It's one of the most common questions you'll face in a job interview, and one of the most precarious. The key to navigating this tricky interview question is knowing what employers are looking for when they ask it, and what you should keep in mind when crafting your answer.
Why Employers Ask This Question
The reason why employers ask this seemingly cliche question is simple: how you answer a question asking you to name your own weaknesses is very telling. Most employers want an employee that is willing to admit faults that may get in the way of their ability to work efficiently and then resolves to overcome those weaknesses through actions. They also want to make sure that your weaknesses don't get in the way of doing your job.
Never Give These 3 "Weaknesses"
There are a lot of great answers you could give when asked: "What is your weakness?" But there are three answers that you should avoid at all costs if you want to ensure that you give your potential employer a good impression. The 3 "weaknesses" to avoid are:
"Positive" negatives: Answers such as "I work too hard," "I care too much about work," "I'm a perfectionist," etc., are cliche and even a bit conceited. Employers will know right away that you are not being genuine with your weakness and they will wonder what real inadequacies you could be hiding.
No weaknesses: Never claim that you can't think of any flaws you have. As with the first "weakness," candidates who claim they don't have any weaknesses will make employers think they are hiding something.
Being too honest: You shouldn't lie about a weakness in your interview, but it's important to be prudent with your answer. You don't want to be too honest and give a weakness that will make an employer decide against hiring you. For example, if you are interviewing for a job in an accounting firm, you won't want to say that you have trouble paying attention to small details. Likewise, if you are applying for a sales position, admitting that your weakness is being assertive would tell an employer that you aren't fit for the job.
Pick Strategic Weaknesses You Can Overcome
The key to choosing the "right" weakness to reveal in your interview is strategic; you need to find an authentic weakness that is not a serious concern for the employer. It also needs to be a weakness that you've overcome or are overcoming with some sort of demonstrable action. Common "acceptable" weaknesses include a fear of public speaking (overcome with taking courses in public speaking and practice); time management concerns (overcome with creating professional to-do lists and calendar blocks) and similar issues that do not severely impact your desirability to an employer.
The key to overcoming this interview question is understanding that employers ask it because they want to see how you, as a potential employee, handle confronting your own weaknesses, and how you handle resolving them.