No matter how relaxed you feel in an interview, there is one question no one enjoys: ‘what is your greatest weakness?’

Though it may not be the easiest to answer, there is a reason that interviewers ask this, and it’s not so that you can pretend that being a ‘perfectionist’ is a problem. Sometimes, you’ll be explicitly asked, but it can also be disguised in other forms such as ‘what challenges did you face in your last role?’ or ‘tell us one thing you would change about yourself’.

No matter how it’s phrased, it’s good to consider how you would answer this line of questioning in advance. Every question asked in an interview is an opportunity to show what you know and what you can do, so it’s important to know how to turn this question to your advantage.

Avoid clichés

Many candidates think that the trick to answering this question is to pick a positive trait and ‘disguise’ it as a flaw. The problem with that is that your interviewer will see right through it and not only will you miss an opportunity to impress, you may even get minus points.

Employers ask this question because they want to create a full picture of you, and they know that no one is perfect. By refusing to share the ways you think you can improve, you are closing yourself off to the interviewer, making it more difficult to build trust.

Answer honestly

The best way to answer this question is with the truth – but with careful positioning so that you come across in the right light. Think about the skills gaps you may have in moving to this new role, for example, or the experiences you may be lacking.

Let’s say you’re moving into a senior position which involves managing a large team, something you’ve never done before. The hiring manager will have probably already gained this insight from your CV, but they’ll want to hear that you’ve recognised this weakness and how you plan to overcome it.

Relate to the role

Another common mistake candidates make is to name a weakness they think is unrelated to the position they’re interviewing for. You might say, for example, that you find it easy to become distracted while working in an office environment, so you will be glad to take an opportunity such as this which involves remote working.

This kind of answer doesn’t involve the kind of introspection the interviewer is looking for and really works better as a response to the question ‘what excites you about this role?’. Instead, think about a time in a previous role which has required you to learn something new. How did you go about this and what lessons can you apply to the future? Try to think about your ‘weakness’ as an ‘area for development’ and let the interview know how you plan to improve.

Understand and overcome

The ‘trick’ to answering this question – or any interview question for that matter – is to understand what the employer is really asking. ‘Weakness’ is perceived as a negative word, so this can trip candidates up, but really the interviewer wants to know more about you, and how you approach challenges at work.

Everyone has weaknesses. Pretending otherwise, or opting not to divulge yours, doesn’t fool anyone, it just leads the interviewer to think you lack self-awareness. By looking back over your career development, you’ll be able to see previous weaknesses disappearing as you learn and grow. All the interview wants to know is how you did it.