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Job Interviews: What’s Your Greatest Weakness?

Job Interviews: What’s Your Greatest Weakness?

A typical job interview all too often includes those annoying interview questions like “What’s your greatest weakness?” or “What’s your greatest strength?” Odds are some form of the greatest weakness question will be aimed your way as you sit in the interview Q & A hot seat, trying your best not to sweat your greatest weakness answer as much as Albert Brooks sweat in the film Broadcast News.

OK. I admit I also sometimes use the oh-so-annoying greatest weakness question (and others like that) when I do an interview. Not that there’s any one absolutely right answer I’m looking for. Asking about weaknesses in an interview (and the way you answer the question) helps me see how a person will react, even when confronted by the obvious. You can learn a lot about a person as they answer seemingly simple questions.

In fact, I was interviewing someone the other day. After only a few minutes, I knew he was probably going to get a second interview. But it’s my job to dig deeper and also look for things that need to be explored in the next round. In addition, if I pretty much know they’re moving on, I like to give people practice for the next interview. So in this case, I went to some of those standard interview questions, including “What’s your greatest weakness?”

Well, this guy started to answer it without any subterfuge and without the typical “I know this is one of those trick questions” tone of voice. I was pleasantly surprised. (Keeping it as real as possible is always a good idea – although there are times when it’s ok to let the interviewer in on your recognition of an old standard.) But then my interviewee kept going – trying to give me the most thorough and honest answer ever I think – including several examples of how sometimes he gets caught up in the tiny details of a problem…almost to the point of obsessing. I actually got nervous for him. “Don’t tell me too much!” I wanted to coach.

Truth is, he was so sincere and talented he didn’t hurt himself with me by trying so hard to give a thorough answer. But that might not have been the case with all interviewers. So when you get a question like this, just know that it’s ok to stop at the summary of the weakness like “I can get caught up in the details sometimes.” But then your follow-up should be something like you are aware of this and have been learning how to balance being thorough with the other things you have to get done. And have a great real life story from one of your jobs to back up whichever weakness you choose to answer this interview question!

Whatever you do, it’s probably best to keep your answer to this one fairly short. There are some interview questions where it’s good to expand your answer so you can throw in cool stuff about yourself. This is usually not one of those questions – unless, as I mentioned, you have a good story to tell about how you overcame your great weakness…or at least have been making progress.

An example would be if you had a fear of public speaking, worked on that fear, and wound up becoming a lecturer on some topic. Now that’s something an interviewer would like to hear. (Uh…please don’t use this story unless it’s real. Stuff like that can come back to bite you.) But if your story isn’t that strong, probably best to keep it short and sweet when answering the weakness question.

Let’s be honest. Most people just throw in these questions to fill out the interview anyway. You get a good idea within the first few minutes of interviewing a person whether this is someone you want to seriously consider. I doubt any interviewer is really looking to get you to reveal some deep dark weakness like “I steal office supplies” or “I’ve lied all over my resume and hope you don’t find out.” DOH!

But even if you make a great first impression, you can still trip yourself up with a bad answer. While there is no one right way to answer this interview question, it helps to come prepared with something good based on who you really are (some employers are serious about the question and want to see how self-aware you are). And make sure your tale of weakness has a natural positive spin – like the ones above or any good example from real life about how you turned some weakness around.

So to summarize my greatest weakness interview question tips: Keep it short, leave with a positive thought, and then just shut up until you get the next question. If the interviewer pushes the question, try your best to specifically answer what was asked (shows you’re listening) but again keep it short and stay as positive as possible.

Oh…and in case you’re wondering, the guy I interviewed has super skills and gave a good second interview, so he’s moving on to the final interview. But in the interim, an anonymous someone clued him in about how to answer the dreaded weakness interview question – just in case. Shhh! Don’t tell anyone.

About the author…

Ronnie Ann, founder of Work Coach Cafe, bases her real-world advice on her many years as an organizational consultant where she helped interview and hire people, added to a certificate from NYU in Career Planning & Development and her own adventures as a serial job seeker. She can also be found on her new blog, and on Google+.

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