Responding to this Dreaded Trick Interview Question

“Tell me, what is your biggest fault?”

It’s designed to have job applicants turn against themselves.  But you can’t just ignore it.

The response that many people give is:  “I work too hard” – a perceived employer advantage that applicants hope will circumvent the trick question.

I advised my students at the University of Southern California who were looking to interview for their first post-collegiate job to show up prepared.

Here are some responses like these with which you feel most comfortable:

  1. (Basic Approach) “I realize that everyone is fallible so I am sure I have the same tendencies other applicants might have.  But I learn from my mistakes and see even temporary shortcomings as long-term advantages”.  The interviewer will likely probe and you win when you are prepared to cite specific examples of fallibilities you have overcome.
  2. (Strong Response) “I can be impatient.  I have often had to overcome my desire for immediate results with swift action”.  When asked what is that swift action, you have won the interview question if you answer, “I immediately go to PPP – purposeful positive progression to turn my lack of patience into an advantage”.  Be prepared to cite an example or two if you choose this response.  That lends credibility.
  3. (Brave Response): “I can be intolerant of people who can’t work together as a team.  When this happens I try to channel my best human relations to guide my behavior and deal with theirs”.  Be ready to cite examples or this is no better than “I work too hard”.  And be prepared to show what exactly makes you skilled in human relations (courses, reading, specific life’s experience, etc). 

What interviewers really want to know by asking “What is your biggest fault?” is how do you handle not being the “perfect” candidate that you seem to be on this interview. 

Do not dump on yourself, but do not equivocate, either.  You’re out if you screw this question up.

So admit that you are like everyone else – not perfect – but attach a believable upside to your humanity with evidence.

Try these responses or consider similar ones of your own and perhaps you’ll get what most of my students received when they tried it – a follow-up interview or a job offer.

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