Thanks in part to the influence of Silicon Valley and its focus on the psychological probing of job applicants, interview questions have been steadily getting more and more abstract. As part of the interview process, today's job seekers might be asked to describe a vending machine to someone who’s never seen one before, or plan a fantasy date with a famous historical figure.
Even if the company you’re approaching isn’t fully on board with prodding your brain, at some point you may still come up against one of the most common queries applicants face: "What is your greatest weakness?"
"Some 'experts' will tell you to try and turn a strength into a 'weakness,' to make yourself look good," writes Inc. contributor Justin Bariso. "That advice is garbage."
"Think about it," Bariso continues. "Interviewers are asking the same question to countless candidates. Just try and guess how many times they hear the answers 'being a perfectionist' or 'working too much.' (Hint: way too often.)"
While responding that you work too hard might seem like a reliable method of moving the conversation along, there’s a better way. And it involves being sincere.
"The fact is, it's not easy to identify one's own weaknesses," Bariso writes. "Doing so takes intense self-reflection, critical thinking, and the ability to accept negative feedback—qualities that have gone severely missing in a world that promotes instant gratification and demands quick (often thoughtless) replies to serious issues."
Bariso believes the question is an effective way to reveal an applicant’s self-awareness, which is why companies often use it in their vetting process. By being self-aware, people (and employees) can correct behavior that might be affecting job performance. So the key is to give this question some actual thought before it’s ever posed to you.
What is your actual greatest weakness? It could be that, in a desire to please everyone, you wind up making decisions based on the urge to avoid disappointing others. That’s a weakness that sounds authentic.
Pondering the question also has another benefit: It prompts you to think of areas in your life that could use some course-correcting. Even if you don’t land that job—or even if the question is never posed to you—you’ve still made time for self-reflection. The result could mean a more confident and capable presence for that next interview.