Answer 'What's Your Greatest Weakness' In A Job Interview Using These 6 Tips

You know it's coming before you walk into the conference room, before you print out your resume, and before you even get dressed in your very best black blouse. It's one of the most dreaded questions at any job interview — "What would you say your weaknesses are?" — yet, it's inescapable. The inquiry used to give me anxiety so bad I was up until the wee hours of the morning practicing my answer in my bathroom mirror. (Not a good choice, by the way, as I showed up with bags under my eyes and a nervous stutter.) There is no need to be so scared of a little question like this, though. It's not a trick question; the person interviewing you is simply trying to get the best grasp of your character as possible.

Penelope Trunk, career coach and author of Brazen Careerist: The New Rules For Success, reminds us in her blog that everyone, no matter how successful, has both strengths and weaknesses. Half the battle is acknowledging what they are. Even if you find this question to be totally trite and overused, like I do, you still have to play the game, so you might as well go in ready to tackle it.

Here are six tips for chatting about your weaknesses.

1. Decide On Your Answer Before You Go In


You should have an answer ready in your head before you waltz in. Be honest with yourself, though, and don't make up weaknesses you think will make you appear a certain way. Chances are the person who is conducting the interview has a pretty good nose for BS. When you sit down to contemplate what your answer will be, try to stay away from specific skills you lack, as well as abilities that have absolutely nothing to do with the job you're after. For example, Jacquelyn Smith of Forbes says a graphic designer shouldn't list finance as one of their weaknesses.

Review the job description once again in order to get a better sense of what they're looking for in an employee. You can shape your imperfections around the particular traits they want to see; the quicker you're able to do that, the faster you make your value known to the company.

2. Stay Focused On A Work-Related Weakness


In other words, don't talk about your failed relationship and how you constantly — and unsuccessfully — date emotionally unavailable individuals who don't do their own laundry. Career coach and writer Amanda Abella tells Forbes readers to avoid shedding light on personal dramas. A job interview is not the time and place for that muck. Your employer wants nothing to do with your messy love life, and talking about it in a setting like this will only make you appear like you aren't taking the whole thing seriously.

Steering the conversation away from work-related stuff is a big red flag. No matter what the position may be, a boss is always looking for professional individuals who understand boundaries very well, and who truly get the separation between personal life and office life. Keep this in mind as you fight for your next job.

3. Have A Sense Of Humor About Yourself


It's a serious question, I know, but a little comic relief can go a long way. Dearest Auntie E. Jean, long-time columnist for Elle magazine, once wrote about her experience with answering this question in a job interview with Roger Ailes of Fox News — and how her quirkiness landed her her very own talk show. She joked about how she despises other writers, how she tends to overexaggerate, and how she needs to learn to be more "unkind" with others, all the while being enthusiastic and fully engaged. The old saying held true for her: It's not what you say, it's how you say it.

Humor holds many underlying messages, and when used correctly, it proves how confident you are in yourself, regardless of what your weaknesses are. Your best self will come through and you're bound to put a smile on the face of the person holding a clipboard.

4. Talk About How You've Worked To Stregthen The Weakness


This second part of your answer is crucial, or else you'll leave the table on a sour note. After you've honestly listed your edges, talk confidently about how you've done some personal work to strengthen these not-so-perfect parts. This will help your interviewer see that you take yourself and your job seriously, and it shows that you can take initiative. Try to focus on things you have actually conquered, though, not the characteristics you're still struggling with.

Laura DeCarlo, founder of Career Directors International and writer for Job Hunt, calls this the "strength in disguise" method, and it comes in two parts — confession and recovery — kind of like a one-two punch. You admit your shortcomings, only to follow it up with how you've used them to grow. Say you're a career changer without much relevant experience; your grand finale can be that you've become a quick learner and you can easily adapt to any situation.

5. Don't Say Generic Things


You might be tempted to say you're a perfectionist or that you simply work too hard. Rookie mistakes, though. Smith says employers have heard these phrases far too many times, and they don't hold much value. Plus, this is just a way of shirking the question, which leaves your potential future boss to think that you aren't aware of your own weaknesses.

It's better to be original with your answer (but only if it's honest!) so that they remember you clearly. Aim for specificity so you don't fall into the stereotypical categories. Another generic thing you want to dodge at all costs is refusing to answer the question. That's a big, huge, enormous no-no; you're basically saying that you have no interest in cooperating.

6. Avoid Permanent Statements


Wording is a tricky thing, but the more you pay attention to detail, particularly in the language you use, the more articulate you will be in those crucial moments. People will often times start their answer with "I can't" or "I'm not good at," which makes it seem like you have permanent issues that you don't have any chance in resolving. Donald B. Richardson, head of leadership development organization called the Richardson Group, recommends you frame the matter differently. Instead of saying "I'm bad at this," talk about the things you prefer doing, and how you're working on getting better at the first task.

By speaking of your weaknesses as temporary factors in your life, you also give off the idea that you are a constantly changing, evolving human being who doesn't get stuck on the negatives. This allows you to remain positive; it also shows the interviewer that your mind is focused on improving.

Above all, be optimistic about your upcoming interview. You have a lot to offer, there's no doubt about it — so walk in fully prepared with your head held high. Good luck!

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