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Create a Superhero Response to the 'Greatest Weakness' Question

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Clark Kent walks into his interview at The Daily Planet.  The interviewer, a prim and proper human resources representative inked to perfection, shuffles some papers, clicks her pen and says, "So tell me, Mr. Kent, what do you consider your greatest weakness?"

What do you think he says?  Go ahead.  You know you want to say Kryptonite.  Just remember:  Clark Kent had to be the responsible alter ego and support Superman's lavish lifstyle.  Dry cleaning a cape gets expensive!

Career TV's video Resume Advice: Common Mistakes includes some tips from Maureen Crawford, a recruiter at Osram Sylvania, on how to answer the dreaded weaknesses question.  This is a question that every job seeker needs to be prepared to answer.  Recruiters and hiring managers want to hear about how you identify and overcome obstacles to your own development.

Use the following structure to formulate a good answer:

"I used to have struggle with [your nonthreatening problem here].  I [your intervention here].  Recently, I have received feedback from [co-workers, supervisors, etc.] that my skills in this area have improved."

Some areas for development/problems are better than others, even if you have overcome them. 

Try to use an example that meets the following criteria:
—You have experience with the problem and aren't picking something out of the air
—Addressing the problem involved specific steps
—You have found a way to manage the problem

Examples of "good" problems:

  • Taking ownership of projects, but failing to trust the contributions of others. Solution:  learning to delegate through professional development activities like managment courses, reading books and articles on delegating, or a finding a mentor in senior management.
  • Treating all tasks as high priority.  Solution:  developing the ability to manage time and prioritize more effectively.

Examples of "bad" problems:

  • Co-workers and previous supervisors thought you were grumpy and hard to work with.  While a perpetual case of The Mondays can be cured, you don't want to give a future boss reason to doubt your people skills.  If you've overcome this challenge, that's great!  (Just don't share until you're hired.)
  • Difficulties balancing personal and professional obligations.  Depending on your personality, you might be able to pull this one off, but if you're reading this article because your response to "What's you're greatest weakness?" isn't working, you probably can't.  This one isn't for beginners.  The issue with bringing personal problems into the mix is you open the door to your personal life by bringing up your personal problems in the interview.  Also, personal problems tend to be viewed as baggage you are stuck with.  You know those annoying relatives who leave you with an apartment full of broken electronics and clogged plumbing?  Sometimes they come back.  Hiring managers are onto that.

Interviewing is an imperfect process.  Plenty of good workers interview poorly, so if you think you have bombed a few interviews, it's okay.  It happens.  Work on doing better next time!  While you're working on your response about your greatest weakness, check-out the post on Five Questions to Get You Through Any Interview.

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greatest weakness

At my last job I told the interviewer, who was also my prospective boss, that I had trouble suffering fools gladly. This is one of those double-edged claims of weakness, but with many interviewers the Dunning-Krueger effect acts as a shield against their thinking it could be a problem.

Dunning-Krueger Effect & Interviewers

It's true that many people are promoted to their level of incompetence and they are blissfully unaware of their own ineptitude. Just be cautious about bringing any negativity into the interview as it can work against you.

Response of Superman re: weaknesses

Too many times I feel compelled to let people know who I am. It causes me great stress, particularly when I am flying far above the ozone and I need to focus all my attention on what I am doing... Luckily, there is nobody up there whom I can confide in, so the question is moot, and the problem resolves itself. My other greatest weakness is that as Clark Kent I stutter, stammer and blush and I'm a little afraid of my shadow. As superman, I am brave, a knight in shining red and blue armor, ready to save the universe and then the galaxy. I think to myself "Who am I?" What if I have a duel personality, or a cloned other self. Then I get a tad woeful, and lose my imagination and concentration. The question that baffles me is, am I an awesome hero or a nerd? You see, even superman has weaknesses.

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