How to increase your chances at success in a job interview

How do you normally answer the standard interview question, “What is your biggest weakness”? If you said, “I’m a perfectionist” or “I work too hard,” the next thing that comes out of your mouth might as well be “Baaaa”, because – surprise, surprise – nearly 80% of all white-collar lob candidates give some form of those two answers. The key to answering a question about weaknesses successfully is to understand the purpose of this type of question. Believe it or not, the interviewer doesn’t actually care what your weaknesses are.

The way you answer this question tells the interviewer three important things:

1.    Self-awareness: do you actually know what your weaknesses are? If your answer sounds hokey or generic, that tells the interviewer that you might not take criticism well, since you haven’t bothered to do much self-examination;

2.    Integrity: do you have the courage to admit your weaknesses to others? Again, canned answers raise red flags about trustworthiness and cooperation

3.    Confidence: do you believe in your strengths enough to take your weaknesses in stride? A neat answer wrapped in a bow tells the interviewer that you don’t have faith in your abilities.

So what’s the best way to answer a question about weaknesses? The most important thing is to be prepared. This doesn’t mean coming up with an answer you think will impress the interviewer. This means looking inside yourself and truly examining your weaknesses. What would you like to improve? Brainstorm several ideas and pick one weakness that you believe you can overcome. Then, brainstorm ways you have improved already and a plan to improve in the future.

For example, Max was interviewing for a position as a construction site manager. When he was asked about his biggest weakness, he answered without hesitation, “I can be difficult to work with because I tend to assume that I know best. In my last job, I learned this lesson the hard way when one of my crew tried to tell me that we had ordered the wrong materials for the job. If I’d listened to him, I wouldn’t have wasted nearly $1000 of my company’s money.”

Clearly, it took guts for Max to admit this major foul-up. The HR manager interviewing Max was impressed by his humility and honesty. She was even more impressed when he went on to say, “Now, I keep myself on target by asking for feedback on a weekly basis. That gives folks a chance to point out things I might have missed without it throwing me for a hoop.” You can use this approach to connect with the interviewer and leave an excellent impression.

The key is that you focus on how the weakness has hurt you in the past, and then go on to give specific examples of how you’re working on improving. It really helps if you can relate your story to qualities that are necessary to the specific job for which you’re interviewing.

Now that you know how to answer a question about weaknesses, you’ll never settle for the stale “perfectionist” or “work too hard” cop-out answer again!