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What if I don’t want to discuss my weaknesses at an interview. Can I just politely decline to respond if they ask me about that?

Q: What if I don’t want to discuss my weaknesses at an interview. Can I just politely decline to respond if they ask me about that?

A: You can, but you can also expect not to be hired. Just as in court, where you can’t politely decline to answer a judge’s question, the interview forum belongs to the questioner. It’s fair game to ask about a potential hire’s weaknesses and…although you don’t want to be unduly revealing or give a long, painful answer…you do need to respond to the question.

There is plenty of advice to read online on this topic; a particularly thought-provoking take is the Harvard Business Review blog post of 1/17/14 on The Right Way to Answer “What’s Your Greatest Weakness?” There, we learn that interviewing in a particular culture, such as in a start-up, may call into question the classic advice to try to turn a weakness into a strength as you answer.

What I ask is that you give this matter some real attention before any interview and plan to answer thoughtfully rather than in a canned manner or worse, by lodging an objection to the question. Otherwise, your greatest weakness may well be either perceived inauthenticity or actual unresponsiveness…both fatal in the quest to turn an interview into an offer.