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Tell me about your weaknesses. The worst interview question ever

The worst interview question ever

“Tell me about your weaknesses.”  Just about the worst interview question ever!

I’m a firm believer in fostering and developing links between our schools and our businesses.  I’ve seen the results first hand when a business takes a leap of faith and brings apprentices into the fold, supporting them in the first job and helping them to develop their skill set, giving them work experience (in the true sense of the words) and above all, building their confidence.  The business benefits too from a different and fresh perspective on the world of work.  There’s a lot to be said for someone who challenges rather than accepts the status quo and asks “why” instead of assuming that it’s the right way because that’s how it’s always been done.

So, I recently found myself supporting a local school in a mock interview exercise.  The school had very helpfully provided a list of sample interview questions and as it was clear that the students had prepared (to a greater or less extent!) their answers to those specific questions, it seemed sensible to stick to them.

I did nine interviews that afternoon, each lasting around 15 minutes.  Each time I reassured the student at the beginning that this was an opportunity to get some interview experience and that any feedback I would give them was for their benefit in helping them for the future.  I went on to say that an interview is a chance for them to shine and not for the interviewer to catch them out or put them on the spot.  As it should be.  Let’s be honest, if you get your kicks from being a “difficult” or “challenging” interviewer, maybe you should step away from the interview table. Right now.

However, after each interview I found myself explaining to the student that the question “what are your weaknesses?” is a bit of a trick question and I went on to explain that we don’t actually expect them to be honest.  What we expect is for them to give us an example of something that isn’t really a weakness or something that they’ve identified and then improved on.

It got me thinking.  If I’m saying that an interview is a chance for the candidate to shine and generally demonstrate their skills and experience, then why on earth are we (interviewers, that is) relying on such rubbish questions that really aren’t as they seem?  We expect honesty at interview and despise candidates who either outright lie or who blatantly embellish the truth.

So why is it that we ask them a dishonest question? We certainly don’t expect an honest and straightforward answer to that one.  We want to hear that their weakness is being a perfectionist or wanting to get everything done on time or that they used to be conceited but now they’re perfect.  That kind of nonsense. How would we react if someone answered us honestly and said that they had a bit of a penchant for hoarding small items of stationery?  Or that procrastination is their middle name?  Or that their weakness is going to the pub at lunchtime on a Friday so you can forget about getting any work out of them on a Friday afternoon?

We have clear choices as interviewers.  We can ask genuine questions without any subtext.  The ones to which we’d actually like an honest answer.  Or we can continue to use these same old tired worn out questions that have no real meaning.

My favourite answer to this question by the way, was a young man who stated that his weaknesses were “women and fast cars.”  At least he was honest!

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