Learn how to answer the worst job interview question

The awesome interview that follows is from when I was a board member of a non-profit organization. We were talking to the finalists for the CEO position when one of the CEOs asked the final candidate, “Larry, what do you think is your greatest weakness?” “.

Larry thought for a minute, blushed, then replied, “Well, some people I've worked with would say I tend to talk a lot, but I don't think so.” I know I like to talk, but I think what I say means a lot. That is, while I'm talking and talking, I'm really saying something…”.

He realized that he was embarrassing himself, but continued to babble. We were in our seats, stunned. By answering this terrible (albeit common) job interview question, Larry showed his greatest weakness above all else.

I know what you're thinking: How can this question be so terrible that it indicates that the candidate is not right for the job? Well, in this particular case, I didn't gain any new insight into Larry, whose particularly verbose communication style we already knew from the previous course of the interview. But this question always makes people uncomfortable. Its origins go back to the old-fashioned aversive approach of the 1950s and 1960s designed to make a candidate feel uncomfortable in order to gauge how well they handle pressure.

This type of question clearly humiliates the person in front of you. And when you deliberately embarrass a candidate, not only will they not forget it, but they will certainly never recommend your company to a friend.

Personally, I do not believe in the abstract idea of ​​personal “weaknesses”, but in the concept of “weaknesses” in the context of specific company cultures. So someone who might seem weak or hesitant in an execution-oriented company culture might fit in well in a highly collaborative company culture. What appears to be a weakness in one company's culture may be a strength in another. It is much more useful for a recruiter to know what skills are needed for the position to be filled and then determine whether the candidate has them.

Some recruiters are still convinced of the relevance of this “weaknesses” question, so they continue to ask it. The result is that many candidates have learned to make up ready-made answers such as, “My greatest weakness? I'm a workaholic! “. Generally speaking, forcing a candidate to give false answers is a bad way to start a relationship. Furthermore, does the recruiter really believe that he can get honest information about the candidate's so-called “weaknesses” by asking him this question? For example, if he answers something like, “I'm lazy and I'm bad with numbers”?

An interview candidate suggested something I found interesting: “I'm probably not the best judge of my weaknesses, but I'm sure my previous bosses could help you with that.” Despite everything, the hiring manager's response was not friendly.

Hateful as it may be, you will have to prepare yourself to answer this question because sooner or later one of his die-hard supporters will ask you. Instead of procrastinating looking for answers, follow these recommendations:

1- Prepare an answer that is true, concrete and concise, but that does not concern a personal mistake. Here are some examples.

> My biggest weakness is that my professional network is in San Francisco, but I'm looking for a job in Boston to be with my fiancé.

> My biggest weakness is that I graduated from a university that has a good reputation in the East, but is not very well known in the Midwest.

> My biggest weakness is that I'm uncomfortable talking about myself even though I'm great at defending an idea I believe in.

2- Test your answer in front of two or three friends or colleagues to make sure it is acceptable.

3- When you are asked a question, finish your answer by asking your questioner in turn, to divert his attention from your answer.

Finally, if you've prepared an answer you're proud of and no one has asked you about your biggest weakness, don't be disappointed. Thank your lucky stars. After all, this may be a sign that these types of questions are ultimately no longer popular with recruiters.


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