Though it's a necessary step on the path to employment, going through a job interview can be one of the most stressful things you'll do in your career. And while you can increase your chances of getting hired by studying up on the company you're applying to, dressing professionally, and presenting a polished resume, you can't predict what sort of questions your interviewer will ultimately throw your way.
Of course, there are certain questions in particular that most job candidates dread. Take the salary requirement question, for example -- throwing out the wrong number could have serious consequences, whether in the form of shorting yourself on compensation or taking yourself out of the running by coming in too high. There's also the question of why you left your last job that might throw you for a loop. If you were downsized out of a position or left to escape an oppressive boss, the conversation could get awkward.
But if there's one really tough interview question to prepare yourself for, it's the classic "What is your greatest weakness or flaw?"
It's the kind of question that opens the door to a no-win situation. If you answer honestly and expose your personal shortcomings, you'll give your interviewer a reason not to hire you. But if you fail to come up with an answer, you might get the same result. Thankfully, you can answer this one dreaded question without shooting yourself in the foot. Here's how.
1. Turn a negative into a positive
Owning up to a major flaw can expose a part of your character that you probably don't want your closest friends to be privy to, let alone an interviewer. But if you answer honestly and spin that flaw into a positive, you stand a strong chance of coming away unscathed.
Imagine that your greatest flaw is your inability to delegate responsibilities -- not the most egregious offense, but not a good quality if you're applying for a management position. If you own up to this shortcoming, but add a constructive twist, you might come away as a more desirable candidate.
So rather than admit your flaw and leave it at that, say: "I tend to have trouble delegating tasks, which causes me to take on more work myself. This isn't always the best use of my time. The good thing, however, is that I tend to dabble in every area of the business, and I have a strong understanding of how the various pieces work." By responding this way, you're addressing the question without making excuses while throwing a benefit into the mix.
2. Show how you've grown
We all have weaknesses as individuals and employees; it's how we learn from them that sets us apart as desirable candidates. So, again, rather than acknowledge your glaring drawback and leave things at that, tell your interviewer how you've worked to overcome your key flaw.
Using our above example, you might say: "I tend to have trouble delegating tasks, which causes me to take on more work myself and lose valuable time in the process. But I'm working on giving up control. Recently, I created a spreadsheet of the various tasks that take up a significant portion of my day, and alongside each one, I listed a number of employees who might be suitable to take over. I'm now working on slowly training my team members and giving out assignments so that over time, I have more hands on deck."
By answering this way, you're still owning up to your flaw. But you're also showing how you're managing to not let it get the best of you.
3. Don't give a bogus answer
Acknowledging your weaknesses can be an uncomfortably humbling experience, so much so that you might try to cheat your way out of a legitimate answer. But if you respond to the question with "I try too hard" or "I care too much," your interviewer is likely to either push for a better answer or pursue a candidate who's more open and down to earth.
Tempting as it may be to take the easy way out, don't give an insincere answer. You're better off coming clean and using one of the above tactics to soften the blow.
Job interviews can be challenging, so don't go into the process thinking you'll breeze right through it. You might find yourself put on the spot on more than one occasion, so the better you prepare, the more successful you're likely to be.
The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.