Some of the worst answers I ever heard in candidate interviews came in response to one question.
What are your weaknesses?
Candidates know, or should know, that this question is coming, just as certain as the sun will rise in the East and set in the West each day. What amazes me and amuses me is that the certainty of this question does not produce thoughtful answers.
As someone who is blessed with fairly good intuitive skills, this is what I hear and what I sense in candidates when I ask that question:
Stop it. This is really not a hard question. That fact in and of itself is what has amazed, annoyed and bemused me in my 20+ years of interviewing candidates for clients. This is a question that a candidate should hit out of the ballpark regardless of what their professional deficits may be.
It is really a question about self awareness “which comes down to a balance of knowing both your strengths and weaknesses, and not trying to hide those,” explained Jake Wobbrock, the founding Chief Executive Officer and Chief Scientist of AnswerDash, a contextual knowledge services provider. Basically, we all have weaknesses. Not owning those and being able to discuss them in a credibly positive way is a negative for many candidates.
The hiding, the obfuscation, the attempt to change the subject like a bad politician, is where the problem answering that question actually occurs. Here are some of those problematic answers:
Recruiters know, or they should know, that every candidate has strengths and weaknesses. Candidates, you cannot avoid that subject with a competent interviewer so be prepared.
Here is an example of one of the better answers I have heard over the past 12 months:
I am very competitive. I must admit there may be times when I am perhaps too competitive, too eager to take advantage of market opportunities. At its most extreme, it can lead to unnecessary friction due to my impatience. I am aware of that, and I always make my bosses aware of that so if I override my internal checks there is someone else who can tap me on the shoulder.
This candidate mentioned several other issues such as not always being timely in submitting his expense reports, and being inconsistent in sending notes to colleagues who did a good job on a project. In the end what made his overall response more credible is that one of his references, the candidate’s former boss, the Chief Operating Officer, said essentially the same thing. Is this an example of collusion to trip up the recruiter? No.
That answer has credibility on its face since our weaknesses are so often our strengths run amok. Smart candidates will ask those providing a reference for their assessment of strengths and weaknesses and incorporate that feedback into their answers.
Taking the time to prepare will result in a more credible interview performance.
© 2021 John Gregory Self