Bad Question Beat Down: The Weakness Question.


BAD QUESTION BEAT DOWN:

“WHAT IS YOUR GRATEST WEAKNESS”?

 

If you don’t know what to feel about this question, I don’t blame you. Most people hate this question. I, on the other hand, get positively ecstatic over it: It proves that the interviewer has little if any idea of what they are doing and gives me perfect opportunity to take control. I consider this the intellectual equivalent of walking out of the privy with TP stuck to your shoes like that.

 

I’ll try and summarize what you’re feeling.

  1. First, who answers this question honestly?
  2. You’re more likely to get a non-sequitur. “I never perfected my art of underwater basket-weaving.” Or my favorite “Kryptonite!”
  3. No one asks the question correctly. You read it right; No one asks the question correctly. This question originally appeared in a book that my parents own (drove out there and couldn’t find it, sadly) that I remember coming out in the 70’s. The second half of the question is “…and what you done to correct it?” or something to that affect. That’s why every training book or college career counselor asks you to add what you’ve done about it.
  4. Fourth: It punishes the honest by asking them to incriminate themselves. Ok, this one is 2-parter, but it’s true. Imagine if a cop said “It’s too difficult to catch the criminal. I mean, I’d have to leave the squad car! I’ll just use twitter to ask if they’ll turn themselves in.”

 

If your interviewer asks questions like “What is your greatest weakness,” the interviewer should reconsider their position in the company. It should also be a warning for the interviewee.  I’m a professional, so I get excited at an opportunity to exploit.

This question is stupid—and as someone with a background in journalism and firmly believes in “no stupid questions,” that’s saying something. But that doesn’t mean you should be a sheep about it. A lot of people are in jobs that they hate or aren’t good at because of the broken interview process. Times have been tough.

So what do you do instead?

 

As the interviewee, I’d say:

Instead of trying to sell yourself to a company by telling them what you think they want to hear, you should be interviewing them to see what their real needs are, and to evaluate if the job is a fit for both your skills and your personality. This isn’t a be-all-end-all solution, of course. If you’re facing unemployment, sometimes any job has to be taken.  Be confident in your own worth.

But if you have options or already have a job, you become a commodity. Remember, if a business didn’t need something, they wouldn’t be hiring. A lot of times, they don’t even truly know what it is they need. I can’t tell you how many contracts I’ve seen that read something like “Must be a tall, 4 legged animal that produces milk”. This is clearly a cow, but the HR rep/Client/Manager keeps using the word “horse” for some inexplicable reason. That’s why you need to interview them when talking with whoever it is conducting their screening.

 

For interviewers, I’d say:

This question serves no purpose. I would honestly call it a victim of its own early and catastrophic success against the unprepared. It’s a lazy attempt to get a bottom-line about considering someone using negative buzzwords. But at best, nowadays, it only screens against the unprepared. It screams “Think for me!” It also begs the question of how you got your job to begin with.

And if you need this question to determine who is unprepared or unable to perform the job you’re hiring for… then you’ve already either failed to pick up on the entire rest of the interview, or you have failed to recognize the company’s needs. Neither one of those are good. Heck, how did you get your job?

 

Traditionally conditioned people will have some answer prepared that you don’t care about. Any agency worth a damn has already prepared them for this horrible question because it is the most common and laziest, question in an interview. I did mention lazy, right? And let’s be honest, has anyone, ever, in the last 20 years given an honest answer to this? Even unprepared people can spin a mild weakness into a positive light. We learn that when learn to experiment with lying as children. This question wastes time that could be spent doing anything more productive, like learning the personality of your potentially new employee or testing their knowledge of best practices about the industry. Or better yet, getting proper training in how to interview and screen people. I learned how to do this well over many years of journalism training, acting and working.

 

Why this makes me the perfect employee:

I understand what constitutes a flawed procedure and how it could be made better, especially if it’s a criminal waste of time. Moreover, my honest to god answer is the horrible cliché that no one takes seriously: I’m too hard working!

I’ve been on assignments where I was pulled into the manager’s office and told to slow my role because they’d rather keep me on and train me that put out a new ad. And of course, they needed to justify it with their boss, the CEO. It happened to me at PPM Tech, for instance. I eventually moved on to outsourcing and debt collection within the company, wherein I earned us several hundred thousand dollars when I got clients to pay early.