Job candidates hate being asked it. Interviewers hate asking it. However, the notorious “greatest weakness” interview question has its place. Interviewers aren’t looking for a particular answer, so there is no single “correct” response. They ask it to see how you would approach a problem and the steps you’d take to resolve it. It’s foundationally a behavioral question, and being prepared for it can help you make a great impression. Here are 6 tips to help you with your “What are your weaknesses” answers.

1. Be honest.
While not exactly a trick question, it is indeed a test. Interviewers want to see whether you’ll answer the question honestly, though they do realize that no candidate is going to put their job prospects in jeopardy. They know you’ll highlight your strengths and downplay your weaknesses, but they expect you to acknowledge that you have weaknesses, and that you’re not afraid of constructive criticism.

2. Be serious.
After conducting countless interviews, an interviewer can tell if you are being disingenuous. Don’t dodge this question with a clichéd example that’s not really a weakness (e.g. “I work too hard”). You need to take the whole interview—including this question—seriously. Even if it sounds scripted or funny when you hear the interviewer ask, “What do you consider to be your biggest weakness,” try to be sincere in your answer.

3. Be prepared.
Take time to really think through a specific example. The “greatest weakness” question can catch even the prepared off guard, especially if you offer up only a half-hearted or “fluffy” answer. Interviewers who aren’t satisfied with your initial response may ask follow-up questions such as, “Can you give another example of a weakness?” and “How does it affect your work?” You need to be ready for these questions, too.

4. Show your process/progress.
You can think of the “greatest weakness” question as an opportunity to demonstrate your critical thinking skills (i.e. your ability to identify what’s wrong) and problem solving skills (i.e. your ability to work through an issue). Whatever weakness you use as an example, you should show how you’ve set up a system to ensure that any mistakes stemming from your “weakness” won’t happen again.

5. Avoid core skills.
It goes without saying that you should stay away from listing as weaknesses any skills that are core to the position you’re interviewing for, as well as any skills that are essential to most jobs. For example, you wouldn’t want to say that you find it difficult working in a team, as most jobs involve interacting with others. If it’s hard to decide on an example, keep in mind that the interviewer is less interested in what the weakness is than on how you talk about it.

6. Recognize this question in its other forms.
Some interviewers may ask a version of the weakness question in subtler, more obliging ways, and use it to screen junior candidates before moving them up to the next level. They might describe a hypothetical situation or ask you to relate a problem you faced in your work history—¬for example, a time when you had to let an employee go—and explain how you handled it. Take advantage of these opportunities to show what you’ve learned. Don’t miss your chance to turn a weakness into a strength.

How have you answered the “what are your weaknesses” question in your interview history? I invite your comments.

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