Interviewing someone for a job is not as easy as it looks. First, as the interviewer, you’re tasked with finding the person who will not only do the job well but also fit in well with the other employees. You have to assess abstract qualities that can’t be found on a résumé. Because you have to repeat the process for every potential employee, you end up asking question after question to applicant after applicant.
Still, interviewers need to be told something: “What is your biggest weakness?” is not a good question. It just isn’t.
Now, job seekers have to understand that interviewers want to find some way to distinguish one applicant from another. Asking questions that are seemingly impossible to answer is one way to see who can think creatively. The question is an admirable way to achieve this. However, this question isn’t the same as asking, “Name three difficult situations and how you’ve overcome them.” That question asks you to think critically about your performance, talents and problem-solving skills. Asking you to identify your weakest professional trait is like asking, “Why should I choose someone else for this job?”
Yet, it’s a staple that you should assume will come up in every interview. Rather than tell the interviewer, “Well, that’s a dumb question and I refuse to answer it,” you do have a legitimate ways to respond and look better for it. And no, stating that your biggest flaw is being a perfectionist is not an acceptable answer, either.
Honesty, with a twist
“‘What are your three strengths and three weaknesses?’… is a classic, but not too many people know how to answer this,” says Kenneth C. Wisnefski, founder and CEO of WebiMax, an online marketing company specializing in search engine optimization. “As an interviewer, we want to hear strengths that describe initiative, motivation and dedication. The best way to respond is to include these attributes into specific ‘personal statements.’
Similarly, weaknesses should be positioned as a strength that can benefit the employer.
“I like to hear applicants state an exaggerated strength, and put an interesting twist on it. An example of this is, ‘My initiative is so strong, that sometimes I take on too many projects at a time.'”
This answer leads with a strength that employers want — initiative — and still acknowledges that you’re not perfect. In fact, you can overextend yourself. Although you might consider this acknowledgement too honest, it works because it proves you’re being honest. Plus, employers are still requiring workers to “do more with less,” so you show that you are prepared to multitask.