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Job interviewers are as interested in your limitations as your abilities. An interviewer who asks you to describe your challenges or weaknesses is partly testing how honest you are admitting negative information. She also wants to hear how you overcome your challenges. Choosing the right challenge to talk about can help your job chances.
Prepare and Research
The interviewer isn't asking you to name everything that challenges you, but rather a representative example or two. Decide what you want to mention if asked this question well before you shake hands with the interviewer. To start, research the position you're applying for and the skills involved. You want to avoid bringing up a challenge that would suggest you can't do the job. If, say, you want to work as an accountant, don't tell the interviewer you're challenged by dealing with numbers. If you're an artist, though, poor math skills aren't as much of a drawback.
Questions of Character
Another reason to practice your answer is that you're telling the interviewer something about your character. That may matter to an interviewer even more than your skill set. If you say your challenge is reining in a hot temper, you may sound like a loose cannon. On the other hand, you can't entirely avoid mentioning a challenge or weakness. For example, saying you don't have any weaknesses makes you sound like a liar, and saying that you've overcome all your challenges so they're not an issue makes you sound like an egotist.
Show Yourself Coping
Only bring up a challenge if you can show you've dealt with it effectively. Telling the interviewer, for example, that you consistently miss project deadlines but you're working to improve isn't going to help you. It's also not enough to say "I used to miss project deadlines, but I'm in control of my time now." Detail how you triumphed: setting reminders in your calendar, giving yourself early deadlines, or rewarding yourself for success. Specific examples of projects you delivered on time offer concrete proof you aced the challenge.
Plenty of Practice
Ask your partner or a friend to practice firing interview questions at you. If she doesn't think your answer is good enough, have her follow up with more questions like "Can you prove you rose to meet the challenge?" Pushing you hard will make the real interview seem easy. Practice until you're comfortable with questions, but don't rehearse your answers so much they come off canned. You want to have all the facts about your challenge ready in your mind, but your response should sound spontaneous.
A graduate of Oberlin College, Fraser Sherman began writing in 1981. Since then he's researched and written newspaper and magazine stories on city government, court cases, business, real estate and finance, the uses of new technologies and film history. Sherman has worked for more than a decade as a newspaper reporter, and his magazine articles have been published in "Newsweek," "Air & Space," "Backpacker" and "Boys' Life." Sherman is also the author of three film reference books, with a fourth currently under way.