5 Ways to Ace the "What's Your Weakness?" Question

Last Updated Jul 7, 2009 10:21 AM EDT

If you're job-hunting right now, there's a good chance that during the course of your interviewing you're going to come across that dreaded question:

"What are your weaknesses?"

Okay, so many interviewers -- after getting countless trite, canned, or clearly calculating responses -- don't go there anymore. (I mean, really, how many times can you hear "I work too hard" or "I'm a perfectionist" and keep a straight face?)

But inevitably, someone will trot out that old chestnut. And answering it wrong can torpedo your chances at the job.

So what to do?

There are a few ways to approach it.

  1. Talk about a past weakness you've corrected. Laurie Berenson, writing on Cube Rules, suggests telling a story: this had been a problem for you at work, you identified the problem, you took steps to improve the situation, and it's no longer an issue for you. Wrap up by conveying that you're always looking for ways to improve yourself, and you'll come across as both willing to think critically about your own skills as well as accepting of constructive criticism.
  2. Focus on skills, not personality attributes. Sure, you could reply by saying you're a micromanager or tend to be too critical. But take this out of the realm of personality and think about your skill set instead. Would you like more database experience? More client-facing work? A chance to manage a larger team? Say that, and explain that's why you're interested in this job -- because it'll help you stretch and build your skills.
  3. Package strengths within weaknesses. A Washington Post article about handling the interview question describes how one candidate impressed hiring managers by revealing that her inclination to quickly complete projects can cause errors, so she double-checks and proofreads all her work.
  4. Prepare for the question. Because it's coming, even if it's disguised as "What aspect of your day-to-day responsibilities do you dislike?" or "In what area of your work do you think you can be more effective?". Kathy Simmons at Netshare suggests you prepare a response that is credible, related to the job, and will show you are well qualified and able to overcome your shortcomings. And practice aloud in front of a mirror so your response feels credible.
  5. What not to do: Don't dodge or avoid the question. Don't say you can't think of any weaknesses (what are you, Superman?). Don't use trite responses such as "I care too much about my job."
And, of course, don't list weakness that could kill your chance at the job; if you're applying for a fast-paced editing job, saying you have a problem meeting tight deadlines would be -- well, weak.

Do you have any other suggestions for acing the "What's your weakness?" question (or any cautionary tales)? Share them in the comments section.

(image by whyld via Flickr, CC 2.0)

  • CC Holland

    CC Holland is a writer and editor whose work has appeared in the Los Angeles Times, the San Francisco Chronicle, and a number of national magazines. Online, she was a columnist for AnchorDesk.com and writes regularly for Law.com and BNET. On the other side of the journalism desk, she's been a managing editor for ZDNet, CNet, and KCBS-TV in Los Angeles, where she earned an APTRA Best News Web Site award.