Three questions that snag job candidates.
A conversation with my daughter in the past aroused in me emotions of both concern and relief. Two conflicting emotions you’re thinking. Yes, two conflicting emotions, but the feeling that stays with me is the feeling of relief.
The feeling of relief because she was truthful about her faux pas, her display of bad judgement. All was forgiven, although not forgotten. “This is what the truth accomplishes,” I told her.
This is what you get when you ask your kids to be honest. This is what you get when you ask for honesty, regardless of the response.
What interviewers get from their job candidates at an interview aren’t always honest responses. Candidates are guarded, weighing every word they say, because they feel one wrong answer can blow the deal. They don’t have faith in the interviewers being understanding of mistakes made in the past.
Questions addressing candidates weaknesses
When I spring the question, “What is your greatest weakness?” on my workshop attendees, I often get a moment of silence. Their minds are working like crazy to come up with the correct answer. They think the best answer is one which demonstrates a strength, not a weakness.
No job candidate wants to disclose a real weakness. They don’t want to kill their chances of getting the job, so they creatively elude the question, or even lie.
What I impress upon my workshop attendees is that interviewers want transparency, not a coy answer they’ve heard countless times. The “weakness” question is the one that gives them the most trouble.
So they come up with answers like, “I work too hard,” or, worse yet, “I’m a perfectionist.” I tell them these questions rank high on the bullshit scale, to which they laugh. But it’s true. These answers are predictable. They’re throwaway answers, wasted breath.
Be smart, though. Don’t mention a skill as a weakness that is vital to the position at hand. Talking about your fear of public speaking, when it’s a major component of a position requiring public speaking skills, would be a major problem and probably eliminate you from consideration.
Another question job candidates struggle with is, “Why did you leave your last job?” For those who’ve been let go this can be a struggle. Transparency is required here just like the weakness question.
Unfortunately you may have been let go from your previous position, which means you may have done something wrong; or maybe it was just a conflict in personality with your manager. Whichever the case may be, be transparent, rather than trying to make up a phony story.
For example, “My first manager worked well together because he was clear about his deadlines. However, with my recent manager, I didn’t get a clear sense of when financial reports were due.
This became a problem on a few occasions, which I take responsibility for. Because of this, I’ve learned to ask about strict deadlines.”
Note the person explained the situation succinctly (this answer must be short) and explained how she learned from the experience. This demonstrates transparency and self-awareness.
A final difficult directive might be, “Tell me about a mistake you made and how you dealt with it.” This directive is one that many people are not prepared to answer. When I ask my clients this question, they pause, or might say, “I never thought of this question.”
Like the weakness question, you don’t want to choose the most detrimental mistake you’ve made. The time you cost the organization a $3 million account due to poor follow-through with a huge client is not the example you want to bring up.
However, interviewers want an honest answer. They also want you to tell as story about this mistake. This is where a brief STAR story comes in handy. Read this post to learn how to use the four components necessary to answer this directive.
People make mistakes, they do
Smart interviewers understand that just as job candidates make mistakes, managers also make mistakes. No one is flawless in the interview process. Nonetheless, they don’t want to hear candidates dancing around their questions. It’s a waste of time and just makes the job candidate look silly.
Furthermore, interviewers want to hear self-awareness, meaning that you know your weaknesses, and are doing something to correct them. If your greatest weakness is a fear of public speaking (this is not a major requirement of the job), maybe you’ve been attending Toastmasters to get over that fear.
If you can’t admit that you slip every once in awhile, you lack not only self-awareness, but also emotional intelligence, which is a key component of your personality. Not all interviewers want the purple squirrel, the candidate that is perfect and elusive.
Employers want people who can do the job—have most of the required skills—and the motivation to take on challenges. So if candidates don’t have some non-consequential skills, they need to own up to it. Their understanding of self and limitations is part of their EQ, which is not a given in everyone.
Back to my daughter
It’s tough as a parent to realize your daughter, or son, is not perfect and makes poor judgement calls. Life would be easier if you didn’t have to deal with these minor issues, but they are part of life.
I appreciated her transparency and, as a result, trust her more than if she hadn’t told the truth. In addition, I understand she’ll make mistakes in the future. This is not too different than a conversation that an interviewer and job candidate have. Interviewers will trust candidates more when the candidate is honest….to a point.
I’m sure there was more to the story than my daughter wanted to disclose
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