What is your greatest weakness?

Newspaper - comks9991There is much controversy about whether or not this question should be asked in an interview. I personally don’t like it, but I help my job seeker clients prepare for it nonetheless. I asked this question on LinkedIn recently and received many comments. Please add yours to the mix. This post explains how I feel about it. What do you think?

Should it be asked?
What is the interviewer really trying to find out by asking this question? An unscientific survey provides three primary reasons, only one of which is sincere, and even that one isn’t likely to result in obtaining the desired information. Sadly, the most prevalent reason for asking this question is that somehow, somewhere years ago, it was placed on a list of standard interview questions. I.e. it is asked because interviewers think they’re supposed to ask it!! They don’t really know what they’re trying to learn by asking it.

What is their reaction?
The second most common reason the question is asked is that the interviewer just wants to see how the candidate reacts, what s/he says, that the actual content of that response is unimportant.

How will s/he fit in with my team?
This last reason conveys a sincere desire to assess the candidate’s honest view of her/himself. However, given the highly competitive nature of interviewing, candidates must opt to present only their positive characteristics. How do they know if this information will be used against them in the decision process?

Today’s interviewer is tomorrow’s interviewee
It is fascinating that many interviewers continue to ask this question when they themselves dread getting asked it when they are on the other side of the interview desk!

Nevertheless, the question is asked and you need to be ready for it. Here’s how.

Don’t be flip
Much has been written about how to respond. I don’t have any weaknesses. This is disingenuous and implies that you don’t take the question seriously. I am a workaholic. This response is intended to convey that you will be totally dedicated to your job and that this really isn’t a weakness at all. It’s on the right track but not a good answer because even if it’s true, it may convey that you have an overly intense, rigid personality. More likely, the interviewer will assume that you’re just trying to take an easy way out of answering the question.

It’s no longer a weakness
Think of some aspect of your work style or skill set that has grown throughout your career. What is a characteristic that you have had to evolve or develop over the years as you have expanded in responsibility? Here are a couple of examples:

Personality trait
Early in my career, as an individual contributor, I prided myself on being an expert problem solver. I would focus on an issue, analyzing pros and cons, until I came up with the best solution. As I have taken on increasingly responsible leadership roles, I have learned that it is better for me to delegate to team members. This has increased the confidence of individual team members, allowed the team to work better as a whole, and has actually resulted in more creative solutions.

Job skill
I was hired by my current employer even though I had no experience using Excel. I realize that I got the job because I had the other required skills and the job market was hot. Nevertheless, I recognized that this was a weakness that I could not afford to have if I wanted to succeed in my job. I took classes on my own and spent many hours developing expert skills in Excel. It was difficult at the time but now I am confident that I can learn almost any new skill if I try hard enough.

Not only do these answers allow you to respond to the question sincerely and not point out a current weakness, they also allow you the opportunity to convey additional positive traits.

Please tell me what you think.

Mauri in Orange BlouseHi my name is Mauri, and I am the President of Career Insiders, a career management and talent acquisition consulting firm. I speak frequently at conferences, job fairs, and career panels. I recently was invited to participate on a panel discussion at NCHRA’S Annual HR West Conference. I consult with career centers at universities including UC Berkeley’s Haas School of Business, Tulane University, Mills College, and others, and contribute regularly to publications such as TheLadders RecruitBlog. I am what some might consider a professional “people person.”

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