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'What Do You Think is Your Greatest Weakness?'

The recent blog post, "5 Really Stupid Questions from Interviewers," elicited several comments about that oft-asked and much-hated interview question: "What do you think is your greatest weakness?" Here's my advice on how to answer.

First, ignore the conventional advice to state a weakness that's really a positive job attribute, such as, "I'm a workaholic and I spend too many hours at work." Interviewers have been hearing that for years, and they see right through it.

And the truth is, they really don't care what your weaknesses are. They care about how you handle the question and what your response indicates about you.

The trick to answering this question is to identify a new skill you're learning or planning to develop — something that is only a "weakness" because you haven't yet mastered it.

Here's a five-step response strategy for this question:

    1. Highlight your strengths for the position.
    2. Mention a new skill or area in which you are not yet as strong as you'd like to be (don't use the word "weakness.").
    3. Outline what you're doing to master the new skill and overcome your so-called "weakness."
    4. Describe how this new skill will improve your value to the company.
    5. Finish with a question that will redirect the interview back to your real strengths.

Here's a fill-in-the-blanks template to help you start formulating your response:

While there are several strengths I bring to this position, including _______, _______, and _______, I would like to improve my knowledge of _______. In fact, I have been involved in _______ and _______ in an effort to master these skills. I feel this is important because it will allow me to deliver added results in the areas of _______.

Here's how this example might sound if you were seeking a position in sales or customer service:

While there are several strengths I bring to this position, including a consistent record of being one of the top three performers in my previous position, strong industry knowledge, and outstanding interpersonal skills, I would like to improve my knowledge of business finance. In fact, I have been taking courses in business economics and finance at the Institute of Advanced Training in an effort to master these skills. I feel this is important because it will allow me to directly relate the sales of products and services to a customer's return-on-investment, and to recommend department cost-saving initiatives. Would you like me to elaborate on these ideas?

Did you notice the question at the end? Asking a question will make the interview more conversational, help you gain more control, and keep the interview from becoming an interrogation.

Have you ever been confronted with this question in a job interview? How did you handle it? Please share your thoughts below.

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