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What Are Your Weaknesses?

This month will be the first in a series of posts dedicated to interview techniques. There are some questions that pop up in almost any interview. ‘What are your Weaknesses?’ is one of them. It’s a ridiculous question, but for some reason interviewers love to ask it. Before I give you the platinum answer let me just vent a little about why this question makes my skin crawl:

It’s a trick question. This is what it’s really asking: Are you humble? Are you TOO humble? Do you lack confidence? Are you an arrogant bozo? It’s like some kind of Freudian dream analysis, pulling things out of thin air or twisting whatever you say. There is no right answer, is there? All of the professionals will tell you to give a weakness but explain how you work around it. So really the key to answering this is to lie, because everyone has a weakness. No one is perfect, and sometimes a weakness is always going to be a weakness, never to be improved. Humans aren’t robots.

Another beef I have with this question is the utter predictability of it. It’s taken straight out of a random cliched textbook called ‘Interview Questions 101’. It’s up there with ‘How do you cope under pressure’ and ‘Tell me a bit about this company.’ It’s like interviewers just conduct interviews in the same way they fill out forms and balance budgets. Interview questions like these are designed to make everyone seem humdrum and then you don’t get the job because you didn’t stand out. How do you balance personality with template answers to template questions? How do you possibly stand out?

Bear this in mind: if you get to the interview stage, you meet all of the essential criteria for the job. The purpose of an interview is not to determine if you can do the job; it’s to get to know you and ensure you’re not a freak. That’s it really. Why then do the questions asked not try to get into the heart of whether or not someone is a psycho? A serial killer works incredibly well under pressure; it doesn’t mean you want to hire them. Personally, if I was an employer hiring new staff I would ask more intimate questions. Not to the point of causing embarrassment of course. ‘Do you sniff underwear?’, for example, isn’t really appropriate. However, things like ‘Do you like animals?’ would be high on my list. I couldn’t employ someone who hates animals, I wouldn’t care if they had multiple PhD certificates hanging from their ears. I wouldn’t want a dog-kicker or someone who likes to attach fireworks to kittens during Halloween anywhere near my company. Most importantly, sometimes someone answers all of the predictable questions correctly, ticks all the boxes on paper, but there’s just something off about them. Questions about who the person is as opposed to questions about how they do this or that, helps to weeds out the weirdos more effectively. This is because unpredictable questions will provide more spontaneous answers than standard ones.

However, it seems innovative interviewers are few and far between. The interview treadmill is just how things are. As I said, you will definitely encounter this question, or a rewording of it, during pretty much any interview. So, here it is: the magic dust that allows you to put on a facade and not show the company your dark side:

Turn the negative into a positive.

Really? That’s it? Yes. Snore. Laziness can be turned into a laidback outlook, control freaks can pretend they’ve got it all together because of their high level of organisation, and ego-maniacs can highlight their confidence and strong people skills. Get the job and then you can infuriate your colleagues with your flawed character traits, hooray! Easy-peasy. 

Until next month, folks. 

Gillian Rixey, Company Jobs Direct Ltd 2016

by Gillian Rixey
(Gillian is a PhD qualified freelance writer and scholar born in Ireland but currently residing in the United States.)