It's the question millions of job applicants hear on a daily basis:
If you're like most people, you hate this question. Maybe you feel it's completely lame, and so is the interviewer for even going there.
But you're wrong.
Not only is this question a fantastic interview tool, but learning to answer it effectively will also greatly increase your emotional intelligence--the ability to make emotions work for you instead of against you.
The best way to answer
Some "experts" will tell you to try and turn a strength into a "weakness," to make yourself look good.
That advice is garbage.
Think about it: Interviewers are asking the same question to countless candidates. Just try and guess how many times they hear the answers "being a perfectionist" or "working too much." (Hint: way too often.)
But whether or not you're interviewing for a job, answering this question can lead to amazing growth.
Because it promotes self-awareness, one of the core elements of emotional intelligence.Self-awareness is the ability to identify and understand your emotions and emotional tendencies. It lays the foundation for many of what I call the 10 commandments of emotional intelligence.
One of the best ways to develop self-awareness is by asking yourself questions like this one.
The fact is, it's not easy to identify one's own weaknesses. Doing so takes intense self-reflection, critical thinking, and the ability to accept negative feedback--qualities that have gone severely missing in a world that promotes instant gratification and demands quick (often thoughtless) replies to serious issues.
The key is to actually ponder this question--and to do so regularly. There are no microwave answers, and neither is it about making yourself look good. It's about identifying your tendencies. Learning from the perspective of others. And from your own mistakes.
Because once you identify a major weakness, you can actually do something about it.
To illustrate, let's say you discover that you're a people-pleaser. Not only have you identified that, but you've also given it serious thought; you can even name specific occasions when that trait has harmed you--like the time it caused you to buy a product you didn't really want, because you liked the salesperson.
As a result, you can take steps to combat that weakness. Now when you meet a salesperson you like, you ask for time to think about buying before making any rash decisions. When leading others at work, you're quick to praise and commend, but you also force yourself to give the necessary critical feedback your team needs to improve. You prepare thoroughly before doing so, making sure to back it up with specific examples or research. You even practice out loud ahead of time, so you can speak with more confidence.
Think an interviewer will remember that answer? I guarantee it.
But learning to identify and combat weaknesses goes far beyond interviewing. And while this example can help you understand the process, it's not a template for "what you're supposed to say." Your answer should be born out of your reflection and experiences, gleaned from feedback you've received from others. And it should be accompanied by your own well-thought-out strategies.
So, when it comes to the question "What is your greatest weakness," don't hate the player, or the game.
Instead, embrace it. Ponder it. Learn from it.
And use it to make yourself better.
Enjoy this post? Check out my book, EQ Applied, which uses fascinating research and compelling stories to illustrate what emotional intelligence looks like in real life.
A version of this article originally appeared on Inc.com.