The Interview: What is your greatest weakness?

4607149210_0d0882a0b8_mI never know exactly how to answer the question, “what is your greatest weakness?” and not because I don’t have one. No, quite the contrary, I have bunches and bunches of them, and I could (and sometimes do) spend hours cataloging each one. Still, I don’t think someone interviewing me for a job is really looking for stuff like, “I should do more push-ups,” or “I should eat fewer processed foods.”

But that’s just the thing: what is the interviewer looking for? Nobody seems to be very sure. You could ask ten different people how to answer, “What is your greatest weakness?” and get ten different answers.

Some people would tell you to use the “just jam a strength in there” approach. I.e. “My greatest weakness is that I get too invested in my work!” or “My written and verbal communication skills are so strong many people at lesser companies than yours find them intimidating!” But while putting a positive spin might seem like a good idea, it’s not. You don’t want to come off as someone who’s afraid to be wrong. The question is meant to gage your level of self-awareness; they want to know if you can admit to having flaws. By cheating the question, you’re missing the point and hurting your chances.

On the other hand, you don’t want to say something that totally ruins your image. Be confident, even when talking about areas you could improve in. Remember: you applied for this job because you thought you could do it. And you’re not the only one who thinks so, either. They don’t call candidates for an interview by picking names out of a hat. The interviewer asked you to come in because he or she thinks you show some promise. Don’t say anything to make him or her regret that decision.

So then, what should you do?

Here’s my advice: before the interview, look at the job description’s qualifications section. Skip the required stuff and go down to where they list what they’d prefer. Do you see anything there that you’re working on, a skill you’re in the process of developing? Focus on that. Because it’s preferred and not required, you can admit to not being entirely proficient in it without killing your shot at the job. In fact, that you’re working on a preferred skill shows you understand what is necessary not only to fill the position, but to excel at it.

That’s my take. What about you? How do you answer this question? Share your stories and pointers in the comments!

(photo by Flickr user bpusf used under a Creative Commons License)

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