Karen Bolda: Trials of job hunting

Last week I described one of the most common interview questions: describing a conflict. I would like to give some tips on another question you are almost certain to get: "Tell us about your weaknesses."

Talking about your weaknesses honestly while in an interview is extremely difficult and you should be well prepared to answer this question before the interview. It's not that most of us don't have weaknesses, it's that we don't want to admit to them, and certainly not in an interview! That is why people often choose to tell weaknesses that they really believe are strengths.

Here is a typical description of a weakness:

"I sometimes get so involved in a project that I work right through quitting time."

In our culture, putting in extra, unpaid hours is considered a dedicated employee, so that isn't a weakness at all. By doing this, you are subtly saying "I don't think I have any weaknesses," and what the interviewer hears is "this person has an inflated sense of value and may be difficult to work with."

The best way to describe a weakness in an interview is to be honest about a weakness, but then demonstrate how you are working to overcome it.

For example, your weakness may be that you are very uncomfortable giving presentations. Realizing this, you have joined Toastmasters, a club where participants work on their speaking skills (there are two clubs right here in Ashland, by the way, go to www.Toastmasters.org for more info).

This answer is powerful for two reasons. First, you have identified a weakness shared by many, so the interviewers will feel a more personal connection to you. Second, you have identified a strength, which is that you are self motivated to improve on your weaknesses.

Spend some time before the interview identifying a very real weakness, and what you have done or are continuing to do to improve it. This is a question that most interviewees are not prepared to answer. Answering this one question well will help you rise to the top of the pool.

Karen Bolda, M.A., is a meeting facilitator and professional development trainer. She's lived in Ashland for 13 years where she operates her own consulting business. Contact her at 890-1883 or karen@karenbolda.com. Her workbook "Ace the Interview" is now available for purchase at www.karenbolda.com.