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A really common interview question across industries is about strengths and weaknesses. Answering the part about your biggest strength is easy (for most) but lots of people trip up on the other side of the question: “What is your biggest weakness?”

When you Google how to answer this question there are a lot of mixed opinions, but they generally fall into one of three camps:

1. Spin a negative into a positive. Such as,“Sometimes I spend too much time checking my work because I want to make sure it is perfect.”

2. Deny having any weaknesses. This one is the least common, and pretty obviously not the way to go.

3. Give an honest answer. Such as, “An area I am trying to work on is public speaking. It is not naturally something I’ve been able to master.”

I firmly believe in option 3.  Answer the question honestly… without shooting yourself in the foot.

Why?

Well, to start off, giving a canned answer makes the person on the other end feel like they are speaking to a robot. And any good interviewer knows this is the oldest trick in the book (and has probably heard anything you’ve managed to come up with about 100 times before).  It comes off as the opposite of genuine. If the interviewer is experienced (and you should expect them to be) they will take the question a step further to see if your answer has any depth (and if it’s canned, it probably doesn’t). The followup may be, “Okay, so give me an example of a time when that impacted your work negatively.”  If you don’t have a real example ready to back that up, guess what — you’re probably going to be sitting there racking your brain for another weakness and maybe even fall into pitfall No. 2…

Which is even worse. Being unable or unwilling to come up with anything at all only means one thing: you are not self-aware.  The truth is (and everyone knows this) no one is going to be good at every single thing they do. Constantly identifying areas you can work on and then taking steps to actually improve them makes you a better employee, coworker, friend, family member — you get the point. Very few people out there are going to want to sit next to someone every day who thinks they are 100 percent perfect.

So let’s get to the point, why should you answer the question honestly?  A few reasons:

1. As explained above, giving an honest answer makes you come across as genuine, honest, thoughtful, and self-aware (all great qualities that interviewers are looking for).

2. It actually will enable you to be in a role that you can succeed in. The person on the other end knows what the company is looking for (overall, as well as for the specific job) and is trying to make sure you are a good fit for both. If your biggest weakness is genuinely public speaking and you are applying for a role that requires constantly presenting to large audiences, it’s probably better that they know that upfront, and it may be better that you don’t get that role. If that’s the case, why are you applying for it anyway?

How to Ace the “Weakness” Question

Give a real weakness and explain what steps you’ve taken to improve.

An answer like that shows off a really great quality (that is universally important to people) which is that you can adjust to different scenarios and learn new things. A few examples of solid answers:

“When I took my first internship at Company X, I realized that I struggled with public speaking and presenting. Realizing that this was not my strong suit, I signed up for a class when I got back to school all about public speaking.  Honestly, it is something I may always need to work on but I am really proud about the strides I’ve made so far.”

“When I started at my current role, there were lots of different competing priorities in the day. I definitely had trouble balancing them and needed to become more organized. Now I use a task management app to keep track of the many requests and move them around as necessary.  Though I won’t always get to every single thing on the list, I now make sure I communicate what I can and can’t get done which has really helped.”

At the end of the day, interviewers appreciate honesty and effort, and this is the best way to show off those great qualities while answering this question. It goes without saying to not give a weakness that is a deal breaker – don’t tell your future employer you have no clue how to use Excel if it is listed as a key requirement of the job.

Believe it or not, the canned answer approach can be seen as a deal breaker in itself, so be thoughtful and give an answer with some substance and honesty – it will go a long way.

How do you answer the “What’s your weakness” question? Tell us in the comments!

Interview Prep Question

Photo courtesy of BushBelles and Karla’s Closet