“If I say, ‘Don’t think about elephants,’ what do you do? Think about elephants.”

That’s a line from the movie Inception, and while the plot may be a little far-fetched there’s some sage advice hidden in the dialogue: people tend to focus on the topic and not just the way you’re spinning it.

An article came out today on CIO.com discussing the merits of the “What is your greatest weakness” question. The article wasn’t about how to respond to the question, but rather whether or not you, as the interviewee, should bring up the question yourself if the interviewer doesn’t. As recruiters we get asked this question a fair amount: should I discuss my weaknesses during an interview?

The short answer is a simple no. Like the Inception characters with elephants, if you start talking about weaknesses, the interviewer will focus on the weakness and not your particular spin on it. Remember, you’re selling yourself as a candidate –speak in positives. When we prep our candidates, we make sure to tell them that if they get asked a question about something outside their field of experience (“How do you solve problem X?”), never begin with the phrase, “We’ll I’ve never done that, but…” Everything after that is irrelevant, as you’ve just discounted yourself as a prime candidate. Instead, begin with a positive: “That sounds a lot like this problem I faced before, and here’s how I solved it…”

This is not to say you shouldn’t be prepared for the weakness question. As a leader, you are expected to understand your own strengths, weakness, and leadership style. No one wants to hire a person who has never taken the time to self evaluate, and no one especially wants to hire a person who thinks he has no weaknesses. If you get asked the question, have an answer ready; if you don’t, let it be. There’s no reason to short sell yourself during an interview.

The interviewer should walk away thinking about your qualities as a leader –not about those elephants.

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