How to Answer the Timeless Interview Question: ‘What Is Your Biggest Weakness?’

(Airman Eugene Oliver/U.S. Air Force photo)

There are a handful of classic job interview questions that have been floated around for so long, they're almost a joke. While "What is your biggest weakness?" is definitely one of them, in no way should you answer with a joke.

There could be a number of reasons potential employers ask this question. The first could be to see whether you have some common sense. Most people would know not to answer with an actual personal failing, such as not showing up on time.

It's also not a good idea to tell the interviewer that you have no weaknesses. You are not a corporate fortress; everyone has strengths and weaknesses. They may want to know whether you can accept a failing and be coachable.

Most likely, they want to know how self-aware you are and whether you can be honest with them and yourself. So whether it's a gotcha question or not, it's important to be prepared.

Weaknesses That Are Actually Strengths

Listing characteristics and personality traits that can be construed as strengths for the job is one way of answering this question. This runs the risk of the interviewer or human resources director seeing right through you, but if done right, it can seem genuine and introspective.

The important thing to remember when taking this route is not to make your answer too ridiculous. There's a difference between "I sometimes work 18 hours a day," and "I have a difficult time maintaining a healthy work-life balance."

Another important consideration is to make sure the weakness is something that can be coached. Instead of answering something such as "I'm too much of a perfectionist," try something along the lines of being too detail-oriented and getting bogged down because of it. Note that you can have trouble asking for help to keep projects moving.

Have a Weakness the New Job Can Fix

This option allows for you not only to have a weakness that is actually a weakness, but lets you be honest as well. It can allow for you to acknowledge a potential weakness on your résumé to be another reason you want the job.

Most importantly, it can open the possibilities for your potential new employer to be the solution to this weakness. Start the conversation with, "I lack sufficient experience in ...," and use your actual weakness to fill in the blanks.

Are you going up for a management position for the first time? Tell them you need more experience leading larger groups. Does the job involve a lot of presentations? Tell the interviewer you feel confident in your writing and research abilities, but don't have a lot of experience in public speaking. You even can tell your interviewer that you've held positions of importance in previous roles, so you don't have a lot of experience in delegating tasks.

Put Yourself in Their Shoes

Being in the military has given most veterans a keen sense of skepticism that serves us well. If someone is in a position where they are trusted to hire candidates, chances are good they've been around the company awhile and talked to a lot of people. Their skepticism is likely as strong as yours.

With this in mind, know that they will see right through a dishonest answer, an absurd answer or even a transparent strength hidden as a weakness. Give them the respect of considering what your weaknesses actually are while being a coachable candidate with growth potential.

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