The Interview Question Everyone Seems To Blow

There’s nothing quite like a job interview.  From the minute you get the call, you’re excited about the chance to start a new opportunity, but you’re worried you’ll answer a question the wrong way, or you’ll forget to comb your hair that day.

There’s a good chance your hair will be just fine, but you might want to give some advance thought to an interview question many people don’t handle well.  While interview questions can change very quickly, “What are your strengths and weaknesses?” is one that just won’t go away.  Some employers try to disguise the question by asking “What is your best talent, and what do you need to work on?,” but both of these questions are heading in the same direction; they want to know how you see yourself, and how well you can communicate that self-knowledge to others.

For some reason, people think this is some kind of trick question, so they try to come up with an answer they think is unforgettable. They’re usually right—but the answer is unforgettable for all the wrong reasons.  Consider these:

“I’m awesome!” It might seem OK to start off your strengths with an strong statement, but since this is a pretty popular phrase, it’s easy for this answer to sound fake.  Some employers might worry that the rest of the interview is going to turn into more of a pep rally than a serious conversation; show good energy, but don’t get too strong too soon.

“I don’t think we have enough time for me to really answer that question.” This may seem like a good effort at humor, but it can come off as a little too self-centered, or more interesting than whatever you might say after this.  In most cases, save the humor for a little later in the interview.

“Wow.  Umm… Let me see.” This is an opposite answer that has the same effect in the interview—it’s a job killer.  Not being able to think quickly of one good thing to say about you is usually seen as a lack of self-confidence, something employers don’t like.  Other job hunters will use this answer to pretend they haven’t thought of an answer ahead of time, but most interviewers see right through that false modesty.

“I’m afraid of the dark.” This is the kind of answer you want to avoid when talking about your weaknesses.  Too many job hunters think this is the time to list personal faults, bad habits they want to break, or other private matters that don’t relate to the office.  As one counselor said, this is a job interview, not psychotherapy. Keep your answers related to work, and you’ll be fine.

“I care too much!” This is the all-time worse answer to give if the question is about your weaknesses.  Even if it’s true, it’s been used by too many people in the past, and it really doesn’t answer the question—so don’t be tempted to use this response.

If these are all bad answers, what makes a good answer? The truth. “As I understand the position, the strengths I would give to the job are my experience in sales, my ability to listen to people, and my ability to close the sale.  In terms of weaknesses, I find the paperwork in sales can be challenging to manage, but I took a workshop on how to use my new computer to help with that, and it’s really helping me stay organized in my current job.”

Thoughtful, professional, honest: that’s the job interview trifecta. – By Patrick O’Conner via myFootpath

As a counselor and college adviser for 25 years, Patrick O’Connor has helped unemployed workers, veterans, returning students, and new high school graduates learn new skills, earn degrees, prepare for graduate school and get better-paying jobs.  He’s a past president of the National Association for College Admission Counseling, and author of the widely acclaimed college guide, College is Yours in 600 Words or Less. Most important, he’d like to help you realize your goals for college and career success.

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