“What Areas Need Improvement?” (Example Answers Included)

By Mike Simpson

Few questions strike fear into the hearts of job seekers like “What areas need improvement?” Like “What is your greatest weakness?” the areas of improvement question expects you to talk about shortcomings. And, well, that’s never easy.

Luckily, there are ways to navigate this usually uncomfortable question with skill and poise. If you want to make sure you nail the “What areas need improvement?” interview question, here’s what you need to know.

What Are Improvements?

So, what does a hiring manager by “improvement” when they ask the “What areas need improvement?” question? Well, it’s usually pretty simple.

First, when they ask this question, the hiring manager wants you to talk about capabilities or traits you may need but don’t have or areas where your skill level is short of where it needs to be to ensure you excel long-term. As a result, “improvement” is simply referring to areas where you might need additional training, experience, or refinement.

Why Does the Hiring Manager Ask This Question?

So, you may be wondering why the hiring manager asks you about areas of improvement. Well, there are several reasons.

First, while it may feel like they last an eternity sometimes, a typical interview lasts between 45 minutes and 1.5 hours. That isn’t a lot of time to get to know a candidate.

If a hiring manager is going to be efficient, they can’t afford to dilly-dally. Instead, they have to cut to the chase, asking tough questions like “What areas need improvement?” to gather the information they need quickly.

Second, asking candidates to talk about their shortcomings accomplishes several things. Along with finding out about skill areas that may need improving, it helps them assess a candidate’s honesty, accountability, and self-awareness.

When a candidate is forthcoming about a skill or trait that would benefit from development, they are showing that they understand their capabilities. Plus, it makes it seem like you have nothing to hide, as you are openly talking about something the hiring manager may view as a weakness.

It is important to understand that the hiring manager’s goal isn’t to call you out or embarrass you. Additionally, they aren’t necessarily trying to dig up a reason not to hire you.

Instead, they simply want to figure out whether you’re right for the role and, if it’s available, what training they might be able to offer to overcome this obstacle. That way, they can get the best person for the position.

Common Mistakes When Answering This Question

Before we dig into how to answer “What areas need improvement?” during a job interview, it’s crucial to talk about common mistakes people make when responding to the question.

Usually, the biggest misstep is discussing a core job skill as a shortcoming. If it’s a capability that’s considered a must-have for the role, saying you need to improve in that area may cost you the job; it’s that simple.

Another issue is mentioning a common technology. For example, saying you aren’t great with computers isn’t a wise move if any part of the role is administrative or office-based.

Masquerading a positive as a negative also works against you. Hiring managers know that answers like, “I work too hard,” or “I’m a perfectionist” aren’t usually genuine shortcomings.

While you might think that answer will impress a hiring manager, it won’t. Instead, they’ll probably see your answer as dishonest or manipulative, neither of which is good.

MIKE'S TIP: There is an exception to never saying you “work too hard” or are a “perfectionist” when talking about areas of improvement. If you legitimately struggle with work-life balance and have clear evidence showing that’s the case, then you may be able to own up to that when answering this question. Just make sure you have an exceptional example at the ready.

Finally, not making eye contact while answering is a big no-no. Overall, 65 percent of candidates that don’t make sufficient eye contact during an interview aren’t selected. However, even if you maintain good eye contact throughout the interview, failing to do so during questions like this one could be a problem.

A lack of eye contact here may make it seem like you are being dishonest, especially if your eye contact was solid before this. So, make sure you still maintain eye contact, giving them some peace of mind.

Also remember, this is just one question the hiring manager could ask you in your interview! That’s why we created an amazing free cheat sheet that will give you word-for-word answers for some of the toughest interview questions you are going to face in your upcoming interview.

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Tips for Answering This Question

If you want to have an outstanding answer to the “What areas need improvement?” interview question, then you want to use the right approach. Here are a few tips that can make discussing areas of improvement easier.

1. Choose a Skill or Trait You’re Currently Working On

When you talk about your shortcomings with the hiring manager, you want to be able to end your answer on a high note. By choosing an area you’re actively trying to improve right now – such as through education, training, or personal development activities – you make that a whole lot easier.

2. Have a Relatable Example Ready

Usually, you’ll need to incorporate an example of how you’re lack of knowledge or expertise with a particular skill or trait works against you. However, you don’t want to go with just any example. Instead, find one that’s highly relatable.

By choosing a relatable moment from your past, the hiring manager may view your shortcoming with a kinder eye. Many people face similar challenges during their careers. If you can find an example that the hiring manager either connects with personally or has seen fairly regularly, the odds that they won’t hold it against you go up.

3. Stay Upbeat When Answering

When talking about a shortcoming, most people tend to have a different tone than when they’re talking about something positive. However, if your mood shifts in the wrong direction while answering this question, that may hurt your chances of moving forward.

Ideally, you want to be a bit serious when mentioning your area of improvement. However, when you start discussing how you want to improve and what you’re doing to get better at the particular skill, make sure your tone is upbeat. That makes you seem excited about your growth, development, and goals, increasing the odds that the hiring manager will focus on your passion and not the shortcoming.

How to Answer the Interview Question “What Areas Need Improvement?”

Now that you know why the hiring manager asks this question and the mistakes you need to avoid, as well as have some handy tips by your side, it’s time to kick things into high gear.

Along with a step-by-step guide for answering the “What areas need improvement?” question, we’ve included some example answers. That way, you’ll have more than you need to create a standout response.

Step-by-Step Guide

Creating great interview answers doesn’t happen by chance. Instead, preparation and strategy are both parts of the equation.

If you want to craft a stellar answer, you need to embrace the Tailoring Method. That way, you can factor the hiring manager’s needs into the equation.

However, there is more to it than that. Want a clear breakdown? Here’s a step-by-step guide on how to answer “What areas need improvement?”

1. Reflect on Areas You Could Improve In

First, you want to spend some time reflecting on your capabilities. For skills, think about times where you’ve come up short or instances where a lack of know-how held you back. For traits, consider how aspects of your personality led to less-than-ideal outcomes.

As you reflect, create a list of any skills or traits where improvements would benefit your career. That way, you can use one of them as the basis for your answer.

2. Eliminate Any Job-Essential Skills and Traits

If there is a job-essential skill or trait on your list, remove it from contention. As mentioned above, you don’t want to draw attention to a shortcoming that might cost you the job, so make sure you eliminate those from the equation.

3. Pick a Skill or Trait with a Relatable Example

Once you have a short list of capabilities that could use improvement, think about how they’ve impacted you professionally. Focus on finding a relatable example of how it held you back, preferably one where the consequences are clear but not dire.

4. Prepare Your Conversation Pivot

As you look for relatable examples, also determine which of the skills or traits you’re either actively working to improve or could start working on immediately. That way, you can show the hiring manager that you’re actively striving to overcome the shortcoming.

Example Answers

In many cases, reviewing an example answer makes a world of difference. It lets you see what an outstanding answer looks like and can serve as a template for crafting your own responses.

Here are three examples that can help you talk about areas of improvement effectively, each one covering a different situation.

1. Skill-Related Answer

“If I had to select an area that needs improvement, I would say my presentation skills fall in that category. Like many people, I’m not the most comfortable with public speaking, so my presentations don’t always have the best flow.

However, I am not only aware of this shortcoming, but am actively trying to improve. I recently joined a local Toastmasters club, giving me a way to improve my presentation skills on my own time.

While I’ve only been on this journey for a short time, I feel I’ve been making substantial progress. My presentations are getting smoother, and I am more confident during the meetings. Plus, it’s made me a stronger communicator overall, something that benefits me during team endeavors and when working with stakeholders one-on-one.

While my presentation skills do have a fair way to go before they are at the point I’d like to be, I’m well on my way to turning this shortcoming into a strength.”

2. Trait-Related Answer

“When I enter a new workplace, I tend to be overly formal with my new colleagues and managers. It takes me time to open up on a social level. As a result, some people may initially view me as standoffish when, in reality, it’s mainly based on caution and feeling the need to get to know someone on a professional level before heading in other directions.

However, I am aware that this tendency can be misperceived. That has led me to focus more on seizing opportunities to bond with my new teammates more quickly. For example, I’ve found that asking people to describe their roles and careers gives me the professional context I need, making it easier to shift into more social conversations.

While I still may not acclimate the fastest, I do ultimately forge those critical bonds, allowing me to become a trusted colleague.”

3. Experience-Related Answer (for first jobs)

“When it comes to areas of improvement, I would say applying my skills in a professional environment is my current challenge. I’m actually seeking out my first position in this field and, while my education did give me a chance to use some of my skills in a practical manner, I recognize that actual work environments are different. My lack of exposure means I may need more time to get my footing in my first workplace.

However, since I’m aware of that challenge, I believe that puts me in a good position. I’m willing to learn what is necessary to make sure I meet expectations as I launch my career, ensuring that I’m able to grow in a direction that best suits my first employer.”

Putting It All Together

Ultimately, answering the question “What areas need improvement?” can be a bit tricky. However, by using all of the information above, you can craft a fantastic answer that showcases you as an honest, self-aware professional who wants to keep growing and developing.

Use the tips and examples above as a guide. Then, put your own personal touches on your answer. That way, you’ll come across as thoughtful and genuine, as well as willing to improve.

Good luck!

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About The Author

Mike Simpson

Co-Founder and CEO of TheInterviewGuys.com. Mike is a job interview and career expert and the head writer at TheInterviewGuys.com. His advice and insights have been shared and featured by publications such as Forbes, Entrepreneur, CNBC and more as well as educational institutions such as the University of Michigan, Penn State, Northeastern and others. Learn more about The Interview Guys on our About Us page.