The Mother of All Interview Questions
And how to ANSWER it.
By Dr. Stephen A. Laser
“What’s your biggest weakness?”
For military and civilian job seekers alike, this is the “mother” of all interview questions. Every candidate lives in total fear of that point in the interview – whether by phone or face-to-face – when the interviewer asks, “Tell me, what do you consider to be your biggest weakness?”
Being that person on the other side of the desk takes immense self-discipline, as the range of responses can evoke anything from quizzical stares and a press for clarification to gales of laughter. I’ve been told, “I could be a better speller.” (Ever heard of spell check?) How about, “I work too hard,” or “I’m too nice to people.” Or, my personal favorite, “I can’t think of any right now, can I get back to you?”
What’s Your Flipside?
What is a qualified job applicant to do? The answer: Tell the truth. The problem for many job seekers is that they do not really know or understand their most serious drawback; it’s all too often a real blind spot.
A person’s biggest weakness is nothing more than the flipside of his or her greatest strength. Let me explain.
Most of us possess a core set of talents and attributes which define our personality, and in particular, our behavior in certain situations such as the workplace. These talents and attributes dictate how we react to various work-related circumstances during the course of a regular work day.
When presented with an immediate deadline, many people react quickly and show a strong sense of urgency to complete the assignment in a timely fashion. However, there will be occasions when that same strong sense of urgency results in impatience for results, when a relaxed approach might be more appropriate. Hence, the flipside of urgency is impatience.
Some people who are particularly adept at problem-solving. They are logical thinkers who are able to generate a range of viable options for resolving an issue. Being very bright, however, can be a weakness, and you have probably observed it at one point or another. Many times these smart people
believe they have all of the answers and are reluctant to take feedback from others who they might consider of lesser intellectual capability. In this instance, brainpower, which is normally a major strength, becomes a liability if close-mindedness and resistance to the input of others takes precedence.
Consider the normally prized attribute of being able to get along with everyone, regardless of their level or position in the organization. This quality is truly a gift, and few people possess it. So how could it also be a weakness? These same caring and concerned individuals who can relate well to anyone have a habit of trying to please all of the people, all of the time. After all, one of the reasons others like them so much is that they tend to agree with the people to whom they are talking. Their weakness is, of course, that when there is a legitimate argument or dispute it’s impossible to achieve complete agreement; hence, somebody will be disappointed, and people-pleasers have a hard time accepting this fact of life. Thus, excellent interpersonal skills also have their downside.
Decisive or Impulsive?
Decisiveness can lead to rash or impulsive decision-making. Deliberation and careful analysis can become procrastination, while a strong sense of organization and order can lead to inflexibility and resistance to change. In fact, as you review your own list of talents and attributes, you can begin to see where there is a downside. Therefore, the next time you are asked about your biggest weakness, you can review your major strengths and then explain those situations where they might become potential problems if you are not mindful of their drawbacks.
Don’t Cower in Fear
You need not cower in fear of this dreaded interview question or seek to provide answers which rate high on creativity and comic value, but low on credibility. Instead, be prepared to answer the question directly and with confidence. You will not go wrong.
What NOT to Ask During an Interview
Avoid these types of questions in a job interview:
Don’t take up a manager’s time asking, “How much vacation will I get?” Get the basic information you need before you go in for an interview.
If someone can give a “yes” or “no” answer, it diminishes your prospects for having a good conversation.
An executive is interested in how you will add value to her organization and whether or not you’re a good fit. Skip questions like “I skydive every Saturday—so will I ever be asked to work weekends?”