It's one of the most difficult questions in a great number of job interviews. You know it's coming:
"What is your biggest weakness?"
Doh! I knew they were going to ask that.
It's a New Year and online students across the country will have opportunities to secure new jobs in desirable industries in 2013.
So when that infamous question pops up about your greatest weakness, what is the best way to respond? Regardless of your response, the overlying theme should focus on the positive. Consider these four options:
1. Stress improved skills.
Think about your most recent job. What skills have you greatly improved upon in the past year? If the interviewer asks about your greatest weakness, you could provide an example of what was once a weakness, but is developing into a strength. This proves you have an ability to grow on the job.
Under no circumstance should you convey a weakness that tempts the interviewer to kindly show you the exit door. Candidates interviewing for a customer service position, for example, should probably think of a better weakness than "having to deal with irrational, frustrated people" if they truly want the job.
2. Think of how you've overcome an obstacle.
The No. 1 option above took a broad approach to a job candidate's skill set. This option takes a more detailed look into specific examples of overcoming obstacles in the workplace. Let's be real: Most major projects contain a fair amount of obstacles to overcome before they are completed in an effective and efficient manner. Overcoming obstacles shouldn't carry a negative connotation, especially if the project netted positive end results.
The key is to convey to the interviewer the process of how you overcame the obstacle. Keep in mind, the interviewer is probably thinking of a similar challenge at your potential place of employment and envisioning how you would handle such a situation.
3. Turn a negative trait into a positive.
What is perceived as a negative trait can actually work in your favor, depending on the job. You will have to think about this one in advance, but here's a scenario where a professional in accounting could use a negative trait to his/her advantage:
"I tend to check items in spreadsheets and documents two or three times over again. What may be lost in rapid turnaround time is made up in accuracy and quality. I make up for a perceived loss in time by being incredibly organized and planning projects well in advance so deadlines are consistently met."
If you can spin a negative trait into a positive one that matches what the position is looking for, don't be afraid to roll with it.
4. Display transferrable skills.
This option is particularly useful for professionals looking to change careers. If a lack of experience is a potential weakness, find a common link between your previous role and the one for which you're applying. If your experience mostly comes from a different industry, you could still offer valuable, fresh information to the department. Just make sure to stress a willingness and desire to adapt to a new role and new environment.
Whichever option you plan to use, make sure the interviewer walks away with a positive feeling after asking the "biggest weakness" question. Think of it this way: The interviewer is basically asking how you've overcome a challenge in the past, and what you're doing to improve for the future. If you approach the question in this manner, it may not seem quite as daunting.
About the author: Eric Sorrentino joined Grantham University as Social Media Manager in October 2011. Prior to that, he blogged about Big 12 Conference athletics for KUsports.com and was a sports copy editor for the Lawrence Journal-World. Eric received his bachelor's degree in Journalism from the University of Kansas.