Learning to Love the Dreaded 'Greatest Weakness' Question
‘JT & Dale Talk Jobs’ is the largest nationally syndicated career advice column in the country and can be found at JTandDale.com. Dear J.T. & Dale: I've had four interviews. I keep getting asked my "greatest strength" and then my "greatest weakness." As for the latter, I answered truthfully. Once I said "not enough patience," and once I said "communicating." Is this wrong? — Ellis Dale: Let's not have any communication problems here, Ellis: Those are terrible answers. When the hiring manager translates those into boss-speak, they come back as "probable hothead" and "possibly sullen and distant." J.T.: I'd say your answers weren't so much wrong as incomplete. The ideal answer involves pointing out that the weakness is really the result of the strength. For instance, "Lack of patience" is just your desire to see results and make progress, which means you can be hard on yourself and others. Dale: Ah, yes. It's the circularity you find in Zen philosophy — if you go far enough into a strength, it becomes a weakness. And that's exactly how you answer the two questions, Ellis — by treating them as one. For instance, if you say your greatest strength is you "love working with people and get along with everyone," then the weakness would be: "Because I get along with everyone, co-workers come to me for advice or conversation, so I have to be careful to make sure it doesn't interfere with getting my own work done." Another example — my favorite — is giving your strength as being someone who "loves to work," which means your "weakness" is being a "workaholic." No one ever did NOT get hired because of being too well-liked or working too hard. Jeanine "J.T." Tanner O'Donnell is a professional development specialist and the founder of the consulting firm, JTODonnell.com, and of the blog, CAREEREALISM.com. Dale Dauten resolves employment and other business disputes as a mediator with AgreementHouse.com. Please visit them at JTandDale.com, where you can send questions via e-mail, or write to them in care of King Features Syndicate, 300 W. 57th St, 15th Floor, New York, NY 10019. © 2010 by King Features Syndicate, Inc.