How to Answer: “What are your areas of improvement?”

My advice on this question is that I would first underline that “areas of improvement” is not synonymous with “weakness”. Interviewees often equate this question to “weakness” and our culture, certainly many business cultures, believe that weakness is somehow antithetical to success. We all have areas of improvement and things we are otherwise working to improve on; even the person interviewing you.

In order to answer the question “what areas need improvement”, a question whose objective is to determine how self-aware the candidate is and what they are doing, or plan to do, about it, needs a little self-reflection and self-awareness. As the interviewee, you should have an area of improvement in mind (as you should even if you aren’t looking for a job) and how you have been working on developing this skill, or how you plan on working on it. This area of improvement may even be a core competency to the role, but it is usually ok to be working on one if it isn’t the only core skill required for the job.

Job descriptions often have a laundry list of requirements which are more an unattainable wish-list than realistic requirement. It is very unreasonable to expect a candidate to meet every single requirement. For example, I had a client who applied for a science policy advisor role with the government, but they had no experience in science policy. They did however have strong experience in writing policy papers, research and a knowledge of government processes. This person noted in their interview that they had no professional experience in the science realm other than a general interest in science and scientific discovery, but that their other strengths (research, writing and navigating government processes) has always served them well in any role to understand and communicate the specific policy question of the job. This role did not need a scientist, it needed someone who can write policy for government leaders based on high-level scientific understanding. This person got the job and is quickly learning the science domain from a government policy perspective, and likely to be much more effective than someone with a sound science background.

In short, employers want someone who is capable; has the capacity to learn; is self-aware; and doesn’t need the hand-holding to develop and succeed at the job. We all have areas of improvement, and it is only a weakness if you aren’t self-aware enough to identify it and work to improve it.

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