A strong aversion to the weakness question

Liam Horan, BALLINROBE Tel: 094 95 42965

Q: “I haven’t done an interview in years. How do they even work these days? The last time I did an interview, I was asked to describe my greatest weakness. I hadn’t a clue what to say – and it’s not that I’m short of weaknesses to choose from. It just struck me as a daft question. How can a weakness be ‘great’ in the first place? And why would you want to share a  weakness when you’re trying to get the job. Is that kind of question still being asked these days.” – (DG, email).

A: Alas, yes. The weakness question is, to my mind, an unmistakable sign of weakness on the part of the interview panel, writes Liam Horan, Career Coach, Sli Nua Careers.

You know the way the population is building up a resistance to some antibiotics. It is the same with the weakness question: every half-baked candidate walking the roads has an answer for the weakness question that they can deploy at the drop of a hat.

The most popular answer involves dressing this grave weakness up as a, wait for it, strength. Or, if not quite a strength, certainly not a trait that portrays them as indifferent slackers.

“Sometimes I take my job too seriously” or “there are times I don’t know when to let go of a project, I want to make sure it’s 110 per cent, and I know 110 per cent can’t be achieved”.

With weaknesses like that…

It’d be a decent thing if the candidate admitted to a penchant for murder on the first Tuesday of the month. Now that can certainly be construed as a weakness in virtually all work environments. Their honesty should be applauded.

The second stock answer is to offer up a weakness that is no longer a weakness – that niggling thing you couldn’t do well five years ago. You were shocking at it entirely.

Well, you recognized it, and you worked on it and you stuck with it and now, hey presto, you are now somewhere between fairly good at it and a total rock star.

With weaknesses like that…

Thankfully, interview panels tend to be more sophisticated nowadays. The rise of the competency based interview, while leaving many candidates flummoxed initially, leads to more story-based interviews where you can talk about your experiences and achievements in some detail.

The weakness question only really tests your ability to box – or bluff – your way out of a corner. You can see it coming a mile off.  Unfortunately some interview panels are still using it and I have no idea what value they get from it.

That said, interviews are a patchy enough way of recruiting people, in my view. Someday soon more enlightened approaches will take over the world, but, until then, you can get yourself ready for the interview route, DG. It’s almost as popular as it ever was.

So, read the job spec closely. Scribble some notes.

Don’t find yourself in there hoping something comes to you out of the blue. It probably won’t. If you have some preparation done, you give yourself a chance of doing a good interview.

Fail to prepare? Now there’s a weakness…a pithy maxim in the wrong hands, mind you, but a true blue weakness all the same.

Liam Horan is a Career Coach with Sli Nua Careers in Ballinrobe.

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