When I had the chance to interview a prospective supervisor I avoided asking this question, but every interview I’ve had in which I am the one auditioning for a position, I’ve been invariably asked about my weaknesses. Fortune Magazine is tackling this question.
Dear Annie: After a detailed conversation about what I’ve been doing, the hiring manager suddenly said, “Tell me about your greatest weakness.” I was at a loss because I wasn’t expecting that and, while I know I’m not perfect, I couldn’t think of any weaknesses that were bad enough to be worth mentioning, so I just stared at him and said nothing.
Years ago, I was told that one should take a positive aspect about my personality (even if it’s invented, like perfectionism) and pretend it’s negative. For example: “My biggest weakness is the fact I am a perfectionist. I double-check my work twice before presenting said work to my managers. Sometimes this means I take extra time, but the result is my work is of high quality.”
Obviously, this is no answer to the question. But what is the interviewer expecting? An answer in which one shares stories of disorganization, shady ethics, and sex in the office after hours?
One could take the perspective that this “weakness” question is asked less for the answer than for the style and attitude of the candidate when presented with the question. I don’t buy this approach, unless the interview is being performed by a psychologist. Most middle managers I know wouldn’t recognize Psyche herself if she suddenly appeared on the table in the middle of the conference room in which we were discussing the prospect of working. Here’s what Annie suggests:
Next time you’re stumped by an interview question, if you have the presence of mind, try steering the conversation toward another topic – such as why you think your qualifications are perfect for this position.
You can fool some of the hiring managers all of the time, or all of them some of the time, but I think Annie may be on to something. One problem I have in interviews is talking. I start talking way too much. It borders on rambling and I end up concluding my thought with, “I don’t think I really answered your question.”
I hope my honesty wins them over in the end. Luckilly, Annie has a professional psychologist offer some suggestions:
* Focus the discussion on how you’ve improved over time.
* Talk about how the job you’re applying for will help you stretch and build your skills.
* Describe a valuable piece of advice someone gave you, and how it has helped your career.
Those are suggestions I can take to my next interview. Unlike the weakness-is-really-a-strength approach, I think using these tips will help tip the outcome towards the applicant.
And now for the completely unrelated giveaway. On Monday, I reviewed The Smartest Investment Book You’ll Ever Read [Amazon affiliate] by Daniel R. Solin. The main premise was that one should invest in index funds. But if you’re interested in reading about the details, comment here with an interesting interview story and I’ll send my copy of the book to one lucky winner, picked randomly.
Published or updated November 15, 2006.