I attended a career workshop sponsored by my church and one of the attendees asked, “How do you answer the question, what is your greatest weakness? Should I answer honestly or tell a lie?” She wanted to know if it was a trick question or did they really want to know the information. If she told the truth and it was not good, it could cost her a job? My experience confirms that the question is usually asked with the proper motivation. However you should always keep the following thoughts in mind:
• There are so many applicants for jobs that interviewers look for knockout factors
• They may want to know if you have given serious thought to self examination and self-awareness
• They may want to know if you have experiences or attributes that may not mesh with their values, beliefs and expectations
• They may use the question to confirm their intentions to hire or not to hire
There are several views circulating on the correct answer to this question.
Some experts feel the best way to handle the question of your greatest weakness is to identify an area of needed growth that is not terminal. For example, someone told me they were a stickler for details and was told they were over organized. Another responded that they were a perfectionist and their high standards were a problem for some people. The technique looks upon a weakness as a strength that’s overdone. They also phrased it in such a way that the perspective employer would love to hire someone with that problem. My personal favorite response is to present a truthful area of weakness and tell what you have done to correct it. It is no longer a problem or it has been significantly minimized. This takes guts and confidence.
You were taught from birth that honesty is the best policy. You should never discard the wisdom behind this phrase. However, you should look at your level of disclosure to ensure that you are not unintentionally sabotaging your chances at landing a job. Employers by law cannot ask you certain questions. Illegal areas include:
• National Origin
• Marital status
• Child care problems
• Arrest records
• Health status
Since these areas are off limits, it would also not be appropriate for you to volunteer this information. Their questions must be limited to those areas that affect your ability to do the job.
People are imperfect and will say the most unbelievable things in the hot lights or perceived hot seat of an interview. Here are a few samples of honest comments from my archives of information collected from actual interviews, which you should avoid.
I asked a very competent graduate from a prominent university about her greatest weakness. She responded that she was a procrastinator. She would get things done, but it would take her some time to get around to it. If you are a work in progress, correct your issues so that they are not a problem. She was hired and became an outstanding employee and procrastination was not a problem.
A candidate at a job fair told me he wanted to get into sales. I asked why and he responded because friends said he had the gift to gab. I asked if he based his career objectives on everything his friends said, which startled him. After regaining his composure he said, he wanted to work for a corporation for a year and then go off and pursue his first love which was music. I translated his comments back to him saying, “You just told me that we will invest $100,000 to train you in the first year. Before we can recoup our investment, you are going to leave us to go off and blow your horn.” My advice to him was to collect his thoughts before taking that message to the other 100 exhibitors at the job fair. He took my advice and pulled himself out of the interviews to develop a better approach.
I received a request to talk to a relative of an employee. During a one hour exploratory interview I found her to be intelligent, a hard worker with a strong background and strong communication skills. I recommended her for the next interview. The next interviewer was disturbed by his interview with her, based on one comment. She disclosed that she had been a child alcoholic when she was 12 years old. She was 35 years old and he saw no reason for her to volunteer this information.
Many people are extremely honest and naive in interviews. They want to bear their souls unnecessarily in front of the interviewer. This phenomenon seems to be exacerbated when they are interviewing with a person in whom they have a lot in common.
The interview is not a confessional. It is however a witness stand and what you say can and will be held against you. Your answers to questions should be honest and truthful. However, you must evaluate the tactic of throwing ourselves at the mercy of the court, looking for forgiveness for your noble act of unnecessary disclosure. Remember, just the facts and provide information related to the job. Honesty is still the best policy, but revealing every pimple when it’s not relevant is a questionable strategy.
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