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Interviews: Learn to Bite Your Tongue!

Dear J.T. & Dale: I need interview help! I've been on three separate interviews in the past month where the hiring manager asked me, "What's your greatest weakness?" I didn't get any of the jobs, and I think it's because of the way I answered that question. I was completely honest and told them I have a low tolerance for ignorance and sometimes show my frustration when co-workers make stupid mistakes. Do you think I should answer this differently? — Rae Dale: Rae, Rae, Rae... this is a major, major weakness you're confessing to, and I get the sense you think because it's true, you should say it. One of the important skills of corporate life is knowing when NOT to blurt out the truth. In fact, a critical corporate skill is biting your tongue like a piece of Juicy Fruit. So, the answer is yes, your answer disqualified you. J.T.: I can't disagree with that conclusion, but let me back up and explain lots of hiring managers are utilizing "behavioral questions" as a way to get inside the heads of potential employees. The "weakness" question is one of them. Proper answers are always truthful, but it's not just what you say but how you say it! I would argue that how you're describing your personality is scaring employers away because it implies that you would create tension in the workplace. Instead, I would reframe your response to something like this:

"I love doing good work, and push myself hard to be the best I can be. I do find at times that I can get frustrated with co-workers if I feel they aren't trying. However, I try to remind myself that everyone makes mistakes and that showing my frustration won't help the situation."

Notice you don't just explain your weakness, but you define how you negate it. Dale: I do hope you work at making J.T.'s version true. There's that old saying about someone "not suffering fools gladly." Well, "not suffering gladly" is not suffered gladly in corporate life (unless you're Steve Jobs). You're going to come across fools in every job, some in high places, and it's part of your job to suffer them long enough to help educate them. Feel free to send questions to J.T. and Dale via e-mail at advice@jtanddale.com or write to them in care of King Features Syndicate, 300 W. 57th Street, 15th Floor, New York, NY 10019. © 2011 by King Features Syndicate, Inc. Photo credit: Shutterstock