Of all the anxiety-inducing questions that are standard with any job interview, the one that gives candidates the most fits is, by far, What is your biggest weakness? It’s a baiting query that begs for just the right amount of self-deprecation. Too much and you may give your potential employer enough reason not to hire you. Too little and you come off as someone who lacks perspective and the ability to think critically.
According to author and Wharton professor Adam Grant, when confronted with this question, most people attempt to subvert it by turning a weakness into a strength (e.g., “I’m a little too focused,” or “I’m too much of a perfectionist”).
But as Grant points out in a piece he wrote on Medium, there have been multiple studies that suggest a different approach is more productive. Grant recommends being honest and accurate when confronted with the question, after one study showed that interviewers were most impressed by applicants “who were more concerned with being seen accurately than positively.”
Another study showed that only 23% of the undergrads who were interviewed by Harvard researchers actually listed negative qualities when asked about their weaknesses. The other 77% masked them with qualities: “I’m too nice. I’m too demanding when it comes to fairness.” Researchers determined that they were more likely to hire the candidates who were able to list actual weaknesses, because “it takes guts, not to mention a certain self-awareness, to admit it,” writes New York Magazine’s Melissa Dahl.
So the next time a potential employer asks you to describe your weaknesses, admit them, because honesty is the greatest strength of all.
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