As a newcomer, interviewing for your first job in Canada can be stressful. To minimize your anxiety and improve your chances of landing a job offer, you want to be prepared and that means practising your responses to commonly asked questions. Perhaps one of the trickiest interview questions to get right in Canada is “What is your greatest weakness?”
Many job seekers struggle to understand why employers ask this question and, as a result, have a tough time framing the perfect response. While the question may appear negative, like something employers only ask to eliminate unsuitable candidates, that’s not entirely true. In this article, we provide tips on how to answer “What is your greatest weakness?” (and how not to answer it) in a job interview in a way that allows you to showcase your strengths and position yourself as a strong candidate to land a job in Canada.
In this article:
- Why do Canadian employers ask about your weakness in job interviews?
- Five examples of weaknesses for job interviews in Canada
- How to answer the “What is your greatest weakness?” interview question as a newcomer
- Answering the “What’s your greatest weakness?” question
- How NOT to answer “What is your greatest weakness? in an interview”
Although talking about your weaknesses may seem counterintuitive in a job interview, this is a question hiring managers often ask in Canada. To prepare an effective, impressive answer to this common interview question, you must understand why employers want to know about your weaknesses. Here are some reasons why Canadian interviewers ask candidates “What is your greatest weakness?”:
To gauge your level of self-awareness
Employers want to know if you are capable of objectively assessing your strengths and weaknesses. This is a valuable skill to have in the Canadian job market, as it gives you, the employee, insight into what your core skills are and where you need to put in more effort.
To get insight into your personality
Are you honest? Down-to-earth? Humble? Or do you come across as arrogant? Learning about your personality traits will help the employer assess how well you’ll fit into the company culture.
To see whether you put in the effort to address your weaknesses
Everyone has weaknesses, but only some people make active efforts to rectify them. The employer wants to see whether you take measures to improve your shortcomings and are making any progress in bridging skill gaps.
As a newcomer, for instance, you may be unfamiliar with some commonly used technologies in your field in Canada. If you can show that you’re upskilling in your spare time or pursuing a certification to become proficient in that skill, employers may be more open to hiring you.
To assess if your weakness might impact your ability to do the job
Depending on the job you apply to, certain skills and attributes will be necessary to perform the role effectively. For instance, in a sales role, the ability to communicate well will be a necessary skill, regardless of whether it’s expressly mentioned in the job description. This question helps the employer weed out candidates whose weaknesses may hamper their ability to fulfill their job responsibilities.
To test your presence of mind
Can you frame a weakness positively and turn it into a strength? Canadian employers want to know if you can dig deep to get to the root of your weakness and analyze why you struggle with it. For instance, if you have trouble delegating tasks, is it because you set a high standard for quality and find that not everyone can meet it? In such a scenario, you should ideally phrase your weakness in a manner that highlights your quality consciousness as well.
Answering the greatest weakness question can be tricky, especially if you’re never come across such an interview question back home. It takes a fair amount of soul-searching to identify a weakness that seems meaningful enough to mention but also won’t negatively affect your chances of landing the job. One thing to keep in mind is that you should always respond to this question honestly by citing weaknesses you actually have. That said, you may find inspiration in these examples of professional weaknesses:
Lack of experience in a particular technical skill
As a newcomer to Canada, there may be certain skills that are used in your field in Canada but that weren’t common in your home country. Unless it is a critical skill that’ll be necessary for your day-to-day work, highlighting a lack of experience in a technical skill shouldn’t count against you.
That said, you should always balance it out by highlighting your eagerness to learn and showing what steps you’ve already taken to build that skill. Are you taking a relevant course or certification or perhaps practicing in your free time?
Do you get too caught up in the details or require every task leaving your desk to be perfect? It’s easy to put a positive spin on this one, but remember, in most companies, deadlines are important, so don’t forget to mention how you’re trying to address this weakness. Also, you should avoid stating time management as a weakness if the job description mentions it as a necessary or good-to-have skill.
Multi-tasking is a muscle you build by exercising it. It can be a good skill to have, but sometimes juggling five things at once can mean you drop the ball on one. However, most people can easily accomplish the same amount of work by taking on one task at a time.
If multi-tasking is something you struggle with, showcase how you balance your schedule to achieve all the tasks on your to-do list and make it clear to the interviewer that this weakness won’t negatively impact your productivity. For example, perhaps you prioritize your work or divide your day into 30 to 60 minute chunks so you can work in a focused manner.
If you’re always careful about timelines, watching others cause a delay can make you impatient. Although it isn’t a great trait to have in the workplace and can potentially result in uncomfortable exchanges with co-workers, clearly explaining what makes you impatient and what you’re doing to address it can work in your favour during the interview.
For instance, are you making an effort to not let your impatience show? Have you recognized that not everyone works the same way and are, therefore, more mindful about what you say in such a situation?
Having trouble saying no
On the one hand, your unwillingness to turn people down can show that you’re a team player, eager to work hard, and help others. On the other, it can lead to people taking advantage of your generosity or can put you in a situation where you don’t have enough time left to complete your own tasks. In such a situation, not being able to say no can be a very real weakness.
It’s a good idea to point to the fact that, in your experience, taking on extra work means that existing commitments may get delayed and that you’re keen to work with your new manager to understand which projects or tasks need to be prioritized at any given time.
As a newcomer to Canada, preparation is key to acing your job interview. The best place to start is planning your answers to commonly asked questions like this one. But what is the best way to frame your response to the greatest weakness interview question? And how do you answer this question in a way that won’t negatively impact your chances of landing your first job? Here are some tips to help you prepare a strong response to “What is your greatest weakness?” and successfully land a job offer:
Make a list of your professional weaknesses
Although most professionals, including those with extensive work histories, have some weaknesses, not all weaknesses can or should be shared with the interviewer. Before you can narrow your options down to one or two ideal weaknesses to mention, you should jot down all the professional areas where you feel you need to put in more work to improve. It’s also a good idea to do your research about the industry in Canada, including the skills that are in demand in your line of work.
If you have prior work experience from your home country, you may have identified weaknesses that were roadblocks or impediments to your performance during that time. Or more recently, you may have noticed a required or good-to-have skill in job descriptions and realized it’s unfamiliar or not an area of strength for you. Put all of these weaknesses down on paper. Your list can include both technical and soft skills, but stay clear of weaknesses that won’t have an impact on your work life.
Revisit the job description
Next, it’s time to start eliminating weaknesses that are incompatible for the job you’re interviewing for. A good rule of thumb is to carefully reread the job description and learn about the company culture to determine what skills the employer is looking for. Those (or the lack of those) are ones you should avoid citing as weaknesses during your interview.
Ideally, the weakness you pick should not be an essential skill for the job you’re looking to perform. Nor should it be a personality trait that’s valued as part of the team culture. If the job description doesn’t give you enough information, it’s a good idea to network with professionals in the organization to understand what skills are valued by the employer. Coffee chats or informational interviews can be a good way to make meaningful connections and get deeper insights into how a particular company works.
Pick a real weakness
While reading a “Top 10 weaknesses for job interviews” listicle is a great way to get your thought process started, don’t be tempted to cite a weakness that you don’t actually have just so you can answer this question easily. Be sure to pick a real weakness because the interviewer may expect you to elaborate on your answer and provide details on why this is a weakness for you.
That said, find a way to connect your weakness to a valuable strength. For instance, if you aren’t great at creative designing, you can highlight your commitment to continuous learning by talking about how you’ve been watching Photoshop tutorials and practicing in your spare time.
Highlight how the weakness impacted you negatively
When the interviewer asks about your greatest weakness, it’s always an open-ended question. So don’t just name a weakness and stop talking. This is a chance to tell a story of how you identified and addressed a problem and why that makes you a strong candidate for the job. You have an opportunity to provide insight into why you consider something a weakness and how it has affected you in the past (or how it may impact your work in the future).
Continuing with the creative design example, perhaps you had worked as a social media coordinator in your home country and relied on a designer to get the images and text in social post templates changed several times a week, which resulted in delays.
Show how you’re working to improve upon it
Although it may seem counterintuitive when you’re talking about weaknesses, it’s possible—and recommended—that you end your response on a positive note. Perhaps you’re pursuing a certification in a tool the company uses or recently achieved a milestone in managing your time better.
It’s always good to show progress toward overcoming your shortcomings. However, demonstrating something you learnt, such as an alternative approach that achieves strong results, can also put a positive spin on your response. For instance, perhaps you found and mastered a free tool that makes it easier to replace images in a templated design.
Your response to this question should ideally be customized based on the job you’re interviewing for. Let’s summarize the above tips with an example. Let’s say a job description lists attention to detail as a required skill, a good weakness to mention in that interview might be:
“I sometimes struggle with time management because I get very focused on details and need things to be perfect. However, during my previous job, I realized this often resulted in me having to work long hours to meet project deadlines and, in the beginning, I ended up missing timelines on a few tasks. I knew I had to do something or both my work and health would suffer.
I began setting separate project timelines for myself, ahead of the actual deadline, and that helped. I also started keeping track of how long it took me to complete a certain type of task, so I could plan accordingly in the future. I’ve continued finding ways to improve on this, and now I try to find a balance between things that must get done and things that need to be perfect so that I can pay closer attention to the right things. As a result, I’ve never missed a work deadline in over two years. In fact, I often ended up completing my work with several days left to go and used the left over time to help my colleagues or learn new skills.”
Despite being a common feature in interviews in Canada, this question is an easy one to get wrong. Ideally, you should resist the temptation to wing it with an on-the-spot answer or use the same response in multiple job interviews. You should also be aware of how not to answer the greatest weakness question, including:
Claiming you don’t have any weaknesses
Let’s be real, everyone has weaknesses and employers know this. Canadian employers want to see whether you have the self-awareness to recognize your shortcomings because that is the first step toward improvement. Responding with a statement like “I don’t have any weaknesses” comes across as arrogant, which is not a great look in a job interview (or on the job). Also, remember, if you do manage to get a job offer, your professional weaknesses will come to light sooner or later, so it’s best to be upfront about them. Lying in an interview is considered unethical in Canada and can cost you the job.
Trying to disguise a strength as a weakness
Employers in Canada are looking for honest responses and most are too smart to fall for pretend weaknesses like “I’m a perfectionist.” Unless you can justify how something is a weakness, avoid using it as an example while answering this question. Attempting to pass off a strength as a weakness is equivalent to saying you don’t have any weaknesses. And in all likelihood, the interviewer has heard all those answers before. With such a response, you risk the employer seeing you as arrogant, or simply a liar.
Listing weaknesses that can affect your chances of landing the job
If you’re interviewing for a marketing job as a newcomer, saying you’re not a great communicator is unlikely to work in your favour. Revisit the job description before your interview so you can steer clear of citing weaknesses that’ll surely cost you the job.
You should also do some research about the skills that are necessary or good to have to perform similar roles. If possible, set aside some time to have coffee chats with professionals in similar jobs, so you have better insight into the skills, personality traits, and technical know-how they require to perform well in their roles.
Listing weaknesses that don’t affect your professional life
While you don’t want to mention a weakness that’ll land your resume in the don’t-hire pile, steering too far from professional weaknesses isn’t recommended either. “I’m bad at cooking” is a bad example to give in a job interview and might lead the interviewer to think you’re not serious about the interview or self-improvement. Ideally, the weakness you mention should relate to your work, but in a way that doesn’t significantly impact your ability to perform.
Not highlighting any corrective measures
Although giving a one-word answer to an open-ended interview question is almost always bad, in this case, it can be disastrous. Avoid just stating a weakness and leaving it at that. The interviewer wants to know why you think this is a weakness for you and what you’re doing to remedy it. Be sure to highlight steps you’ve been taking to address your weakness, along with improvements you’ve already made.
As a newcomer to Canada, landing your first job will most likely be a priority for you. Being prepared for all aspects of the recruitment process can ensure that things go smoothly and you land your dream job sooner. Once your resume gets picked by the hiring manager, it’s important that you approach your job interviews fully prepared. This means being well-versed with questions that are commonly asked during interviews in Canada, and knowing the best way to answer them. “What is your greatest weakness?” is one of the most common questions in Canadian job interviews, and an easy one to get wrong. A lot rides on you being able to skillfully respond to this question in a way that shows honesty, self-awareness, and a willingness to improve.