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I had an interesting exchange recently with a candidate who was preparing for an interview.  A portion of  our conversation went something like this:

Candidate: Dan how do I answer the question “What is my biggest weakness”

Dan: Well, what is your biggest weakness?

Candidate: No, I want to know how I should answer it.

Dan: Oh, you mean like “I’m too efficient”, or “I care too much about others”?  In other words, you want a safe and generic response to the question?

Candidate: Kind of.  I’m using Youtube to figure out how to answer questions and I saw a few videos stating that I need to answer the question by making it a positive.

Dan: So I’m happy to help, but first, what truly is your weakness?  Like genuinely, that thing that you know you need to fix before others discover it about you?

Candidate: The honest answer is that I tend not to do very well with senior management who are self-absorbed and don’t listen to others.

Dan: Give me an example.

Candidate: Well, my current boss is kind of an ass.  He is never wrong and takes credit for everything.  Our weekly status meetings are very tense as he finds the one thing we did wrong, even though we made lots of progress. Everyone hates being questioned by him as he tends to make shaming jokes or comments.

Dan: How do you handle those situations?

Candidate: Like everyone else, I kind of shut-up.  I’m never emotional with him as that makes things worse.  I tend to focus on facts and data without providing recommendations on what should be done.

Dan: What do you wish that you could do differently?

Candidate:  I wish that I could put him in his place!  But kidding aside, I can’t change that he is an ass but I do want to share my idea on how to fix the business issues.

Dan:  Have you tried anything?

Candidate:  I’m starting to realize that during Friday Happy Hours and other drinking events that he completely changes and is nicer to everyone.  During that time, his guard is down and he seems a bit more open to engaging with me and hearing my thoughts.  So I am making a little bit of progress.

Dan: It seems to me that you know exactly what your weakness is and you are on the path to developing a solution.  Seems like a great example and story to me.  So I have one of two suggestions – either reflect more on what you just shared with me and figure out how to best tell that story, or answer the biggest weakness question with “I struggle with being too intelligent. It can be isolating because I’m always three steps ahead of everyone else, and it’s hard for me to find peers who can keep up.”  Although in fairness, the response sounds more like your boss than you!

Hire Thought

You are the world’s leading expert in knowing about “You”.  It’s absurd to think that someone who has never met you can give you advice on how to answer questions about you.  Interviewing is about being honest, self-aware and authentic on every question – there is no need to ever provide responses solely on the basis that you think that is what the interviewer wants to hear.

As you work through potential interview questions, there is additional work that is required in crafting an honest response.  Specifically, you need to consider what examples to use, what additional context to provide, what questions you should anticipate based on your reply, and any objections or reactions that an interviewer may have to the response.  There is nothing wrong with using the internet for getting ideas on conducting interviews or an overall job search.  But scrutinize any outside advice and commit to doing deep thinking for yourself.

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