How to Handle the Number One Mishandled Interview Question

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Love it or hate it, many interviewers like to include what has become a bit of cliché interview question– “What is your greatest weakness?” Most interviewers know that they are unlikely to get answers that are 100% honest. However, the way you handle this question can be very telling (which is why it is so widely used.) When you answer this question, your body language and the direction you take in your answer says a lot about who you are as a potential employee.

The most popular answers to this question have become just as cliché as the question itself. Answering with "I tend to work too hard," or "I am too much of a perfectionist" will come across as both insincere and lacking true self-awareness. If you’ve gone there in the past, that’s ok. Read on and we’ll share some ideas to help you handle this like a pro in the future.

Turn a negative into a positive

The easiest way to answer this question is to turn a negative into a positive. Think about something work related that you have struggled with in the past and share what you have done (or can do) to improve in that area. If you struggle with public speaking (like 77% of the population), share how you’ve started (or plan to start) to get involved in a Toastmasters group to get more comfortable with public speaking.

If you have trouble staying focused on work related tasks, perhaps you can share how you are working to set daily goals or block out time for distractions to help stay on task.

Demonstrate self-awareness

It is also helpful to understand why the interviewer is asking the question in the first place. They want to know that you can be open and honest about your shortcomings. Your answer also gives some insight into your level of self-awareness and how you seek to turn your shortcomings into strengths. This article by Hubspot shares a textbook example of how one interviewee says all the right things with her answer.

"I don't have much patience when working with a team -- I am incredibly self-sufficient, so it's difficult when I need to rely on others to complete my work. That's why I've pursued roles that require someone to work independently. However, I've also worked to improve this weakness by enrolling in team building workshops. While I typically work independently, it's nonetheless important I learn how to trust my coworkers and ask for outside help when necessary."

Don’t turn a negative into a negative

Whatever you do, don’t turn a negative into a negative! Revealing a weakness that raises a red flag could cause serious concerns for the interviewer. “I tend to oversleep a lot” or “I get bored very easily” will raise red flags if you do not have strong story to tell about how you have overcome this weakness or challenge.

Like most things in life, honesty is often the best policy. The same goes with interviewing. If you remain true to yourself everything else will fall in place. Good luck with your next interview!