In an Office Hours episode, we received this question.
“I recently had a job interview and was asked to name one of my weaknesses. In the name of being transparent, I told them I struggle a lot with being on time. I didn’t get the job and I fear it’s because of the answer I gave. When I talked to a family friend, he advised, ‘when they ask you for a weakness, don’t give a real one’. Do you agree with this? If so, what should I say in the future when I’m given this question?”
This is how most people interpret that question and the way to respond to it. They list out some things that aren’t actually weaknesses. They work too hard. They lose track of time when they work.
An answer like this isn’t necessarily going to hurt you, but it’s going to show that you are a safe choice for the job. It also isn’t actually what the interviewer is looking for when they ask this question. It’s about self knowledge.
This question has the potential to show your interviewer a depth of self knowledge that many people don’t have. It has the capability to show your skills and the type of work you gravitate towards.
Instead of looking at this question like they are asking you to expose some deep character flaw, look at it as if they are asking “What are you bad at?” “What do you hate?”
Most people think that they want to do a certain type of work and that they are good at it. Knowing what you’re bad at is incredibly valuable. Employees who know this have a huge edge.
What if your answer was something more like this: “I’m terrible staring at a spreadsheet, my mind doesn’t work that way.” Or “I am bad at thinking chronologically and am better at thinking more abstractly.”
Answer in such a way that reveals that you have self knowledge about the type of job you would never want.
This makes you a better candidate with an leg up on your competition.