In every job interview, you know it’s coming. It’s like the suspenseful scenes in a horror film when you know someone is destined to be massacred by a chainsaw. Your heat starts pounding. Your palms sweat. You know it’s coming, yet you’re still shocked and spontaneously let out a loud shriek.
The same is true about the dreaded “What’s your greatest weakness?” question that seems to be a favorite of every hiring manager. You know it’s coming, yet you still feel blindsided and blurt out the first answer that pops into your mind.
The truth is that most people answer questions quite honestly in an interview. They treat the interview like some kind of word association game show, and literally say the first thing that comes to mind.
That strategy may come in handy if you’re playing Scattergories or charades, but there is nothing that can kill an interview quicker than an impulsive answer.
I had a client, “Jane”, that came to me because she was having a very difficult time advancing in the interviewing process. She had a slew of first interviews, but couldn’t get to the second interview and she didn’t know why.
We sat down for a mock interview and, of course, the interview wouldn’t be complete without asking the classic question…”So, Jane, what would you say is your greatest weakness?”
Without skipping a beat or taking a breath, Jane simply and innocently answered, “I have difficulty getting to work on time.”
I was stunned, and thought maybe I was on Candid Camera or a new episode of Punked. I couldn’t believe that was her answer. So I asked her, “Jane, is that really how you answer that question in an interview?”
She looked a little puzzled and answered, “Yes, because it’s the truth.” As a career coach, a big part of my job is to hold up the mirror to my clients so they can see themselves as they appear to others. This was one of those occasions.
I shared with Jane that her honest answer just informed the hiring manager that she was irresponsible, unreliable, apathetic, and severely challenged when it came to time management. Jane had no idea that one little answer could say so much.
I want to be perfectly clear that I would never, ever advise anyone to lie in an interview, but the truth is that some answers will do more damage than others. Since Jane was not unreliable or apathetic, and certainly didn’t want any hiring manager to think so, we re-examined her traits and experiences and selected a different “weakness” answer that would not raise such an enormous red flag.
Thinking about what you want to say ahead of time is time well spent. Don’t go weak in the knees the next time you’re asked the “weakness” question.