It's a standard question in almost every job interview, and one that most people have a hard time answering truthfully: "What's your greatest weakness?"
Despite being straightforward, it's a tricky question to answer. On the one hand, you don't want to appear cocky by pretending you have no weaknesses (because of course the interviewer knows you do).
On the other hand, you don't want to give the recruiter any reason not to hire you. (If your tendency to screw up Excel models isn't apparent on your resume, you certainly don't want to bring it up now.)
Most of us settle for a somewhat rosy-colored version of the truth that makes our shortcomings look like strengths. For example, you say you're a perfectionist who works too hard, or that your procrastinator tendencies have taught you how to work well under pressure.
But according to David Reese, VP of Human Resources at Medallia, who wrote on the topic for Harvard Business Review, this is exactly the wrong way to respond.
"Responses like these tell me little about how a candidate faces challenges and immediately implies a lack of sincerity," he writes. "It doesn’t demonstrate to me how they think — beyond their ability to creatively avoid being honest or self-critical."
Instead, show them that you're self-aware and willing to identify what's not working. Employers, especially startups, value having a diversity of opinions on their team. Innovation doesn't come from a roomful of people blindly agreeing with whatever the boss says. It comes from individuals giving honest and constructive feedback, even when that means pointing out the flaws in a popular idea.
When you're asked about your greatest weakness, be honest about what you need to work on. Better yet, describe how you've already begun to address the issue. That takes maturity and shows employers that you're willing to tell the truth even when it's difficult.
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