I’m surprised at the bad advice given when it comes to the “weakness” interview question — “what’s your biggest weakness?” — from career experts.
“Turn it into a strength,” they say. “Use examples like ‘I have to triple check everything before I send it out,’ or ‘I insist on being early for every meeting.'”
That’s the worst kind of bullshit, because it’s been perpetuated ever since I can remember, when I first joined the job market over 20 years ago.
For one thing, interviewers can see right through it. They read the same articles that tell you to give that answer, so they’re expecting it.
For another, nobody, and I mean nobody is so perfect in every way that even their weaknesses make them awesome. If that were true, they wouldn’t be looking for a job. Instead, they would be giving awesome lessons to the Most Interesting Man in the World.
And yet, we keep hearing that answers like “I’m a perfectionist” or “I work too hard” will impress the interviewers so much, they’ll leap to their feet, shout “Eureka!” and hire you on the spot.
Now, that doesn’t mean you tell your most damning weaknesses during the interview. Like your ever-changing loyalties that has you changing jobs every six months. Or your overdeveloped need to create office drama. Or your sexual attraction to office equipment.
Being honest doesn’t mean being so stupidly honest you interview yourself right out of a job.
Pick a real weakness, but not a glaring one, and do one of two things:
1) Find a bright side to the weakness, or a way that you work around it. For example, “I am absolutely afraid of public speaking, but communicate very well in a one-on-one situation. So I always try to sell only to one or two people, and bring in someone to assist if there is a need for a sales presentation. I’ve been able to keep a high close rate with this approach.” That shows you know it’s a problem, and have a solution already in mind.
2) Tell the interviewer you’re working on the problem. “I’ve always been afraid of public speaking, and that’s hurt some sales opportunities in the past. So I’ve been going to Toastmasters to improve my speaking skills.” That tells them you’re trying to fix the problem.
In either case, you’re not making a weakness a strength. You’re identifying a real problem that many people have, and demonstrating your self-awareness and commitment to working around it.
Everyone has weaknesses. Everyone. People who don’t are liars or are susceptible to bad advice, which are weaknesses of their own. When you’re asked the weakness question — and you will be — make sure you work out your answer in advance, practice it a few times, and deliver it with conviction.
Your interviewer is more likely to be impressed by a real answer, and you’ll stand out from the crowd in a positive way. Not because you were the third workaholic perfectionist to cross their path that day.
Erik Deckers is the owner of Professional Blog Service, and the co-author of Branding Yourself: How to Use Social Media to Invent or Reinvent Yourself. His new book, No Bullshit Social Media: The All-Business, No-Hype Guide to Social Media Marketing, which he wrote with Jason Falls, is in bookstores and on Amazon now.