what's your biggest weakness?It’s the question that everyone dreads during a job interview: “what’s your biggest weakness?” The question allows some people to overshare, while others smugly note that they don’t have any. Is there such a thing as a good answer? is there a way to avoid putting your foot in your mouth and hobbling your shot at getting an offer?

Yes, and actually, it’s not all that difficult. Here are some foolproof tips:

Steer clear of personality flaws Don’t `fess up to being a bit emotional, or to taking criticism too much to heart. Don’t say that you’re not good at working with others and prefer to work alone, and don’t say that you tend to take over as team leaders because you’re “so enthusiastic.” I’ve interviewed plenty of candidates who candidly shared that they are introverts or extroverts; one even told me her biggest weakness was her bladder (and you can guess how quickly I shut down that interview).

Don’t say that you don’t have any weaknesses I’ve actually read interview advice that told job candidates NOT to own up to weaknesses. Please don’t do that. If you are a human being, then you have some weaknesses. Maybe it’s only cheesecake, but if that’s all you can come up with, see above and also get real.

Identify a minor weakness, and have ready how you’ve already addressed it When asked, “what is your biggest weakness?” my stock answer was, “I was never as proficient as I should have been at Excel, which is a good skill for someone who has managed as many mergers from the HR side as I have. When I saw that I was relying too often on my assistant to handle my spreadsheet chores, I enrolled in an online class to address that weakness.”

See why the example above works? Not knowing Excel is a pretty minor weakness (unless you are in finance; not a good one for financial folks!), but it is a legitimate weakness. Being weak in an ancillary skill is a good choice because it doesn’t raise any red flags about what it would be like to work with you. And the icing on the cake is when you declare that you’ve already taken steps to ameliorate the weakness. Just make sure that the skill you choose isn’t one that’s critical to the job you’re interviewing for!

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