Interview month continues! This is week two of our four-week series covering strategies for answering tough interview questions. If you'd like help with your interview skills, be sure to take advantage of our mock interview service.
Question: What's your biggest weakness?
Arguably, the most hated interview question of all time is, “What’s your biggest weakness?” After all, why would you want to tell your future employer what’s wrong with you? Answering this question can be tricky -- it's not just what you say, but how you say it that matters. If you've researched common interview tips, you've probably seen the suggestion of putting a negative spin on one of your strengths (like saying you're "too much of a perfectionist"). But that’s what every other candidate is doing too, and more often than not, it comes across as a lie. So, what should you say instead? As strange as it may seem, we recommend sharing a version of the truth. Take a page out of the cable news pundit handbook, and structure your answer as follows:
ADDRESS: Address the question. “My biggest weakness is X (something true but not too terrible, like asking too many questions, or being green, or reading scripts slowly). Offer an example of how it has challenged you.
REFRAME: Explain how you've worked to overcome your weakness, and use this opportunity to highlight a different strength. You should share an example that illustrates why your weakness won’t hold you back. For instance, if you're too green, you can describe your habit of reading the trades, proving you're eager to learn and work hard. If you ask too many questions, explain how you created an organizational system during your last job that ensured you never asked the same question twice, and how implementing that system helped everyone in your office increase efficiency.
MESSAGE: End with a strong message that reiterates why you’re a good candidate and interested in the position. Something like “I’m a really hard worker and always take advantage of opportunities for improvement, so I don’t let [whatever your weakness is] hold me back. In this position, I would make sure I meet all demands and am open to feedback from my supervisors. My goal is to support the company, and I won’t let anything get in the way of that."
Using this technique will help you end on a strong note and steer the interviewer away from the original weakness. Plus, since it’s all true, it will resonate more than a stock answer. Just be sure that whatever your weakness is isn’t something that’s a “must” in the job description. You should never say you're a poor multi-tasker, nervous on phones, disorganized, or unable to meet deadlines. Find a less drastic weakness that won't be a dealbreaker. You can even ask coworkers that you trust -- or your boss, if you have a good relationship -- what you can improve on, and if you don't foresee it being a huge problem for a future employer, use that.
--Angela Silak & Cindy Kaplan