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Prepare to Ace This Tough Interview Question
You're in an interview for a job you really want. You've clicked with the interviewer, nailed all the questions so far and everything seems to be going great. As things wind down, the hiring manager asks one last question: "What is your greatest strength, and weakness, as an employee?” If you aren't prepared to answer that question, you may find yourself suddenly feeling flushed and nervous. It's difficult enough to talk about your good qualities: Trying to explain a fault or two can be excruciating. After all, if your weakness happens to be your interviewer's pet peeve, you risk not being hired. On the other hand, if your answer is vague or self-serving, you risk losing your chance at the position.
Putting You on the Spot
One of the reasons that people hate this question is that it can be tricky to answer. It's one thing to sell yourself to an interviewer by talking up your career triumphs and hard work ethic; it's another to have to disclose your shortcomings to a stranger.
While the hiring manager probably would like to know how you perceive yourself in the workplace, he or she also wants an idea of your honesty, communication skills and insight. Unless you are prepared, it can be easy to derail the interview with a poorly chosen answer.
Consider the Context
Unless you are applying for a new position within your current company, there is a good chance that your interviewer is a stranger. She is responsible for making a good hire. The hiring manager needs to know not only whether you have the skills necessary to do the job, but that you also have the integrity, character and people skills to be a productive employee within the organization.
Identify Weaknesses Before the Interview
The best way to ace this question is to prepare for it. Even if the interviewer doesn't ask, the preparation process can help you identify some things about yourself and your work history that may be of use at other points during the interview.
Because the process of self-inventory can be challenging, it may be a good idea to write your strengths and weaknesses down on paper. If you feel comfortable doing so, you could show your list to a trusted friend, former boss or coworker and ask for feedback.
Don't fall into the trap of over-disclosure. Offer a weakness or weaknesses that arework-related, that you understand and have learned to get under control. Behavioral issues (such as ongoing conflicts with coworkers or absenteeism) should also be kept to yourself. You don't want to scare the interviewer off.
Avoid Humble Bragging
Some job seekers are so reluctant to disclose a limitation they will repackage a positive trait as a weakness. One of the most common examples of this type of interview deflection is telling an interviewer that you are prone to overworking or tend to be a perfectionist.
While it is vital for workers to maintain a healthy work-life balance, this answer dodges the question. It does this by reframing positive traits, such as having a good work ethic and high standards, as flaws. An experienced interviewer has heard this answer before and may even call you on it, which could lead to an awkward moment or two. In some cases, the interviewer may decide, right then and there, that you aren’t a good fit for the position.
Own the Weakness
Once you state your weakness, own it. Don't blame it on your mother, previous coworkers or an unreasonable supervisor from your past. Avoid using vague adjectives or phrases that minimize or distance yourself from the weakness. For example, don't say "I probably could do better at meeting deadlines." Be direct and explain to the interviewer that time management skills have been an issue in the past.
Offer Examples, Explain Your Solutions
After you've presented a weakness to the interviewer, follow up with a job-related anecdote that demonstrates how it impacted your job performance and how you addressed the problem. Doing this not only gives the hiring manager an idea of how your weakness affects your work but also shows how you can positively address and transcend your limitations.
Lainie Petersen writes about business, real estate and personal finance, drawing on 25 years experience in publishing and education. Petersen's work appears in Money Crashers, Selling to the Masses, and in Walmart News Now, a blog for Walmart suppliers. She holds a master's degree in library science from Dominican University.