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Answering That Wretched 'Weakness' Question

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How Not to Follow Up After a Job Interview

A rogues' gallery of infamously inappropriate follow-ups.

In a post at Harvard Business Review, Boston-based career strategist Pricilla Claman offers advice for answering what she calls "the worst interview question." You know the one: What is your greatest weakness?

 

She recently answered my questions about surviving merger and acquisitions upheaval when you have to apply for your own job. And she wrote a great post on getting off to a good start with a new boss.

 

She says the question about weaknesses feels like a put-down and the relationship between your organization and the job candidate starts off badly. It also tends to make people basically lie. What? You expect them to say "I'm lazy and terrible with numbers"?

 

She also says that a trait that might be considered a weakness in one company culture might fit perfectly in a different culture.

 

Claman's advice:

 

Prepare an answer that is true, trivial, brief and not a fault. Some examples:

  • My biggest weakness is that my professional network is in San Francisco, but I am looking for a job in Boston to be with my fiance.
  • My biggest weakness is that my undergraduate degree is from a college that has a good reputation in the East, but is not well-known in the Midwest.
  • My biggest weakness is that while I'm great at advocating for something I believe in, I find it uncomfortable to talk about myself.


Run your answer by a couple of critical friends or colleagues to make sure it sounds reasonable. And when asked the question, end your answer by asking the interviewer a question, so that the attention is deflected away from your answer.

 

I've written before that Rajul Pandya of the National Center for Atmospheric Research's internship program, is quoted in The Washington Post saying that he wants candidates to show they have thought it through and learned something:

I want to hire people who can say, "I've thought about what I don't do so well and have taken action to do it better."

This post at george's employment blawg warns against naming something that's not really a fault. It says it's a great opportunity to tell a story about a time when you faced difficulty and what you did to overcome it.

 

And this Wall Street Journal article advocates facing that question head-on by maintaining eye contact with the interviewer, regular breathing and a smile to say that you're prepared to talk about this.

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