This Interview Question is the Worst. Here’s How to Handle It Like a Boss
Am I alone in feeling like the scariest part of any job interview is not knowing what questions the hiring manager will ask?
You too? Phew.
I wish interviews were more like school exams.
“We’d like to interview you for this position next Friday at 2:30. In the meantime, here’s this handy study guide. Please review all the questions we plan to ask you and prepare your answers in advance.”
Since that’s just wishful thinking, the best thing any of us can do to prepare for a job interview is think about how we’ll answer some of the most common questions hiring managers ask potential recruits.
One popular question that comes up often is, “What’s your greatest weakness?”
It seems counterproductive to talk about your negative traits when trying to impress people you hope will give you a job — but there’s a method to this madness.
It’s a way for potential employers to find your level of self-awareness and whether you look for opportunities to improve things that some may consider drawbacks.
Mary Ryan, associate director of Career and Leadership Services for Working Professionals at UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School, says this question helps determine if applicants can “give a genuine answer to an uncomfortable question or have a weakness that would be a deal-breaker for the job at hand.”
“Beats Me” is Probably Not Your Best Choice
There are a few ways to answer this question. Let’s take a look at what constitutes a good response — and what doesn’t.
An interviewer once asked a friend of mine to describe his greatest weakness.
He responded (with a completely straight face, mind you), “Kryptonite.”
Clever, cheeky responses like that are probably not the way to go.
“Likewise, steer clear of clichés,” recommends FlexJobs. “Interviewers tire of people trying to disguise strengths as weaknesses with statements such as ‘I work too hard’ or ‘I’m too passionate about what I do.’”
Your best bet is to answer the question honestly but in a way that focuses on how you address the issue.
“For example, ‘I pride myself on being a ‘big-picture’ guy. I have to admit I sometimes miss small details, but I always make sure I have someone who is detail-oriented on my team,’” suggests employment website Monster.
Above all, don’t lie and tell the interviewer what you think they want to hear.
You might be tempted to claim a weakness you don’t really have, but that approach can easily backfire.
For instance, saying you’re working to overcome a fear of public speaking could come back to bite you if it comes out later you have a side gig as a stand-up comedian.
The only thing worse than having to answer this question is getting busted lying.
Some Interviewers Don’t Like the Question Either
If it makes you feel any better, some hiring experts say asking you about your weaknesses has no place in a job interview.
“You are an interviewer, not a therapist,” says Liz Ryan, CEO and founder of Human Workplace. “It is none of your business what someone’s weaknesses are.”
Nevertheless, if the question comes up, you’ll need to have an answer ready.
Steer clear of anything that makes you sound like a sassy superhero and you should be fine.
Lisa McGreevy is a staff writer at The Penny Hoarder. When she answers this question, Lisa always wants to (but never has) follow it up with, “And what’s yours?”