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What Is Your Greatest Weakness?

by Linda Matias

The fastest way to make a good interview go bad is to avoid questions posed by the hiring manager. The one question candidates love to avoid is, "What is your greatest weakness?" Most candidates are quick to respond with superficial answers such as "I'm a workaholic" or "I'm a perfectionist." Not only are those responses boring, but they are also predictable answers interviewers are used to hearing. So much so that an interviewer's comeback line often is, "That doesn't sound like a weakness. Now why don't you tell me about a real weakness?"

Ouch. What an uncomfortable position to be in—when a decision maker challenges you during an interview. Just like you, the interviewer wants the process to go as seamlessly as possible, and they quickly become resentful when they are placed in a confrontational position.

When answering questions surrounding your greatest weakness, my advice is to tell the truth—to a point. Though I don't advocate providing a play-by-play of every area that may need improvement, it isn't a good idea not to cop to a weakness either. A happy medium does exist, and it lies in focusing your response on an area that doesn't have a major impact on your ability to do the job. This should be an area that you are on your way to improving. Note, not an area you've already improved, but one that is well on its way.

Interviewers recognize that jobseekers aren't forthcoming when answering the "greatest weakness" question. As a result, there is a new trend in hiring circles of interviewers cleverly disguising the question and using a variation of the theme. In doing so, interviewers are successfully stumping candidates, and are receiving responses that uncover the not-so-pleasant side of candidates.

Cleverly Designed "Greatest Weakness" Questions

We all have aspects of our job we prefer not to do. What aspect of your day-to-day responsibilities do you dislike?

In hopes of making you feel comfortable, interviewers may ask questions that start with "we." The psychology behind this is to make you feel as though you are with a friend, which can cause you to let your guard down.

Think back to your last review. What suggestions did your supervisor have for improvement?

The chances are extremely high that your supervisor offered suggestions for improvement. Interviewers are aware of this and anticipate that you will disclose the details of your most recent evaluation.

Describe a project you worked on that didn't turn out as well as you expected.

Interviewers find that job seekers reveal more when they are asked to tell a story. The assumption is made that the more you talk, the more likely you'll disclose your weaknesses.

In what area of your work do you think you can be more effective?

This question is very similar to "greatest weakness" question. However, interviewers believe the way the question is phrased will make you feel less threatened, and therefore more likely to answer freely.

Bottom line: whether or not you want to divulge sensitive information during an interview, an interviewer is going to try his or her darnedest to dig for skeletons in your closet. Interviewers want to uncover any reasons why they shouldn't hire you, and they hope those reasons will come straight from you. So be prepared.


Linda Matias is President of CareerStrides and The National Resume Writers' Association. She has been quoted in The Wall Street Journal, New York Newsday, Newsweek, and HR-esource.com. Visit her website at www.careerstrides.com or email her at linda@careerstrides.com

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