Hiring managers love to ask questions that place interviewees in uncomfortable situations. Their goal is to see how you respond under pressure, if you can be honest about your strengths and weaknesses, and if you can think outside the box. Employers aren’t looking for just another cookie-cutter new-hire. They don’t want to hire someone who needs their hand held. When a hiring manager comes at you with the question, “Tell me one thing about yourself you wouldn’t want me to know,” don’t panic. Instead, think of this as your opportunity to shine by following the ideas below.
1. Come Prepared
An interview is not the best time to fly by the seat of your pants. You can prepare yourself for any and every question—even those you never expect. You can always count on your potential employer asking you about your weaknesses and you need to be ready to answer legitimately. A legitimate weakness—one that you would want to mention—is a weakness that can be transformed into strength or that can be offset by your strengths. What does this mean?
Don’t tell an employer that you have a difficult time completing your work on time. This is a negative with no benefit and it will end your interview. However, you could say that you don’t want them to know how often you spend time double and triple checking your work for errors. This is a strength couched as a weakness. The weakness deals with wasted time, but the strength is submitting error-free work. If you come prepared with these types of weaknesses, you’ll be able to answer almost any difficult question.
2. Pause and Think
It’s a myth that you have to fill every moment of silence with speaking. No hiring manager wants a chatterbox who can’t think intelligently and provide useful additions to the conversation. Companies want to hire individuals who understand the value of providing the correct, and not the quickest, response. If the hiring manager asks you, “Tell me one thing about yourself you wouldn’t want me to know,” and all of your prepared responses fly out of your head, don’t rush, pause.
Silence is so much louder inside your own mind. If you’re worried about not answering quickly, it’s perfectly appropriate to let your interviewer know that you’re thinking, “That’s a great question. Let me think.” Then, actually take that time to think. It’s okay to pause for thirty seconds or a minute until you find a response that will make the best impression, but don’t allow five minutes to go by. Your interviewer won’t remember a pause – they will remember your response.
3. Reveal Your Personality
Ninety percent of interviewees are so nervous they never let their personality shine through. You do not want to come across as a robot or as an overly shy and insecure new hire. Confidence is not only sexy, it also makes you hirable. Don’t give an answer that you think everyone else will give. The interviewer is asking what you wouldn’t want them to know. The “you” is key.
The great thing about this particular question is that it doesn’t have to be directly related to work. There are many things you might not want your employer to know. Do you have webbed toes that you think are weird? That could be a fun answer. Or maybe, you’re an avid Dungeons & Dragons fan. That would also be a fantastic answer. It reveals who you are while showing you don’t take yourself too seriously and that you have interests outside of work.
4. Don’t Forget Humor
Oftentimes, hiring managers are bored. When you interview ten to twenty people a day, it can feel like a revolving door. As the interviewee, it’s your responsibility to stand out. A great way to do this is through humor. If you’re not a naturally humorous or funny person, don’t go this route. But if you enjoy making people laugh, you can use this question as your opportunity. Laughter opens communication, builds camaraderie, and makes you memorable.
Be careful about using crass humor. But you could say that you wouldn’t want your new employer to know that you gave yourself a pep talk in the parking lot and called yourself “Kevin the Man!” Or maybe you don’t want your potential employer to know that you LinkedIn-stalked all of their profiles for two hours before showing up for your interview. In both of these examples, you provide an opportunity to laugh while also illustrating your desire for the position. The key to a great response is to be memorable but only in the best ways.
Difficult questions are par for the course in any interview, and if you prepare appropriately, they can actually be the best part of your interview process. Everyone is great at talking up their good qualities, but if you learn how to talk up your negative qualities, you all of a sudden stand out in the crowd.