Job interviews are stressful and preparing for them can be tough as you typically have no idea what to expect. There are a few classic questions that tend to come up and a huge one is about your weaknesses. It will sometimes be asked along with your greatest strengths, sometimes on its own.

Everyone has weaknesses and this question is designed to throw you off, to see how much insight you have of your own shortcomings and exactly how much dirt you are willing to share with the interviewer. Being honest about your weaknesses will be the best policy, your answers will be checked when the employer does your references anyway.

Don’t shoot yerself in the foot:

I will assume you have a few weaknesses, when prompted make sure you only bring up stuff that won’t affect the job you are interviewing for. Don’t say “I find it hard to delegate” when you are a manager, don’t say “numbers aren’t my thing” when you are an accountant. Pick a weakness that is not likely to make an impact at work, such as “I don’t understand the French impressionists” when you are a car mechanic.

Don’t pull a fast one:

Don’t try the old trick of turning a weakness into a strength by saying “I work too hard, stay in the office too long and can’t stop myself because I love my job so much”. Not only will the interviewer have heard it before, they will think you are a bit of a nutter and your behavior probably won’t be very popular with the rest of the team. Furthermore, by dropping a cliché like that, you risk annoying the interviewer and he/she will keep asking for a ‘real’ weakness until they get something juicy to fill in the weakness box.

Here are a 3 ways you can tackle the old weakness question:

1) A weakness you are working on:

Talk about a recent shortcoming that you are fully aware of and already improving on. It can be time management for instance; you have learned not to take on too much work as the quality of your output cannot be guaranteed. You have now taken a course in time management, you use a to-do list as well as a calendar and things are improving.

By showing the employer that you have this insight and that you have taken action to overcome it, you demonstrate that you know about your issues and you are working on them. Time management is something everyone can relate to so you won’t run the risk of being ruled out.

2) Turn a strength into a weakness:

By using one of your main strengths and calling it a weakness, you will come across as modest and insightful. You could even list it as a strength and a weakness, by saying that you “are very thorough” for instance. This can be a good skill at times (when going through year end reports), not so good at other times (when your boss needs a quick estimate of sales figures this week).

The interviewer will probe the weakness and come to the conclusion that you are not that bad after all, and that you should “not underestimate yourself”. Caution: Turning a weakness into a strength does not work nearly as well, as mentioned above.

3) Your steep learning curve:

Here’s a classic, the interviewee will say their main weakness for the job they are applying for is that they don’t know the computer software/colleagues/way around the building etc. Nobody will expect you to know these things so even though you list it as a weakness, it will be treated as a normal circumstance. In fact, this may even bring out the innate parent in the interviewer, they will look forward to having a newbie around that they can show the ropes.

Bottom line

Make sure you list your weaknesses (and strengths) before an interview. Have a think about which weaknesses the interviewer will be able to live with and give them as your answer. Be sure to include your action plan on how to overcome shortcomings and be honest about it all.

Related: How Employer Know When to Hire You Within 90 Seconds (Infographic).

Image by ssoosay

The original Undercover Recruiter, after 7 years in tech recruiting Jorgen now runs Link Humans, a social media agency in London.