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Interview Questions

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Greatest Weakness  
    Notes and Advice from Andy Anand

"What is your greatest weakness?"

...or the sneakier alternative...

"In your last performance review, what did you boss say you should be working to improve?"

Ah, the dreaded "What’s your greatest weakness?" question. As a professional interviewer, I use the second, sneakier version of the question, but there are still many interviewers who will bluntly ask you for your Greatest Weakness. Bottom line is we're looking to find where you need to grow. We'll often ask this same question of your references.

You must be prepared to answer this question. Being taken by surprise will produce a guaranteed weak answer that will raise red flags. Be prepared. In fact, be triple-prepared. Particularly brazen interviewers will ask you this question, then they’ll ask for another weakness. Then ANOTHER. If you have three ready, you should be fine.

Interviewers who ask these questions aren’t just trying to be mean. They aren’t necessarily looking for reasons to knock you out of the process, either, though how you answer will be one of many decision data-points. In many cases, this is a probe for honesty, quality of trust and communication, and to discover where training could be profitably invested.

Don’t say, “I can’t think of anything.” This answer will tell the astute interviewer that you are blind to your weaknesses and, at worst, not honest. This answer does nothing good for you.

Don’t say, “I work too hard.” That’s not really a weakness or an area for growth. When candidates give me that, I say, “I hear that one from lots of candidates, and I just don’t like that answer. Dig deep, and give me something real. Where do you need to grow?”

Don’t say anything that hints that you don’t get along with people well, don’t take direction well, or don’t manage yourself well. Immaturity, people problems, and work ethic are impossible to train.

Don’t lie. Keep in mind that the recruiter or hiring manager will be asking your former boss the same question when he checks your references. If you know that something will come up negative in the references, this question is your chance to put a positive spin on a negative trait. You can’t control what your former bosses might say, but what you say here can balance something negative.

Do select things that are more technical in nature. Technical skills can be trained and are easiest to learn. I would rather see weakness in a minor technical area than in a foundational area that drives performance or negatively affects teamwork.

Technical areas for an Admin Assistant might include the calendaring functions of Outlook. Maybe you are a pro in Word but you would be more effective if you knew more Power Point. If you’re a manager, you could admit to making a hiring mistake, but that transformed into a great opportunity to coach a weak employee.

Sample Answer:

"I think he would say that I need some training in how to interview and select new employees. I have good intuition as a manager, but I have never really had any training in interviewing. Last year, out of the 15 people I hired, one guy just couldn’t manage his time well, so I had to invest a lot of my time cleaning up his messes. I sat down with him and put together a performance plan. We decided together on a plan of action and training, and today he’s performing very well. Looking back, it took a lot of time to fix the problem and I would’ve done better by hiring the right person to begin with. Though I hire the right people most of the time, I think there is room for improvement there. I’d really love to get some training."

This answer is honest, real, and turns a potentially negative reference into an opportunity to showcase a strength (coaching the poor performer).

Additional Resources:
More sample interview questions than you can imagine are in the Interview Questions and Answers Database. This resource is affordable for almost anyone and is highly recommended.


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