By Daniel B. Kline

The Motley Fool, June 8, 2017 —

For a long time, people interviewing for jobs went in prepared to answer the question, “What are your biggest faults?” or some variant on it.

That’s a query that can lead to cringe-inducing answer like, “I work too hard,” or “Sometimes, I care too much.” Those answers do avoid sharing any real faults, but they also betray either a lack of self-awareness or a blatant attempt to hide your actual faults.

Of course, interviewers know that asking people to share their faults opens up a potential minefield. You probably won’t get the job if you answer “I’m pretty lazy” or “I like to steal,” so the best approach is being honest, but tempering your answer by showing how you deal with your shortcoming.

“I know I can be a bit sloppy when deadlines are tight, so I make sure to do an extra review of my work,” admits an actual fault while letting the interviewer know it won’t impact your final product. It shows both self-awareness and a willingness to improve, along with a lack of ego.

Most interviewees, at least the ones who prepare themselves well, have worked out an answer to this question. However, Duolingo CEO Luis Von Ahn has changed things up a bit when he conducts an interview, according to Business Insider. Instead of just asking people to list their faults, he has an interesting variant: “What would someone who doesn’t like you tell us about you?”

Some job interview questions are designed to trip you up. Image Source: GETTY IMAGES.

How do you answer?

Someone who does not like you would never list your major fault as “you push yourself too hard” or “you care too much about work.” Instead, he or she would have something actually negative to say and that creates a conundrum for the person being interviewed.

Von Ahn said that two major red flags are when someone tries to not answer by saying that everyone likes them, or when people attempt to blame anyone who doesn’t.

“I think the responses that are concerning are like, ‘People who don’t like me just don’t understand me, and they’re usually just wrong,'” he said. “They’re not taking responsibility for anything.”

The correct way to answer this question is honesty along with an explanation of how you correct the fault in the work place. That might give the interviewer more information than you would want, but it’s important to remember that everyone has faults.

The challenge, as is the case with the classic version of this question, is to admit a fault that’s true and reasonable, but not overly damning. Saying that a person who does not like you would say you are “arrogant,” can be addressed by explaining how you work to check that tendency. That’s not as easy if you confess that someone who does not like you would say you “can’t be trusted.”

It’s all about honesty and self-awareness

Every person, even you, has faults. When a job interviewer asks a question like this, he or she wants to know that you understand your own weaknesses.

Questions like these can be dangerous, but in most cases, you will get through the minefield if you answer honestly. Share an actual weakness, but make it clear you understand the problem and have taken, or will take, steps to address it. That’s generally going to serve you a lot better than telling the person interviewing you that your biggest fault is “having too much heart,” or “putting others over yourself.”