What are your weaknesses?

This question has theoretically become a lot less effective as an interview tool. It was originally intended to be an analytical method.

But so many people have since advised that you just don't mention any weaknesses, just characteristics which are actually strengths, that it's now considered relatively harmless.

It isn't. It's still a measure of what you're prepared to say.

An unimpressed interviewer can describe a negative reaction as uncooperative. You can get some very stony silences with the euphemistic formula answers like I'm too focused on my job, I'm too obsessive about my work, I'm too nice and committed to good working relationships, I'm too dedicated to my career, etc.

There's a good reason for those unimpressed looks, too. The interviewers will have already heard all of those answers, a lot.

The trouble is they're not even particularly good answers, let alone believable. How many people go to an interview prepared to admit to being dedicated? What does it tell anyone? Very little, unless they're desperately interested in checking out how evasive people can be at an interview.

The question is a sort of character test, if not a very subtle one. It's the sort of question people will naturally duck. There's not really much to be gained by a sudden confession of all your faults and failings. If it serves any useful purpose, it's to show how you handle a question where any answer is a possible liability.

The best, least hypocritical, way to answer this question is with a level of truthfulness stopping short of shooting yourself in the foot.

Everybody has some sort of weakness. Nobody wants to talk about real weaknesses, naturally enough. In fact, nobody even mentions them.

What you can do is edit your answer, and stay relevant to the real topic, which is the job.

So you start with a qualifier:

On the job….

This lets you off the hook on any personal level. You're talking about work.

Then you divert into your own feelings about the work.

… I care about a lot of the things I see in my work, situations, and I try to be conscientious. I don't know if that's a weakness or not, but I'm sensitive to the fact that I'm responsible for things, and I probably take it to heart when I can't get things done to my own satisfaction.

The likely question here is What sort of things?

From there on, you're OK. Give an example of something which was concerning you because you were worried about not getting something done properly.

The most that can be said is that you took a direct personal interest and personal responsibility in doing your job properly. That should defuse the weaknesses question.

But-

Don't take the question lightly. This example can be modified to your own personal tastes, but make sure you're not actually being evasive.

The reason for this is that people tend to be suspicious of anyone being too glib, or too formulaic, in their answers. It sounds rehearsed.

All the advice from the employment industry that's been given regarding this question has also created a reaction to the advice, so interviewers are much more alert when taking answers to it.