One of the questions you should expect to hear in a job interview is "What are your biggest weaknesses?" This is usually the follow-up to a similar question about your strengths. Despite the prevalence of this question, many applicants fail to prepare an effective response. With a few basic techniques, you can avoid any negative marks from your response and potentially improve your candidacy.
The first step to effectively spinning your response in your favor is to humbly offer up a weakness. Among the worst things you can say are "I don't have any weaknesses" or "I can't think of any." As part of your pre-interview strategy, you should develop a list of your strengths and vulnerabilities. Vulnerabilities include weaknesses as an employee or candidate as well as factors about you or your experience that could negatively impact your success in getting the job.
Disconnect from the Job
As you review your weaknesses, compare them to the posting. You want to select a weakness totally disconnected from the nature of the work. A primary purpose of inquiring about your weaknesses is to gauge any potential red flags. Regardless of how well you ultimately spin your negative trait, the employer will likely have concern if you bring one up related to the job. For a teaching job, you don't want to say, "I have struggled with public speaking." This trait contradicts a key requirement of the position.
Spinning into a Positive
One common spin technique is to present a strength masked as a weakness. You might say, "I tend to be a perfectionist, which occasionally causes me to put extra pressure on myself on projects." Perfectionism is a quality that could have positive and negative interpretations. In this example, you have seemingly indicated that your perfectionism is negative because it leads to stress. But you simultaneously conveyed that you have high expectations for yourself and commit to the job. This particular example may work well for a position requiring precision or strong attention to detail. Use this technique with caution, as you may come across as disingenuous or lacking self-awareness if your trait is obviously a positive quality or insincere weakness.
Spin with Progress
Hiring managers may respond more positively to honest and clear weaknesses if disconnected from the job. If a job requires creativity over organization, for instance, you might say, "To avoid stifling creativity, I've not emphasized organization in the past. However, I have gotten better in balancing by keeping a detailed planner and a basic list of daily to-dos." In a January 2013 Forbes.com article, business and career expert Caroline Ceniza-Levine noted that this type of response likely shows you as more self-aware, realistic and adaptable to professional standards.
Neil Kokemuller has been an active business, finance and education writer and content media website developer since 2007. He has been a college marketing professor since 2004. Kokemuller has additional professional experience in marketing, retail and small business. He holds a Master of Business Administration from Iowa State University.