“What areas need improvement?” is an interview question that seems designed to put you in a tough spot. But answering it is actually not as hard as it seems!
This guide will teach you how to answer this question, impress your interviewer, and improve your chances of getting hired.
Table of contents
Why This Question Gets Asked in Job Interviews
Of all the queries job-seekers hear during an interview, questions like this often elicit a mild panic. But contrary to popular belief, this isn’t an attempt to embarrass you or have a “gotcha” moment. It’s a practical question that provides greater insight into what you have to bring to the table.
You must remember that interviewers only have a short time to learn about you and your capabilities. They can’t afford to dance around the hard questions. While it can feel blunt and nerve wracking at the moment, it’s simply a way to understand the type of worker you will be.
So what does “What areas need improvement?” aim to unveil?
Hiring managers use it often to gauge several things, and the first is your accountability. It doesn’t matter if you’re an entry-level candidate or someone with years of experience. You should be able to speak honestly about the areas you’re not the best at when working.
Everyone has strengths and weaknesses. There’s no shame in opening up and saying, “I’m not too great at this.” Hiring managers value that honesty because it shows that you’re self-aware and can hold yourself accountable.
This question also serves to help interviewers understand if you’re a good fit for the role. Many interview questions help highlight your potential in the open position, but this one gets straight to the point. Interviewers may compare your response with the skills necessary to succeed in this role to determine how you fit into the equation.
That doesn’t mean they will discount your candidacy if you say you need to improve on a key aspect of the job. They might, but that’s not always the case. That’s because this question also gauges your willingness to improve.
Hiring managers appreciate people who are eager to better themselves in every way possible. Regardless of how experienced you are, there’s always room to improve. “What areas need improvement?” highlights your willingness to invest in your professional career.
No candidate is perfect, but those who will put the work in to improve their skills, talents, and abilities are worth their weight in gold to most companies.
How to Answer “What Areas Need Improvement?”
Need help figuring out how to answer this question? Like any other discussion you have during your interview, what you say in response to this question matters. It can make or break your first impression and impact your chances of ultimately getting a job offer.
Follow these tips, and this question will work in your favor.
1. Be Honest With Yourself
The key to answering “What areas need improvement?” well is to be honest with yourself. It’s never easy to think about your own shortcomings, but that’s paramount to improvement. You need to understand what aspects of your work need to be addressed and take the necessary steps toward positive change.
Reflect on your past work experiences. Think of those moments when you failed or didn’t perform as well as you wanted. What areas do you want to actively improve in your career?
It doesn’t have to be a game-changing thing. You may very well be happy with your performance as an employee. If that’s the case, come up with a list of areas where you’re “just average” in terms of your performance.
For example, you may know how to speak up in meetings. But maybe you want to become a skilled public speaker who can effectively lead a room.
There’s always something you can improve on. Dig deep and figure out what those things are.
2. Give an Example
One of the best ways to answer this question is to tell a story and provide an example.
Go into a little detail about a time when you realized that you needed to improve on an area of your performance. Once again, it doesn’t have to be a monumental misstep. Small things matter, too.
Talk about what made you realize that this particular aspect of your job needed work. What was that moment of realization?
For example, you might have had an experience in the past where you almost didn’t make a deadline. Or perhaps you had to put more time into your work in the days leading up to your deadline, resulting in rising stress levels. That experience might have taught you that you needed to improve your time management skills to ensure that you delivered projects without feeling the pressure of looming due dates.
Illustrate why you feel that those details need improvement and how you came to that realization.
3. Show What You’re Doing to Improve in Those Areas
Here’s where you can take your answer to the next level. When delivering your response, it’s best to show that you’re taking steps to improve. It’s one thing to identify potential weaknesses, but it’s another to actively work toward changing them.
It doesn’t matter what area you want to improve. Always follow up with the details about what you’re doing to make a change. That shows the interviewer your initiative and motivation.
Don’t think of it as a promise. Anyone can say that they’ll work on their flaws later. Interviewers want to hear about what you’re doing now. Make an effort to show hiring managers that you’re motivated to optimize your professional development.
You’re not resting on your laurels with a sense of complacency. Taking steps to improve shows that you’re eager and willing to do what it takes to get better. That shows tons of promise and can significantly improve your chances of getting a job offer.
4. Stay Positive
And remember, always keep the tone of your answer positive.
“What areas need improvement?” is an interview question that can feel like a downer, and many job-seekers make the mistake of thinking a negative answer is unavoidable. That’s not what interviewers want to hear! Sure, they value honesty and self-awareness, but that doesn’t mean you have to err on the side of self-deprecation.
This question is about your potential and dedication to improving aspects of your work performance you think could be better. That can easily lean into negative territory, so you must actively work to keep things positive. The best way to do that is to talk about what you’re doing to make a change and how excited you are at the results you hope to see (or are seeing already).
No one wants to work with someone who constantly puts themselves or others down. While this question requires honesty and self-reflection, you must spin it back to all the good you can bring to this role. Ending on a positive note leaves a lasting impression and shows that you’re committed to being the best employee you can be.
5. Keep Your Answer Short and Sweet
Our final tip is to keep your response concise. Questions like this make it easy to ramble. But when it comes to talking about areas that need improvement, less is more.
You want to convey your point, provide an example, and illustrate that you’re actively taking steps to improve. But you shouldn’t be dive into all the details of how you failed and how terrible that was.
Keep it short and avoid going off on tangents. Your interviewer is usually not interested in the details, but more concerned that you have identified your weaknesses and are taking steps to improve. Speak with confidence and move on to the next question.
Aim to keep your answer under two minutes and stick to the most relevant points to stay on track.
Mistakes to Avoid When Answering
While there’s no universally correct answer for “What areas need improvement?” you could inadvertently say something that gives the interviewer the wrong impression about who you are and what you offer the company.
Here are a few common mistakes you must avoid.
Steer Clear of Fake and Cliche Answers
Here’s a mistake that can cost you a job opportunity. Many people misinterpret this question and its purpose. They think interviewers want to hear that you don’t have any areas that need improvement.
As you now know, that’s not the case. Therefore, steer clear of insincere and cliche answers like:
“An area where I need to improve is that I work too hard,” or “The thing I’m working on is to try and stop being a perfectionist, but I’m failing!’
Responses like this are not only cringe-inducing, but they’re inauthentic. Interviewers don’t want to hear that. They’re not genuine issues and say nothing about who you are as an employee.
You’ll get an eye roll at best and lose your chances of getting a job offer at worst.
Avoid Talking About Core Skills and Competencies
It’s fine to say that you must improve soft skills like public speaking or time management. But it’s wise not to mention anything that will significantly impact your performance on the job. For example, you don’t want to say that you need to improve your math skills as an accountant, or your people skills as a customer service representative.
While some hiring managers won’t hold that against you if you say you’re actively working to improve, many others could view them as deal-breakers. You still need to make your case about why you deserve a job offer, so avoid answers like this that will ruin your chances.
Don’t Skirt the Question
Another common tactic is to skirt the question entirely! Instead of providing an honest answer, people might try to change the topic or say that they can’t think of anything they need to improve on.
As you can imagine, this isn’t a good tactic. It doesn’t provide any information the interviewer is looking for, and it makes you look like you even have something to hide.
Answer truthfully, speak with confidence, and make eye contact. Being upfront is always the best policy.
We have a few example answers to inspire you as you develop your own response. These samples do a fine job of applying the items mentioned above and are memorable enough to work in the candidate’s favor.
First, we have a job-seeker who is upfront about their need to improve leadership skills. Their background hasn’t afforded them many opportunities to lead, so they wish to overcome the lack of experience and improve. This answer works because it’s a skill that’s not essential to the job they’re applying for, but it’s one that could help them eventually transition to leadership roles later as they climb the corporate ladder.
“One area I could improve in is my leadership skills. As a junior accountant, I haven’t had many chances to formally lead a team. A couple of years ago, I was asked to mentor a small group of new accountants, but I quickly noticed that I was in a little over my head.
I enjoy the hands-on aspects of accounting, which is why I applied for this position. But I do believe that improving my leadership skills could be beneficial in the long run. Since that initial experience, I’ve begun to speak up more at meetings and volunteer to train new team members.
I’ve noticed improvements, but I understand that I have a little ways to go until I’m ready to lead large teams in an official capacity.”
Our second example answer involves a candidate interviewing for a research position. The job they’re applying for involves more hands-on work and research, but they use this question to identify potential avenues for their career to go. They recognize that they need to improve, and the response provides peace of mind to interviewers that they’re dedicated to continued development.
“I believe that I could improve my professional writing skills. I enjoy the research aspects of this field, but I hope to publish journals one day. I’d like to play an active role in this industry’s evolution, and I know that involves publishing research.
I’ve started to take writing courses online. I also study peer-reviewed articles to understand what publishing articles entail. I’m excited to hone those skills and apply them one day.”
Our final example involves a weakness in the customer service industry. While somewhat related to the job, the discussed topic is fixable and doesn’t impact the candidate’s ability to perform well. The dedication to solving this shortcoming could open many doors, showing promise to hiring managers.
“Most of my experience in customer service has been through in-person interactions or on-the-phone communication. While I believe my customer service and problem-solving skills are great, there’s room for improvement in my email correspondence.
I’m fortunate enough not to have any major faux pas, but I noticed a few years ago that my ability to deliver concise support over email was lacking. All it takes is a few misspelled words or incorrect verbiage to transform the meaning of a message, so I’ve made sure to be extra cautious when communicating over email.
I use several grammar and spelling check tools. I’ve also started taking online communication and writing courses to ensure I use the most effective strategies when speaking to customers over email or instant messaging.”
As you can see, “What areas need improvement?” isn’t as intimidating as it seems. In fact, knowing how to answer it is a great way to make a strong impression!
Stick to our recommendations above, and you’ll be ready if this question comes your way.
Hannah Morgan speaks and writes about job search and career strategies. She founded CareerSherpa.net to educate professionals on how to maneuver through today’s job search process. Hannah was nominated as a LinkedIn Top Voice in Job Search and Careers and is a regular contributor to US News & World Report. She has been quoted by media outlets, including Forbes, USA Today, Money Magazine, Huffington Post, as well as many other publications. She is also author of The Infographic Resume and co-author of Social Networking for Business Success.