Last month, Movin’ On Up asked readers what they think is the toughest interview question to answer. With more than 44% of the vote, the toughest question was, “What is your greatest weakness?”
It can seem like a trick question at first. You’re supposed to be like Superman – flying in to save the needs of the employer. How can you talk about what you’re doing wrong when the whole point of an interview is to convince them you’re the best for the job? Even Superman, who is weak to kryptonite, still manages to save the world.
When you’re selling your personal brand to an employer in an interview, you have to stamp out the concerns an employer may have with hiring you. That’s why it’s important to be a candidate that is aware of your faults and working to improve them. It’s not as easy as it sounds, and the most common answers can do more harm than good.
Super Strengths Aren’t Weaknesses
Weaknesses are often strengths taken so far that they end up hindering you. Either way, most employers can tell you’re spinning these weaknesses as strengths. It’s important to know your specific weaknesses and avoid general strengths as weaknesses like, “I work too hard,” or “I care too much.” Superman being too powerful may make him a less interesting hero, but it doesn’t make him less capable of saving Metropolis.
During the 2008 Democratic presidential debates, the candidates were asked their greatest weakness. Hilary Clinton and John Edwards gave the typical answers of, “I get frustrated when people don’t seem to understand that we can do so much more to help each other” or “I sometimes have a very powerful emotional response to pain that I see around me.” But Barack Obama gave a different answer. He said, “My desk and my office don’t look good. I’ve got to have somebody around me who is keeping track.” President Obama’s honesty made him relatable, which helped him win the primary.
Super Honesty Isn’t Super Either
While you should never lie or stretch the truth about your weaknesses, there is a point where you can share too much, which can leave negative impressions on the employer after the interview. Be honest but brief when talking about your weakness. If they ask for more, stick with your two greatest, but end with a positive note about what you’re doing to improve them.
Superman with a Super Plan
The most important part about discussing your weakness is what you are doing about it. People aren’t so much interested in how you fall, they want to see how you get back up. Superman may have been weak against kryptonite, but he always had a lead suit ready to protect him if he had to deal with it.
Being an introvert, I’ve always had to deal with my energy levels when interacting with customers, clients, or co-workers. When working long periods of time with several people, my work quality deteriorates and I tend to have a short fuse. That’s why I logged the times of the day I felt most energetic and planned meetings around those times. At the job I even resorted to pinning a color code to my apron so my co-workers knew when I was good to help them or when I had low energy.
To prepare, talk to your former professors, mentors, or managers to see what they see you need to work on and come up with a plan to improve those areas. You will never be without faults, but it’s important to an employer to know that you are aware of them and working on them.
As Superman has his kryptonite, every job seeker has a weakness. That’s a given. But what can separate you from your competition is what you’re doing about it. What are you doing to combat your weaknesses?