09/16/2014 03:51 pm ET Updated Nov 16, 2014

4 New Ways to Answer the Weakness Question

Whether you've been on a few interviews or many, chances are you've come across this dreaded question:

"What is your greatest weakness?"

Job candidates often fear being asked this and consider the weakness question to be one of the hardest parts of the interview process. They don't want to say something that will take them out of the running, but they also don't want to say they don't have any because avoidance is the worse strategy in this scenario.

So what's the best way to handle the weakness question and answer portion of an interview?

The truth is that there is no one response, however there are thoughtful ways to discuss both strengths and weaknesses that are different from the typical generic answers many employers view as a cop-out. When my clients come to me for help with preparing for their interviews, I make it a point to coach them on communicating unique and authentic responses to the weakness question.

It's important not to brush it aside because it helps employers determine how self-aware you are and if you can think critically and strategically about how to overcome your weaknesses. Therefore, not only do you need to answer the question but you should do so in a way that differentiates you from the crowd and leaves the interviewer impressed with your response.

Below are four common answers to the weakness question and my alternate suggestions that have helped my clients stand out.

1. Instead of saying: I'm a perfectionist
Try: Being specific. Generic responses don't mean anything to employers and a generic lie will ding you. Let's say you really have a tendency to be overly detail-oriented at work, think of certain projects during which this is particularly true and speak to those instances.

Sample Answer: In my project management responsibilities, when dealing with more than three stakeholders on a task, I tend to be overly diligent about ensuring everyone knows their role in the process and is working toward the same goal. My concern is that, with so many moving parts, it's easy for someone or something to get off track. However, I have recognized that this style of management is not conducive to everyone feeling as though they have as equal stake in the success of the project, thus I am working to step back and let the other stakeholders take more initiative.

2. Instead of saying: I'm a workaholic
Try: Addressing an obvious weakness.
If, for example, by looking at your resume, it's apparent that there is an experience gap between what the position requires and what you know, speak to that difference and explain what you're doing to close the gap.

Sample Answer: I do not have experience producing large-scale webinars. I have had classical event planning experiences pulling off large events that have included the use of new technologies however my role has been in figuring out how to use them in collaboration with a live audience rather than as the primary audience platform.

Given this experience gap and the need for each of my employers to increase the ROI of their live events, I have taken courses on the trends behind webinars and have found that [insert something damn smart and useful regarding the use of webinars perhaps the key to extracting value out of each webinar]. It's something I continue to work on becoming more familiar with.

3. Instead of saying: I want to perfect my ability to build relationships
Try: Mentioning a non-essential skill.
By now you should know the primary skills the hiring manager is looking for, so you should pick a skill that is low or not on the list of desired qualities and speak to how you've identified that weakness in yourself but are working on overcoming it.

Sample Answer:
I know this is a client-facing position where my expertise in delivering sales presentations and relationship building is critical. My use of both skills has been at the core of my success. However, in terms of an area of opportunity, I want to continue to cultivate a sleuth-like ability to uncover any prospect's personal interests online because when I have done this, I have closed sales even more quickly than when I hadn't done that preliminary work.

One example would be when I... [insert stellar example]. I'm making a conscious effort to do this more often by... [insert how you now go about prospecting or getting to know your clients to develop a rapport].

As a result, I'm committed to strengthening my research skills around my clients'/prospects' personal interests and use them to complement the sales skills I utilize every day because I want that edge.

4. Instead of saying: That's a great question, however I can't think of any
Try: Honesty (but be strategic about it)!
Everyone has weaknesses. To say you don't have any shows that you're not willing to be truthful with your potential employer and possibly even yourself. Instead of saying you do not have any weaknesses, try any of the weakness responses mentioned above -- you can speak to a weakness that only arises on certain occasions, a weakness that is apparent from either your resume or after having a conversation with you or a weakness involving a non-essential skill. Whichever you decide, it's important to say something.
Sample Answer: See all of the above!

At the end of the day, we are all human, even the interviewers. So, in answering the weakness question, it's not about perfection but rather your imperfections and what you're doing to evolve as a career professional.

If you need more help on how to craft a crisp, yet strategically honest, response on your weaknesses, set up a 15-minute consultation with me. I can help you with specific situations that require a more personalized approach so that you walk into the interview feeling ready for what's to come.