This question has become a staple at interviews and most people feel they’ve crafted the perfect response to this question.
Your interviewer asks you for your weakness. You tell him/her, “I’m a perfectionist. I just have this INNATE need to make sure my job is done PERFECTLY well. I can’t leave until that has been achieved.” You imagine your interviewer is pleased with your dedication to getting the job done and proceed to ask about benefits and vacation time.
Employers ask this question because they want to know if you can evaluate yourself and if you’re able to generate a plan towards improvement. We’d all like to believe that we are rockstars at what we do but the reality is that there must be an area where we struggle and we should be able to recognize that area and figure out how to improve it. The days of advising the positive trait disguised as a weakness are done.
Employers want to know that you’re working towards becoming a better employee. Do you have difficulty delegating tasks? What are you doing to correct that? Do you take on too many tasks or are unable to say “no”? How are you fixing that? As an interviewer i’m not going to fault you for having a weakness, you’re human, we aren’t perfect.
I can’t speak for all organizations but I know that all of the orgs that I have worked for check references and we ask former supervisors about the candidate’s weakness. This also lets us know if you are truly aware of your skill and performance. If I ask you about your weakness and you tell me that you’re a perfectionist but I ask your supervisor and she says that you take on too much and have difficulty meeting deadlines, I’ll be concerned. If you were to tell me that you take on too much but have learned to re-prioritize and communicate with your supervisor regarding updating deadlines (citing a recent example), I’d be less concerned because you’re able to identify an area where you need improvement and it’s in line with what other people see when they evaluate you.
It might not seem like an important skill to have but being able to honestly reflect on your performance, recognize your weaknesses, and construct a plan towards improvement is the marker of a knowledgeable worker that will always strive to do better. This is the person that gets an offer, not the “perfectionist.”
On a sidenote, the weakness conversation is not the time to be super candid about things that make you seem unprofessional, i.e.
“I can’t get to work on time.” Yes, I actually heard that. Set multiple alarm clocks and get yourself to work on time. Some places are more lenient than others but you can’t start off the job waltzing in 15 minutes late (or implying that you would).
“I don’t like taking direction. I prefer to work independently.” Yup, heard that too. No one likes to be micro-managed but unless you’re working for yourself, at some point someone will be giving you some type of direction and you need to be able to deal with that.
Also not a good time to mention weaknesses that are essential parts of the job, “I can’t juggle multiple projects (but i’m applying to a project manager position).” If you find that essential parts of the job are areas within which you have significant deficiencies, perhaps you should look at a different position.