What to say when the hiring manager asks, 'What's your greatest weakness?' in a job interview

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How to Prepare for Tough Job Interview Questions

You're in the hot seat. The conversation is going well, and you feel confident that you've made a great first impression. Then, just as you think you've crushed it, the interviewer asks the dreaded "What's your greatest weakness?" question.

If you're not prepared, it can trip you up and throw you off.

Bernard Marr, global enterprise performance expert and best-selling business author, writes in a LinkedIn post that the reason some interviewers like to ask about weaknesses is to gain insight into how self-aware you are.

"The most cliché answers I have heard are 'I am a perfectionist' or 'I work too hard,'" he writes. "Don't give those answers, they just show that you haven't really prepared to find a good answer."

Here are four strategies to consider when faced with this difficult interview question — and some examples of what not to say:

Talk about weaknesses that don't relate to the job.

Marr suggests talking about minor weaknesses that don't really matter to the job you are trying to land.

"It acknowledges that you are self-aware and have weaknesses, like all of us, but none that are any real concern because they don't really matter for the job," he explains.

For example, if you are applying for a job as a medical transcriber, you might say that you struggle with public speaking — not that you can't meet deadlines.

Avoid general statements.

Try to provide specific situations in which your weakness might surface or be problematic. For instance, instead of saying "I'm bossy," explain that you sometimes come across as bossy when there's a lot of pressure on you.

"This way you show that it is not a weakness you have all the time but one that you are aware of in that situation," Marr says.

Turn the conversation to the skills needed for the position.

Marr says you can try to avoid the question by saying something along the lines of, "Of course we all have strengths and weaknesses," before explaining how the skills you do have align perfectly with the job description.

If there's a skill needed for the job that you don't currently possess, Marr recommends saying, "With my new role will come new responsibilities such as X, and in my previous job I have had limited opportunities to fully develop these. However, I am a fast learner and will focus on developing these areas."

However, be warned: If you try to get out of answering the question, the hiring manager might ask it again.

Talk about weaknesses you've overcome.

Another strategy is to avoid talking about any current weaknesses, Marr says. Instead, mention your ability to self-assess and identify weaknesses, and offer specific examples of how you found and dealt with them in the past.

Did you take a course or participate in training sessions to improve on a specific skill? Did you seek out guidance from your previous boss or colleagues? Did you simply make a conscious effort to rid yourself of that weakness? Tell the interviewer what you did and the results of your actions.

Avoid mentioning these weaknesses:

Aside from the cringe-worthy "I'm a perfectionist" or "I work too hard" responses, here are a few weaknesses you should never mention in a job interview:

"I'm not a team player."
"I'm pretty lazy."
"I'm not trustworthy."
"I'm not reliable."
"I have difficulty accepting feedback."
"I tend to lie a lot."
"I'm not able to take initiative and work independently."

Read the full LinkedIn post here.

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