I've had three job interviews this week and the one question you're eventually bound to be asked if you've been interviewing long enough is, "What is your greatest weakness?". It's an Onion Question designed to peel back the layers of your character. The easier version of this question is the reverse, "What is your greatest strength?". While my specialty is in communications (and this might be slightly off topic), I do hold certifications in human resources and recruiting. Therefore, I'm always surprised how difficult it is, even for myself, to bear my soul on the phone to a complete stranger.
It is these, honest self-truths, that are what hiring managers are generally looking for. That, and perhaps a little of humility. People lie all the time, they tend to give you the response that they think you want to hear. Early this week a friend of mine admitted that she landed her job by saying that her greatest strength was drinking beer (which I can vouch for). I could equally argue that I have a weakness for pizza, but I'm frankly too worried about whether the interviewer will perceive me with the inability to be serious. That said, this is exactly my weakness.
My weakness is that I care too much what others think of me. I'm an altruist. What should be a rather good character trait can be a curse in the professional world where you're constantly trying to get ahead. My best friend in India once sat me down during our time at University and explained it best, "Liv, you let people walk over you because you hate letting people down that you care about." It's true, sometimes I do let people take advantage of me. Most of the time I'm fully aware of it, I explained to her. "Why?" Because, sadly, I want you to like me.
Whether it's co-workers, friends or family. I recognize that this character flaw drives me to understand the work I do better and its impact on those around me. On one side of the coin it tempers my intuition for an analytic, informed understanding before making decisions. On the other hand, sometimes, I'm cautious of getting too close to others because if I were to fail you, it would hurt like hell when I let you down.
I recognize that we all make mistakes and that no matter how good our intentions, true success is defined in overcoming our weaknesses. Knowing this has driven me to build stronger relationships through my own transparency. Moving forward, my goal is to work with people who I can trust in failure and success and to accept the risk of being wrong in order to live a life with integrity. I will warn you that I likely will always have this weakness and therefore all that I have to offer you is this: I will fall, I will hurt, I will get back up and I will learn from my mistakes. I will keep trying till I find success.
That's the honest truth and that is was this interview question is about.
Is this right answer? The truth is there is no right answer. Some interviewers will like honesty, others will settle for a canned response ("I'm a perfectionist"). I have had an interviewer ask me in response, "So you fail a lot?", totally missing the point. The point is I'm more than my education and my experiences. I'm a human-being talking to another human-being asking for them for a chance to be better than my mistakes.