"What is your biggest weakness?" has long been a favorite question of hiring managers across industries. This is a tough question all the way around. If you are too honest, you may eliminate yourself from consideration. If you're not honest enough, you may come across as evasive — again, eliminating yourself from consideration.
So, what's the best way to handle this question?
The first thing to do is prepare. Since there is a good chance you'll be asked this question in any interview, you should always think about it in advance. Write down how you might answer the question, and practice your answer. Share your thoughts with a friend or two and get their feedback. Put time into perfecting your response.
Your weakness should never be something critical to the job. For example, if you are interviewing to be a project manager, don't confess that you struggle with organization and often miss deadlines. Organization and timeliness are key to succeeding as a project manager. If you tell the hiring manager you lack these qualities, the hiring manager will have no reason to hire you.
On the other extreme, you should never give a disingenuous answer. Many job seekers will take the "my weakness is really a strength" approach, offering answers like "I just work so hard; I can't stop myself" or "I'm such an overachiever, and I have very high expectations of those around me." These answers come across as inauthentic, and no hiring manager will believe them.
Instead, take this question as an opportunity to address the elephant in the room (assuming there is one).
For example, I was once asked to consider a part-time coaching role with a large organization. During the job interview, the hiring manager asked me, "What is your biggest weakness?"
This was my response: "As you know, I don't come from a human resources background, like many coaches do. That may be considered a weakness in comparison. However, I have extensive corporate experience in many industries and many job functions from engineering to marketing. I have interviewed for many different roles myself, and I'm able to bring my own authentic experience to the table to help job seekers do their best."
In this case, the hiring manager already knew that I had not worked in human resources. It was clear from my resume. She was probably trying to decide whether or not this difference in my background was a problem. Because I brought the issue up directly, I was able to put it to rest quickly. It also gave me a chance to explain why my own unique experience would be an asset to the organization. My answer asserted my value and created space to talk openly about my background.
There's no one right way to answer this question, but regardless of what you say, you need to prepare in advance. Doing so will allow you to turn your weakness into a potential strength — authentically, of course.
A version of this article originally appeared in the Memphis Daily News.
Angela Copeland is a career coach and CEO at her firm, Copeland Coaching.