Software Engineer - What are your biggest weaknesses? 5 tips

The best way to answer what are your biggest weaknesses as a software engineer is to be contextual, be tactical, show improvement, and be honest. Less than 20% of applicants make it to the interview stage so be confident in the fact the company is happy with what they have seen so far.

Answering questions about your weaknesses is up there with the most dreaded interview questions. The question is purposely framed to make you uncomfortable and to give the employer an idea of your self-awareness.

Discussing your weaknesses can be tough because you want to be honest without taking yourself out of the running for the role. Striking the right balance can be difficult which is the reason so many people dislike the question.

Let’s take a look at the best ways to answer 'What are your biggest weaknesses' as a software engineer. Let’s first look at how to pick a weakness to talk about, then the right weaknesses to pick. After that, we’ll look at tips for answering questions about your shortcomings and then move on to example answers for what your biggest weaknesses as a developer are.

Biggest weakness

How to choose a good weakness to speak about?

You should choose a weakness that you can elaborate on, have plans to improve, and is relevant to the job. Avoid picking anything personal or unrelated, that can’t be improved.

Every developer's weaknesses are different so you’ll have to first reflect on where you can improve as a developer. Don’t bring up things that aren’t relevant to the role, the interviewers don’t want to know that you struggle to keep your bedroom tidy.

As a software developer speaking about the weaknesses you should:

Be contextual

Pick a weakness that is related to the role but won’t remove you from contention. Choose something that is on the fringes of your role but not critical to the role itself. Don’t tell them you hate software development when applying for an engineering role. Instead, focus on something like public speaking or confidence.

Be smart

Select a weakness that you can fix. It needs to be something you can improve with a little bit of effort and direction. Be clever about how you answer the question. For a front-end developer, mention some of the newer tools that you may not be familiar with, or a desire to lead more. Don’t select something that you should already have a great grasp of like functions or making components.

Be forward-thinking

Try picking a weakness that you are aware of and are actively working on going forward. If you don’t present much elude to the fact you have taken a course and have started giving more group presentations. If you didn't lead ceremonies, mention the qualification you have started to help you improve on that. Use your past weaknesses to show them you are forward-thinking. It allows you to show you are serious about long-term improvement and can lead nicely to a question about where you see yourself in five years.

Be honest

You want to come across as open and honest in your interviews. Pick something that is actually a weakness of yours. If you try and make it up off the cuff or pick something that isn’t true it’ll shine through. No company expects you to be the complete package when you first start anyway.

Be tactical

Your potential employer doesn’t want to speak about how unmotivated you are and how you are just in it for the big payday. Companies want to know you are interested in software engineering so focus on a weakness that doesn’t make you look bad. You can be honest about your weakness but be tactical. Don’t present yourself in a negative light.

Examples of good weaknesses to mention at interview

Not all weaknesses are equal. Some things are great to talk about and show you have a passion for improvement and will be a great candidate. Other things like a lack of motivation or drive should be avoided. Of course, every company is looking for different things so what works in one interview may flop in another. But generally, you can always frame certain weaknesses in a way that keeps you in contention for the role.

The best weakness to speak about in your software engineering interviews include:

  1. Fear of public speaking
  2. Organization
  3. Teamwork
  4. Time management
  5. Too verbose
  6. Verbal skills or Writing skills
  7. Patience
  8. Delegation
  9. Too focused or lack of focus
  10. Imposter Syndrome
  11. Detail-orientation

Again be smart about how you answer. Don’t just come out and say you are disorganized. Mention how your attention to detail can sometimes get in the way of planning and then mention what you are doing to improve the situation.

There are also a lot of other weaknesses that are worth mentioning, the list above is just a snapshot. Remember to reflect before your interview and figure out what your weaknesses are.

Tips on answering 'What is your greatest weakness?'

Remember that the question is meant to make you uncomfortable. The interviewer wants to see how self-aware you are and also how you handle being asked difficult questions. They care about the answer but not as much as how you go about answering it.

Most tech companies want to see that their candidates have a thirst for improvement and are keen to undertake the journey of continuous learning. Avoid anything that makes you look unmotivated, lazy, or unwilling to improve.

When answering what is your greatest weakness I would recommend:

1. Mentioning a genuine weakness

Talk about something real but not something that is damaging to the role you have applied for. Don’t start talking about how much of a terrible developer you are and how you hate coding. Instead, mention your fear of public speaking or your tendency to talk too much.

2. Showing awareness of the weakness

Never deny you have a weakness or falsify one. Interviewers want to see that you are a self-aware person who is capable of reflection. It’s a key trait of developers looking to improve.

3. Discussing steps to overcome your weakness

The best candidates are already putting things in place to help correct their flaws. If you don’t like public speaking you should be seeking out a way to speak in front of bigger crowds. If you struggle with time you should be putting in processes to organize yourself better. Companies want to see you are keen to be better going forward.

4. Being serious

There are plenty of opportunities to build rapport in an interview. But during a question like this be serious and be honest. Don’t take self-reflection lightly and make sure they know you are keen to improve.

5. Being specific

Everyone has a lot of flaws. But mention one or two that are relevant to the role. You don’t want to be too broad and just make yourself sound incompetent.

Example answers for the question to this question

Remember the point of this question is to see how you deal with uncomfortable questions and to give the interviewer an idea of how self-aware you are. Getting this question right can make you seem incredibly competent and forward-thinking. Below we have outlined some sample answers for software developers with a variety of different weaknesses.

You’ll notice they follow a similar structure:

  1. Identify the weakness
  2. Discuss how you are improving
  3. Mention feedback you have received

Delegation

I am someone who enjoys having a large degree of control over the work I do, so delegation has always been difficult for me. While I’ve never missed a deadline I realized my resistance to sharing responsibility was slowing things down.I took a management skills course two months ago which taught me a great deal about sharing the workload. Since then I’ve been fortunate enough to lead a couple of projects and utilize those skills. The feedback from my colleagues has been overwhelmingly positive and something I am proud of.

Too Verbose

I’ve always enjoyed speaking to others and this has led me to sometimes speak too much in certain circumstances. During daily standups, I was often providing too much detail at the wrong times. Over the coming months, I set myself a challenge in both my verbal and written communication.I would strip everything back to the bare basics when in meetings and only provide the necessary details. Since then I’ve managed to trim my speaking time down while providing the same level of detail to my colleagues.

Public Speaking

I’ve always been something of an introvert and have trouble speaking in large groups even if I have great ideas. Strangely in small groups, I don’t suffer the same fate. So I identified public speaking as a weakness of mine.Earlier this year I set a goal to present in front of progressively bigger groups of people which culminated in a company-wide presentation on a new feature. Since then I have become a lot more confident when presenting and have even gotten some great feedback from others in the meeting.

Detail orientation

As a developer when I find something I don’t understand I enjoy diving deep into the subject and learning. However, this leaks into other areas where I like to have as much detail as possible at all times. The nature of software engineering means that you are always working with a lot of unknowns.I’ve started reading a lot on X and Y which has helped me develop processes that mean I don’t need every little detail. At the start of each project, I know to try and highlight the unknowns which have worked incredibly well. It means the wider team is aware of what we think we don’t know and I don’t have to stress about the small stuff.

Imposter Syndrome

Coming from a self-taught background it is easy to develop imposter syndrome and lack confidence in such a technical environment. I realized my confidence was too low after brushing off some incredibly good feedback I got on a new feature I developed.I’ve since started speaking to colleagues and the developer community online and realized it's not just me. Imposter syndrome runs deep in the developer community and this is something that has helped me a lot. Knowing you aren’t alone is incredible for my confidence and has boosted my esteem.

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