My greatest weakness? Job interviews

My greatest weakness Job interviews

Then suddenly, there it is, like crocodile eyes in the water, the question from hell: ‘What would you say is your greatest weakness’ What am I to reply I have to answer. But will my answer lose me the job

It’s a sign of our recessionary times. There are a lot of people filling out job applications at the moment. From 69 applicants for every graduate post in 2010 there were 83 applicants in 2011.

And it’s not just graduates.

Daunting experience: When an interviewer asks you what your biggest weakness is, what should you reply

Daunting experience: When an interviewer asks you what your biggest weakness is, what should you reply (file photo)

When I worked in a supermarket a few years ago, everyone could be fairly sure of a job stacking shelves if they hunted long enough. Now even Poundland has 25 applicants for each minimum-wage post.

So yes, employers can pick and choose — but is this power going to their heads With extraordinary hubris, they’ve bestowed upon themselves the right to explore the darkest recesses of our psyche, kicking open whichever door they please and demanding to see inside.

‘So let’s take a look in here, shall we And what we really want to see is your most shaming weakness!’

It’s an entirely useless question, of course, for who will answer it truthfully The employers may imagine they’re being terribly clever and that it’s going to reveal some deep, game-changing inner truth.

But this is territory even psychotherapists are cautious about.

It’s only in a relationship of trust that such an admission will be made: and therapists the world over know there has to be a lot of affirmation before people unfurl themselves even a little.

Is anyone going to expose their inner darkness to some spotty-faced middle manager in the HR department Not a chance.

Dwell on your strengths: The one thing you must never, ever do is reveal a real weakness (file photo)

Dwell on your strengths: The one thing you must never, ever do is reveal a real weakness (file photo)

At the supermarket where I worked we thought HR stood for ‘Harmful Relationships’.

So what happens when this question is asked It tends to get the answers it deserves, which is various forms of deceit. Most common are narcissistic replies like: ‘I trust people too much’ or ‘I suppose I can be too kind, sometimes’.

Others go for the more macho: ‘I don’t suffer fools gladly!’

For some reason, people imagine this is a wonderful trait, never realising it invites the question: ‘Yes, but what if you’re the fool’

Sometimes the interviewer is just looking for a bit of mental agility, to see how good we are on our feet.

One of my friends was asked the ‘greatest weakness’ question when he went for a job with an insurance company. Like the smooth talker he is, he batted it back to them with nonchalant ease. ‘You know what a wise man taught me Don’t dwell on your weaknesses — dwell on your strengths. That’s what I do. It seems to work.’

He told them nothing but did it in a clever way — and got the job.

Another tactic Reveal a weakness that you have supposedly turned into a strength. Like this: ‘I used to have a problem with physical fitness, but after a long hard look at myself, I joined a running club and now run two marathons a week.’

Even if you’ve never even run for a bus, that could work. But the one thing you must never, ever do is reveal a real weakness. Because however much they may pretend otherwise, employers aren’t interested in fallibility. It unsettles them, it inserts a worm of doubt.

It threatens to expose job interviews for the haphazard, dip-in-the-bran-tub farce they actually are. They may ask about weaknesses, but all they really want is reassuring strength.

So if nothing else comes to mind, remember the great fall-back position: ‘My greatest weakness is that I’m a workaholic.’ Sadly, that’s a weakness they’ll love you for.