So, Mr Johnson, what would you say is your greatest weakness?
Worst. Interview. Question. Ever.
In isolation, it’s an interesting question to ask yourself, it requires a great deal of honesty and openness on the part of the individual and it requires trust that there will not be repercussions for the answer.
Sadly, an interview is a place for none of those things. Candidates need, and are expected to, go out of their way to impress their interviewers and actively admitting weakness is a high risk strategy.
And yet it’s popularity remains, company’s still ask it and candidates still find a thousand and one tortured methods to say “I’m a workaholic”. In a novel attempt to get around this, one company used to ask for your three greatest weaknesses. I’d love to know what they gained from this.
So how should this question be answered? From personal experience, responding ‘My left elbow’ sadly does not work.
In comes down to framing, strengths and weaknesses are pretty much alternate views on the same characteristic. Above a certain level of competence it is rare to find people truely good at certain pairings.
For instance, think those people who you admire for their vision. These people are inspiring, charismatic they lift you up and show you a world that you dimly knew existed but couldn’t quite realise. Wonderful people, but tell me, how are they on detail? How good are they are dotting the Is and crossing the Ts and meticulously going through the minutiae of a project, ensuring that everything is as it should be. Not so much huh?
Clearly there will exceptions but Richard Branson, just isn’t a details kind of guy and nor should he be. Conversely I want an Accountant to be exactly the opposite, they need to get down to the details.
Since the question is now framed in terms of strengths it is much easier to answer. Just figure out what strength of yours you wish to highlight, determine how that makes you weak and then go for it.
Not convinced? Here is an example.
Imagine for instance the Great Remallo, Lion Tamer extraordinaire, sitting for an interview. His CV/Resume contains plenty of past experience dealing with many different types of lion and as the inventor of the lion proof cape he clearly knows his stuff. As the final question of the interview the Circus owner, Mr Top, fires out the big kahuna:-
Mr Top: Mr Remallo I have one final question for you. Tell me, what is your great weakness?
The Great Remallo: Well, Mr Top, if I had one weakness it would be that I seem to have trouble accurately assessing the level of danger I might be in at any given time, even as a small child when I used to play in traffic. Actually it’s something that really helps me as a lion tamer, I should think that if I ever truley understod the peril I put myself in everyday I would be petrified and never even enter the ring.
Still not convinced? Let’s try the same question for a Software Developer.
My biggest weakness is that I can’t stand not knowing how things work, it used to drive my family crazy as took everything I owned (and somethings I didn’t) apart in order to see what was going on under the hood. To this day I really struggle to take things at face value if I can’t look and see what is going on. I suppose it’s one of the reasons I became an engineer in the first place, this drive to understand how things works stands me in good stead when wrestling with a gnarly code base or diving deep into library code, bug hunting.
I’m sure you can come up with something better yourself. Just remember if you reframe the question as an opportunity to talk about strengths, it’s then just a question of determining the flip side to that strength and using it as an in.
Anyone else got a good answer to this question?