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Though it is a question often feared in a job interview, the "What is your greatest weakness question?" doesn't have to derail your interview. In fact, a well-planned answer can strengthen the case for you to get the job. In general, the best way to answer the interview question is genuinely, but wisely.
Why Managers Ask
The reality is many managers ask the interview question simply because it is a traditional, common interview question that has been asked for a long time. For those managers who go beyond convention and think strategically, the question does serve a couple purposes. Managers can gauge whether an employee has good self-awareness and also watch for any potential red flags or weaknesses that tie to the job. If you understand these motives as the job prospect, you can more effectively plan your response.
Keep It Real
One of your primary goals in responding to the weakness question is to build or maintain rapport with the interviewer. You can do this with a genuine, honest response. An honest approach leads to sincere words and nonverbals. If writing isn't a real weakness of yours, don't use it. If it is, you could say, "I used to struggle a bit in writing memos and e-mails because my degree didn't involve a lot of writing courses. I went to some workshops, though, once I realized the value of good writing in basic communication."
Keep It Positive
The word "weakness" definitely carries a negative connotation. After all, a weakness is something you don't do well. However, an effective description allows you to present a positive message that overcomes the weakness itself. If discussing a weakness in time management, you could say, "Time management isn't a natural strength of mine because of my creative pursuits. However, I've worked to develop some systematic skills in managing time and to-dos, which have greatly improved my efficiency." While you introduce a genuine weakness, you also show positive improvements and a forward-looking attitude.
Descriptions to Avoid
In addition to knowing how to effectively describe your weaknesses, it is useful to know what descriptors or strategies to avoid. First, don't describe your weakness in an overly negative or self-condemning way, such as, "I've never really been good at speaking in front of people." This point is especially true in describing weaknesses that relate to job qualifications. Generally, you want to avoid using a weakness that the company views as a required or desired quality for a top candidate. One of the worst things to say is, "I can't think of a weakness" or I don't have one." These statements show a lack of basic humility or self-awareness.
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Neil Kokemuller has been an active business, finance and education writer and content media website developer since 2007. He has been a college marketing professor since 2004. Kokemuller has additional professional experience in marketing, retail and small business. He holds a Master of Business Administration from Iowa State University.