"What's your biggest weakness?"
If your resume is good enough to get you an interview, you probably won't escape this question. Hiring managers inevitably ask it, and job candidates invariably loathe it.
Some uninformed job seekers, however, do a complete face plant in response, giving answers like these real-life ones supplied by top hiring professionals:
* "Brownies." (From Barbara Schneider, director of staff sourcing, Oasis Outsourcing)
* "Well, I had bronchitis last spring." (From Christine Richardson, director of career services, Cazenovia College)
* "My Chihuahua. I just can't resist him when he looks up at me!" (From Renita Peck, client service manager, Spherion Corporation)
These job candidates clearly had no idea this question would be asked. Recruiters estimate, however, that 90 percent of interviewers ask this question. Why?
"It's a good question for one simple reason," says Jack Williams, vice president of Staffing Technologies.
"Employers want to know if people recognize they have weaknesses, because it's hard to correct problems if a person doesn't know he or she has a problem."
* "I have no weaknesses." (From Elaine Varelas, managing partner, Keystone Partners)
This response makes Varelas shudder. "Please have weaknesses. People who have none clearly have a very poor ability for self-reflection." Knowing your weaknesses is as important is having a clear view of your strengths, interests, and abilities. Taking a free career test is one way to get some insight.
* "I am over-organized, and I drive my bosses crazy sometimes having everything so neat and organized." (From Tina Hamilton, CEO of hireVision Group)
This person was evidently following the all-too-common advice about turning a weakness into a strength. Don't do it. "This answer will guarantee a reflex from the interviewer that will appear as if she is losing her lunch," says Hamilton.
Instead, advises Hamilton, pick an honest challenge or weakness that's not a primary function of the job, and explain how you improved it. Don't stop at your weakness alone.
For instance, if you're a graphic designer you could pick a weakness that doesn't interfere with your core duties, such as organizational skills: "I have a tough time keeping things organized. So I purchased a Blackberry and color-coded folders and now I never worry about where things are. No one would ever guess organization is somewhat challenging for me. " But this answer probably wouldn't work as well for a medical records coder, whose major responsibilities require stellar organizational skills.
* "I am bipolar."
* "I do not own an alarm clock. The noise of it frightens me."
* "I have a bad temper, which sometimes causes me to throw objects."
* "I have a fear of eating in public places, so I prefer to eat under my desk. Can I eat under my desk at your company?"
(All of the above are from Kim Lockhart and Janna DeMarco, of Spherion Corporation)
Honesty is important, but when it comes to this question, keep the skeletons in the closet. "This is not the time to reveal a recent brutally honest conversation with your therapist," says Varelas.
Anticipating "the weakness question" helps you be prepared. This alone can take you that much closer to nailing your interview and landing your dream job.