The most insidious job interview question

There are many different kinds of job interview questions. Some are straightforward inquiries about your past work experience. Others are tests of your self-awareness or communication skills. Some questions are about your personality, while others are a test of your problem-solving abilities.

The dreaded “What is your greatest weakness?” question feels like a trap. Obviously in a situation where you are trying to impress someone and make a positive impression, you don’t want to spend a lot of time talking about stuff you aren’t good at.

I recently heard a worse question. At first hearing it seemed similar to being asked about a weakness, but when you think about it, it is much worse.

The questions was, “What is one thing that you will never be good at?

What makes this such a challenging question is that the formula for the weakness question doesn’t work. Usually, you should name a weakness that is not crucial to the job, explain how you have struggled with it along with the steps you are taking to overcome it. So, you are self aware, honest about your limitations, and actively trying to improve. This way, even talking about a weakness still reveals positive things about you.

However, something that you will never be good at, means that there is no improvement. You’ve given up. It can be an extremely challenging question to answer, especially if you hadn’t thought about it at all in advance. (Which is why I am writing this.)

First and foremost, do not name an activity that is at all related to the job you are applying for. If there is a skill needed for the role and you know that you will never be good at it, what are you doing there in the first place?

Secondly, do not name a skill that can be learned through hard work and dedicated effort. If something can be learned by someone willing to put the time in, and you’ve decided that you’ll just never be good at it, then it’s a lack of ambition or perseverance that’s holding you back. That’s not something that impresses employers.

At the job interview, your mission is to communicate to the hiring manager that you are the right person for the job. You have the right skills, personality, and the motivation to outperform any other potential candidates for the role.

The “one thing you will never be good at” query is about your personality. If the employer thought that you would never be good at something relevant to the job, they wouldn’t bother interviewing you in the first place.

So, tell a personal anecdote. Something relatable. Self-deprecating, even. For example:

“I love music. I have a bunch of talented musician friends, and I tried to put a band together in high school. I took guitar lessons, but it turns out, I have no ear for music at all. I can’t hold a note or carry a tune. Worse, I can’t even hear when I’m off the tune. But everybody else just stares at me. I had to accept that I would never be a rock star.”

It can be an art form, a sport you lack the physical talent for, or an activity that you just can’t generate an interest in.

“I spent one summer trying to grow a vegetable garden, but the rabbits and squirrels ate everything before it was ripe enough to pick and the weeds took over. I realized it was a lot of effort for not much reward. I can get fruits and vegetable from the corner store without the frustration. They say gardening is a Zen activity, very relaxing, but it wasn’t for me. I wouldn’t make a great farmer.”

This demonstrates that you are self-aware, you try new things, and you accept your limitations. You can communicate a relatable story and you aren’t stumped by a challenging question.

See also:

The three most dreaded job interview questions (and how to answer them)

Job interview questions you didn’t realize were job interview questions

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