Dear Matt: In every interview, employers always ask: What is your greatest weakness? What is the answer they want to hear?
Matt says: Recruiters ask this question primarily to gauge your personal character and communication skills, says Ben Foster, President and Executive Recruiter of 4Sight Search (4sightsearch.com), a boutique digital marketing recruiting consultancy serving Minnesota and Colorado.
"How you answer this difficult question tells interviewers about your honesty, business acumen, and ability to handle tough communications situations," says Foster.
One answer the employer does not want to hear is something generic, such as "I'm a perfectionist," says Foster. Put yourself in their shoes. Would you want to hear something generic that everybody else says, or would you want to hear something that is specific, human and genuine? The other answer they don't want to hear is that you lack a qualification that's critical to the position — that's a sure way to eliminate yourself from consideration.
There is a two-step process to handling this question, says Foster: 1. Provide an honest, genuine answer; 2. Recover.
For example, if you're a manager, reference the challenge of balancing delegation with control. When thinking about how to recover once you've made yourself vulnerable, remember that self-awareness is a highly-valued trait in an employee. This is the perfect time to show that you have it, says Foster. Think of what you've done to help correct your weakness and immediately follow your confession with an explanation:
"Three years ago, when I started managing, I didn't delegate enough and it affected my team dynamics and my own productivity and focus. I still consider it a weakness of mine, but one that I recognize and can tame when it surfaces. After being mentored by my former director, taking a handful of leadership seminars and obtaining feedback from my direct reports, I feel like I've learned how to hire the right people, empower my team and let them be the experts at what they do."
Admit the weakness, than recover with your plan to overcome it. Make sure your recovery has an assertive, upbeat and positive tone. For example: "I haven't used software X before, but I have used similar software Y, which is obviously another industry standard. So I'd be at a disadvantage there, but if I received this opportunity I would start familiarizing myself with it before I even started, and I guarantee I'd be proficient in three weeks at the most."
When switching careers or industries, focus on the skills you can transfer. Highlight how what you've done in past jobs relates to what you can do in future jobs, and use success stories to show that crossover experience. "Be human," says Foster. "Be genuine, strategic — and you'll be just fine."
Contact Matt at firstname.lastname@example.org.