From Tim’s Strategy – Ideas for Job Search, Career and Life [email@example.com], a terrific tutorial on answering this tough interview question (thanks, Tim!):
As I sat nervously on the other side of the table, I dreaded the question would come. It would expose that tragic flaw that would seal my candidacy into the circular file.
So what do you feel is your greatest weakness?
I stumbled for an answer… “Sometimes, I work too much.” Perfect. That would work.
I was fresh out of college. It didn’t work. 16 years later, it still doesn’t work.
The question “So what do you feel is your greatest weakness?” is as common as “So tell me a little bit about yourself.” However, it is one of the most misunderstood questions in job interviews.
And I trust you’ve heard it before as a candidate.
WHAT IS THE REAL REASON IT IS ASKED?
The purpose for the question isn’t to expose your tragic flaw. The purpose of the question is twofold:
1. To see if you recognize your own limitations.
2. To see what you’ve done about it.
WHAT IS A GREAT WEAKNESS?
First, recognize what becomes a great weakness. If you lack certain skills, it isn’t an innate weakness. It is a lack of training and experience that can be rectified.
A great weakness is actually one of your strengths taken to the extreme. Think about it.
When you use your strengths or core competencies, you became blinded by your own heroics. You may be someone who is an expectional editor, but have you ever found yourself perpetually making changes – knowing (or feeling) that the document can still get better?
Do you know someone who is very comfortable speaking in front of a crowd, but fails to deliver a message in a succinct manner? Instead, he just keeps talking to make a point. Or to make (too) many points.
SO HOW DO YOU ANSWER IT?
The response to this interview question can be handled in 3 easy-to-remember parts:
1. Recognize that any strength taken to the extreme becomes a person’s weakness
2. Identify the strength (cool note: you’ve just turned the question around to highlight something positive the interviewer needs to know about you)
3. Explain what you have done to adjust for this weakness (again the real reason the question is asked)
Here is an actual response I have used in my career:
So, what do you view as your biggest weakness?
My response (word for word)
Thank you for asking.
I recognize that any strength taken to the extreme becomes a person’s weakness.
For example, I am very adept at researching information to solve problems. I know from experience that there is an unlimited amount of information available and if I did nothing but research, I would never solve the problem.
Therefore, I set a time limit on how much research I will do based on the magnitude of the problem. Once I have hit that time limit whether it is two hours or two days, I know it is now time to propose a solution to the problem.
Notice in the response above what just happened:
1. I recognized that any strength taken to the extreme becomes a person’s weakness
2. I highlighted one of my key strengths (on a question about my weakness no less )
3. I demonstrated that I can spot my own weakness and most importantly, I can appropriately manage that weakness.
The response was also short and to the point. The interview moves on.
So remember.. Your Greatest Weakness is Your Strength. And you’ll do great.
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