or blemishes can be seen with a positive lens.

Your Perceived Liability: You got fired.

Reframed: I’ve learned a lot about what is and isn’t right for me in a job.

Like layoffs, getting fired can rock our level of confidence. Truly understanding why you were fired is a valuable insight that will help you target positions where your unique skills and value are the right fit for the job. This may involve some hard looks in the mirror, but that’s key to helping you find a way forward.

If you were underperforming in certain areas, know what your skill levels are and find a job where you will be adequately supported and/or guided.

Reframe, “I was fired from my job. I’ll never recover from this,” into “Maybe that position was simply not the right fit for me. I have strengths that weren’t aligned with what they were actually looking for.”

Your Perceived Liability: You’re too young.

You were promoted quickly at a young age, and may be viewed as too inexperienced despite your title.

Reframed: You are ambitious, capable, and offer fresh and new viewpoints when it comes to leadership.

In many fields, particularly those dominated by men, younger employees can feel like they’re treated as children who don’t know anything, and get patted on the head for a job well done. For those of us who have broken into leadership roles early in our career, transitioning into a new job can be challenging when an organizational culture assumes that your relatively youth means you are not capable of excelling in a leadership role.

Change your thought from “I am too young to take on this role. I can do this job, but no one will take me seriously,” to “I offer a fresh and creative perspective, and am not afraid to be someone who shakes things up”

You can’t control the way people treat you—and some people may try to make you feel incapable. It is your job to respond with poise, character, and confidence. If you’re consistently made to feel small, find an organization that is not afraid to have leaders who challenge the status quo.

Your Perceived Liability: You don’t have enough education.

You’re great at learning on the fly, and do not have enough (formal) training

Reframed: Practical experience rules the day and you are quick to learn

Very common to professionals who have made their careers in the non-profit sector (though they’re not alone), many of us learned skills by having to figure out how to do them. During one of my first jobs out of grad school, I was in charge of program management and stakeholder engagement for a major initiative without having any kind of formal training. I am a very quick learner, and I’m also comfortable trying things and potentially failing at them quickly in order to progress toward getting things right. It did present challenges in the future, however, when I was trying to change jobs and did not always meet the letter of the experience when it came to training.

Reframe “I don’t have the right education,” to, “I have practical experience about how to really make things happen.”

If you know how to get it done, that’s all you need. It’s important you show an organization your capabilities through experience—education doesn’t always tell the whole story. If this remains a sticking point during the hiring process, commit to completing a certificate program or relevant seminar in a functional area (e.g., project management) if the company sponsors the cost of you attending.

Your Perceived Liability: You lack deep expertise.

You are a generalist without a specific area of expertise. You’re good at a lot of things, but have never had the opportunity to become a subject matter expert in any one area.

Reframed: You are versatile, a quick learner, and bring a breadth of knowledge to the table and the ability to integrate disparate pieces into a functional whole.

I’ve always been a generalist. I know a fair amount about many different things. As a coach, this skill allows me to help clients find connections and language that transfers their expertise and experience in new directions. In previous roles, it made me an excellent science communicator. I could understand technically complex information, then turn around and teach someone about it who needed to hear it in simpler terms.

Oftentimes, being a generalist makes for an excellent project manager or bridge builder who can bring various perspectives together by finding common ground.

“I know a little about a lot, but I never narrowed down to one area of expertise,” becomes, “I can take a wide range of perspectives and move toward resolution and action.”

Understanding many topics is valuable in organizations that need to stitch many departments together. Your unique capabilities can be the right fit.

Your perceived liabilities can hold you back; in some cases you have more or less control over whether or not they do. It’s important to leverage the control you do have. One of the best ways to achieve this is reshaping them in a way that allows you to frame the narrative. This simple reorientation can make a huge difference in your outlook, how others perceive you, and your overall career trajectory.