The job interview is going great as you discuss your skills, strengths and successes. But then your interviewer dumps cold water on the whole thing by asking what the Harvard Business Review calls the “worst interview question.”
What are your weaknesses?
If the question makes you squirm, rest assured that it’s supposed to. According to HBR it’s a throwback to the “aversive” approach to interviews developed in the 1950s and 60s to see how a job candidate deals with pressure.
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“The all-time champion of useless interview questions is ‘What is your greatest weakness?’” speaker and consultant Barry Maher says.
Despite being held in disdain by many career experts and job candidates alike, the weakness question is still a staple for job interviews. And, in asking it, interviewers are actually trying to get some important information, according to human resources expert Mikaela Kiner.
“First, they want to know if you are humble and self-aware,” she says. “Every person, no matter how senior or how accomplished, has areas for improvement and should have professional development goals.”
Second, she adds, the interviewer really wants to learn where you could improve to determine whether you’re a fit for the job: “Is it an area that can be learned on the job, or something a new hire is going to need to hit the ground running? If the company writes you off and is unwilling to invest, then it probably wasn’t the right fit to begin with.”
Strategies for Answering the Weakness Question
As you begin to think about how you’ll answer all those questions that will be asked of you at your upcoming job interview, be sure to come up with some answer for: What are your weaknesses? (While you’re at it, don’t forget to come up with some questions of your own.)
First, it’s good to know how not to answer the weakness question. According to the experts we talked to, these are some things you should steer clear of.
“Avoid the trite,” HR consultant Tim Toterhi says. “For example, if you say, ‘Sometimes I work too hard,’ even a senior level recruiter may be unable to resist the eye roll.”
Blogger Leah Thurber suggests keeping your answer short and avoiding sounding defensive or negative. And, says HR manager Tiffany Brown, “If one of your weaknesses is a main responsibility of the job, I would avoid stating that specific weakness.”
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“Most of my team members really value how direct I am with them because they always no where I stand and what I expect. However, I’ve learned that some people struggle with someone speaking so direct with them so I’ve learned to soften what I say in certain conversations to help valuable team members be successful.”As you prepare to answer what are your weaknesses? Bear in mind that there are many variations of the question that interviewers might use. But no matter how the question is asked, your goal should be to identify a true area for improvement, and then show how you have (or are) working to improve. Here are just a handful of different ways the weakness question may be formulated:
- If I talked to your last manager, what would they say you could improve on?
- What are you trying to get better at?
- What is the biggest challenge you face in your current position?
- Tell me about a time you failed?
Remember, at the end of the day, the weakness question is just one among many during a job interview. Don’t dwell on it. Do your best to provide an honest (though appropriate) response and move on.Whether you’re new to the workforce or an experienced professional, JobHero is here to help you make the most out of your career. Come to us for resume samples for thousands of jobs, cover letter samples and an array of other helpful career resources.