One of the most common questions in a candidate interview and one that seems to trip up many executives is, “What are your weaknesses?”
When you have been recruiting for as long as I have, you can tell when a candidate is not prepared for a certain question. You can see it in their eyes and hear it in their nervous laugh.
There are a lot of good answers, but “I work too much” is not one of them. When someone uses that tried and lame answer, it is a good bet that you are getting close to a career sore point.
There is no reason to let this simple question throw you off. Here are some hints to deal with it:
Tell your references that you are using your current job search as a career learning and development opportunity and then ask them what they think your weaknesses are. Listen carefully. Even if you hear something you do not agree with, be quiet. Do not argue. Ask for clarification and then hang up and assess what you heard.
After talking to your references—who presumably will be honest in a nice way—you will have the necessary feedback to help you answer the “weakness” question with confidence and real substance.
When this question comes up in an interview, use your real weaknesses. Acknowledge them but in a more positive light. Assure the recruiter that everyone has weaknesses and that you are very aware of yours and that you have a plan of action to help yourself mitigate any negative effects. It is OK to spin something to your benefit—that is what selling yourself really is. It is not OK to enhance your weaknesses beyond the point of credible belief. Misrepresentation is usually found out and even if it is not discovered, it cheapens your brand.
Candidates tend to fret over the simplest questions that actually afford the most opportunity to drive home a great selling point for why you should be hired.