“What’s your greatest weakness?” may be the most dreaded interview question of all time. It is ubiquitous. It is also a trap.
Answer too honestly, and you’ve just given them a very strong reason not to hire you. Answer with a humblebrag, and you’re establishing yourself as generally insufferable.
And so we were extremely interested when the email newsletter theSkimm posed the question to presidential candidate and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
Here’s what she said:
How much time do we have? I am impatient and I sometimes come across as impatient, which is not always attractive, and [I] get really frustrated with people who don’t understand what I think it’s going to take to make our country great tomorrow just like we were yesterday.
Obviously, Clinton is campaigning for president and not a lower-profile job like a marketing associate for a midsize corporation. Her circumstances are not normal.
But we wanted an expert opinion — if this were a standard interview, how would Clinton’s answer stack up?
According Big Interview cofounder Pamela Skillings, an interview coach who’s helped clients land jobs at Goldman, Google, and Microsoft (but not, as of yet, the Oval Office), the answer is: meh.
“OK, but not great,” she told Business Insider. “She shares a weakness that sounds authentic (impatience) and she spins it in a positive direction (it’s just because I am so driven!).”
That’s a common strategy — an understandable strategy, even — but it’s also an annoying one. As Skillings explains at Big Interview, the classic negative-that’s-secretly-a-positive trick is one of the oldest in the book, and the hiring manager has seen that “song and dance” before. It is, if not impossible, then at least extremely unlikely that your greatest weakness is being too perfect, working too hard, or caring too much.
If she were coaching the Democratic hopeful, Skillings would advise Clinton to also talk about how she’s actively working on improving her supposed flaw.
“Otherwise, it doesn’t really seem as if she sees it as a weakness,” she said.
A better answer — as Skillings has outlined in detail — might have involved the realisation that while it doesn’t come naturally, she’s realised being impatient with colleagues isn’t the best way to get things done.
One comforting things for job candidate Clinton? Her top rival for the Democratic nomination, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont), didn’t fare any better. Sanders’ answer — “I probably get focused on too many issues, and am not as sociable as I might be” — was “bland and unconvincing,” Skillings said.
She added: “Of course, nobody is going to be completely honest when asked about weaknesses in a job interview, but answers like these could make it seem like he is dodging the question a bit.”
(None of the Republican candidates theSkimm has interviewed seem to have faced this question, though former New York Gov. George Pataki (R) did suggest that his dogs, Balto and Bradley, would make excellent job references.)
NOW WATCH: Ideas videos
Business Insider Emails & Alerts
Site highlights each day to your inbox.