Candidate Resources



Candidates should be ready for the tough questions during job interviews


Dear Mark and Dale:
What is the best way to answer an interviewer, who asks, “What is your biggest weakness?” Also, what is a good way to explain your reasons for resigning from a good job? (I lost interest because of a merger, a new position and very stressful work situations.) Tracy in Yonkers


Mark: As for weaknesses, all you have to do is remember that your greatest strength is also your greatest weakness. Just name your best attribute, then put the word “too” in front of it. If your greatest strength is being friendly, then your greatest weakness is being too friendly.
Dale: That’s slick, but is it too slick?
Mark: No. It’s honest and it’s easy. One reason an interviewer asks you about weaknesses is to see how you handle a tough question. If you say, “I don’t have any,” you come across as shallow or deceptive.
Go the other direction, reveal every vice, and you might talk your way out of a job. So you own up to a weakness, then explain how you have over come it. Tracy might say, “I’m very outgoing, and if I’m not careful I let myself spend too much time with other employees. But I’ve worked on it, and it never gets in the way of my finishing assignments.”
Dale: There’s an easier way. You name a “weakness” that a company actually wants. If you’re applying for a job that involves detail, you confess that you’re a perfectionist.” And there’s one weakness that will help anyone get a job with any company “Confess” that you’re a workaholic.”
Mark: And what if you aren’t?
Dale: Your boss might eventually notice that you’re always taking time off and confront you. One day you ask to leave early and your boss whines, “I thought you were a workaholic.” And you say, “I am. This is part of my recovery program.”
Mark: And then you’ll have the chance to practice interviewing techniques all over again. And that’s when you’ll get Tracy’s other tricky question, the one about why you left your last job. Here’s the “spin” Tracy might use: “Because of a merger, I was put in a position where I couldn’t do my most productive work. So I decided to look for a job, and rather than try to sneak around and do it while working, I decided to resign and devote myself to the job search. I felt that was the honest thing to do.”
Dale: OK. Some interviewers might drop it there. But others are going to ask. “So what happened that the job became unacceptable?” And then you’re right back where you started.
Mark: No, you’re halfway home. You have explained away why you left without having another position. Now you have to take on a second issue, which is why you decided you had to leave. That answer needs to pass two tests: (1) is it honest? and (2) Is it what the interviewer wants to hear? And what the interviewer wants to hear is a positive reason for leaving. For example, you didn’t leave because the job was “too stressful” but because it was no longer satisfying or that the work environment interfered with you doing your best work.
Dale: Good. There’s no need to apologize for leaving a lousy job. If the person conducting the job interview is thinking, “Whoa, the work environment around here is even worse I better forget about this applicant,” then fine. You don’t want to work for a company that doesn’t take pride in being a good place to work. You don’t slink into an interview prepared to apologize or to dodge questions; you stride in armed with dozens of ways of saying, “I’d be great for this job and here’s why.”
Mark: You’re selling yourself and, like any good salesperson, you have to believe in the product. You need to be confident it’s a great strength. Just as long as you aren’t too confident.


Mark Nelson helped OI, a career transition network. Dale Dauten is a consultant.

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