What do you consider your greatest weakness?

Here’s an article on how to answer the question “what is your greatest weakness” in a job interview. But to be honest, I don’t really agree with much of what the author says. You can read the whole article here if you wish, but essentially it gives the advice:

Prepare an answer that is true, trivial, brief, and not a fault. Some examples:

  • My biggest weakness is that my professional network is in San Francisco, but I am looking for a job in Boston to be with my fiancé.
  • My biggest weakness is that my undergraduate degree is from a college that has a good reputation in the East, but is not well-known in the Midwest.
  • My biggest weakness is that while I’m great at advocating for something I believe in, I find it uncomfortable to talk about myself.

I don’t think this is useful. As one of the readers of the article points out:

Interviewers aren’t stupid – they know when someone is trying to skate around the issue.  The question is designed to see if the person will admit they have a weakness because someone who won’t can be difficult to work with.  A “weakness” is a personal trait, not lack of training on some type of software, not where your network is, not setting high standards, and not seeing the positive side.  

Another reader suggests this:

An excellent statement is “I love to get involved with tasks that I feel I may have worthwhile input but I have a problem accepting responsibility for my achievements over that of the team.”

NOOOOOOO. Firstly, it sounds rehearsed. Secondly, it sounds like politician-speak where you’re unable to simply make whatever point it is you’re trying to make. Thirdly, there’s a passive aggressive undertone to the notion of “worthwhile” projects that would immediately make me wary of this candidate. Finally, it sounds like a suck-up job “I value teamwork over individual achievement” is usually not true and just the type of thing someone spouts in an interview in the attempt to sound like a team player.

The most useful contribution to this issue, in my opinion, is the one offered by a reader who calls himself “iamdm” below.

Here is a way to ask the question about weakness in a more indirect way, but with a very direct result. As corporate trainer I coach interviewers to ask behavioral based questions. For example:

When I speak with your previous supervisor (this statement implies that you plan on do a thorough back ground check) what area of your job will they say you need improvement in?

You can also ask them to site recent reviews or development plans in current or previous positions.

After years of doing interviews that were in hindsight, polished and rehearsed I have adopted a method that makes it really hard for the candidate to prepare for. I don’t want answers by a script. I want to find the behaviors that support my organization and the position I’m trying to fill.

I start every question with:

  • Can you tell me about a time when…
  • Can you give me an example of…
  • Describe how you have handled… in the past. 

The reason for this approach is to get past what the candidate thinks I want to hear to reveal past behaviors. Behaviors are the key to abilities, productivity and success.

This is the closest I can find as a link to the person who posted the above comment, which I think is valuable advice to interviewers.

For candidates – use commonsense. Don’t shoot yourself in the foot by going into a diatribe about your inadequacies. This is chance to show you’re self-aware and that you work on your weaker areas. A true leader is not someone who doesn’t have weaknesses, but one who is aware of their weaknesses. Hopefully you’ve had a chance to assess your strengths and weaknesses at some point. If not, then see what’s out there.  There are many tools that help develop this awareness – the one that I’m familiar with and have been asssessed in and can offer to others is the LVA, or Leadership Values Assessment, designed by the Barrett Values Centre.

The LVA is a powerful coaching tool for promoting self- awareness, personal transformation, and an understanding of the actions a leader needs to take to realise his or her full potential. The LVA compares a leader’s perception of his or her operating style with the perception of their superiors, peers and subordinates.  Emphasis is placed on a leader’s strengths, areas for improvement, and opportunities for growth.

The LVA reveals the extent to which a leader’s behaviours help or hinder the performance of the organisation, and to what extent fear influences decision-making. 

Something quite profound shifted in me when I had my LVA done. Shout if you want to know more.

Finally – I loved this!

I was interviewed for a CEO post last year. My answer was ‘the range of my limitations is broad and detailed, covering almost every feature of professional and human endeavour relevant to this position. Alas there is insufficient time to do that vast array of imperfections justice in the time we have available.” I got the job. To be fair, I had already dealt reasonably well with the questions in the previous hour up to that point. They had asked about faults but got a message about sense of humour and confidence under pressure.

This guy seems self-aware enough to send up the question without mocking the interviewer, and give a sense of who he is in the process. I get the sense if they’d persisted he’d have been able to give a few examples.

If you’re interviewing or being interviewed…Good luck! Remember to be real. Life is not a dress rehearsal.


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