5. What are your weaknesses?
This one is the real kicker. While it's against every survival instinct raging during a professional evaluation, looking at the recruiter with a blank stare or smiling widely while declaring yourself flawless is interview suicide. First and foremost, because everyone knows it's coming, pointed out Joey Price, PHR, HR specialist and founder of Push Consultant Group, LLC, www.pushconsultantgroup.com. You may not like it, but you have to prepare for it.
"An impressive and confident response shows that the candidate 1.) has prepared for the question; 2.) has done serious self-reflection; and 3.) can admit responsibility and accept constructive criticism," Price noted. Great responses sound sincere, confident and proactive.
"Sincerely give an honest answer (but don't say too much!), be confident in the fact that this weakness does not make you any less of a great candidate, and show that you are working on this weakness and can tell me how," Price advised.
Job search experts are of basically two schools of thought when it comes to how to answer this question:
Disguise a strength as a weakness
Jeff Gordon, recruiter, blogger, educator and marketing consultant, IWantAnEducation.com, encourages candidates to focus on characteristic that is not altogether weak or is in fact a hidden strength.
"Many folks answer those questions with answers like 'I work too late' or 'I tend to take on too much,' he said. "But what's important is that you follow up with a solution to this so-called weakness. For example, 'I take on too much, but I'm learning to prioritize my activities based on monetary value to the company.'"
Frances Cole Jones, author of The Wow Factor: The 33 Things You Must (and Must Not) Do to Guarantee Your Edge in Today's Business World, cautioned many interviewers know you've practiced your couched "weakness," so they will follow up with, "Great, tell me another." So be sure to have a second answer ready.
Show your ability to change
Nancy Anderson, Blackbird Learning Associates LLC, http://blackbirdlearningassociates.com, coaches job applicants to select a job-related weakness (pick something small that is obvious on your resume-you're not giving anything away, just make sure it's not one of the job requirements) and then say what you've done to correct the weakness.
Try, "My weakness happens to be disorganization. I realized that this was an issue for me and have worked to correct it over the past several years. After I found that my disorganization stemmed from a struggle with time management, I attended a time management training program and make sure that I use the daily to-do list and prioritization skills presented on a daily basis. I've improved 98 percent and I still follow the techniques," Anderson suggested.
Hurwitz has a more creative approach. "'What are your weaknesses?' means 'Why should I not hire you?'" he cautioned. While the answer has to be positive, humor-used appropriately, doesn't hurt, he noted.
He provided this example: "I am great at coming up with a strategy and implementing it. However, I literally get lost going around the corner. I always look for a way to overcome weakness, so if you ask, I'll give you a kidney but I won't give you my GPS! More seriously, I do not suffer fools well. I am very patient. I will spend as much time as necessary with supervisees who are trying and willing to learn. I get along very well with children. I have all the patience in the world for 6-year olds born in 2004. However, I have no patience for 6-year olds born in 1984!"
Now that you've learned how to phrase your responses, practice, practice, practice. Brian Hinchcliffe, Kurru, LLC, www.kurru.com, told ADVANCE if job applicants have thought through these questions and prepared responses, they will find them far less tricky when the big day arrives and they are put in the hot seat.
Kerri Hatt (email@example.com) is managing editor of ADVANCE.