This is a rude, intrusive question, and nobody should be required to answer it. It is a trick question designed to put the applicant at a disadvantage. It is just one step up from "When did you stop beating your wife? I mean, your partner. Let me rephrase that: When did you stop beating your significant other?"
For starters, the presumption that people have weaknesses is un-American. It is defeatist and sad. The whole point of being American is to feel invincible, that one is incapable of being improved upon. Just ask Jamie Dimon. Or Barack Obama. This isn't Albania we're running here.
Imagine asking George Washington or Susan B. Anthony, "What is your greatest weakness?" What kind of an answer do you think you would get out of George Patton or Geronimo or Lady Gaga? It is a demeaning question that invites a response like "I am completely invulnerable except when exposed to large chunks of kryptonite" or "I sometimes slap peoples' faces when they ask me rude questions."
Friends familiar with the dark, insidious and cruel world of human resources assure me that such questions are ubiquitous, part of the interviewer's script. Another dandy is, "Where do you see yourself in 10 years?" Who asks a person just starting out in life a question like that? Or, even worse, a person reaching the end of his career?
"Where do you see yourself in 10 years?" an Egyptian HR firm might have asked the young Moses shortly before he parted the Red Sea. "Wandering around the desert, I guess" would be the response. "And that's where I expect to be 40 years from now, too."
Or, as Jean Valjean of "Les Misérables" might put it: "Ten years from now? Probably getting ready to serve the last nine years of my sentence. I'm doing the big dix-neuf."
To put this in perspective, here are some other idiotic questions that pop up during interviews, with responses by famous historical or literary figures.
Describe a difficult situation at work and how you handled it.
"My boss had two sets of books, and the Feds wanted to see the real numbers. No way I was going behind Big Al's back. So I told 'em: I don't see nothing; I don't hear nothing; I don't know nothing." (Al Capone's CPA)