My greatest weakness

‘Sometimes I’m not very good at my job. I annoy people, or miss something, or don’t notice that I’ve annoyed people or missed something. Sometimes I think I’ve done a great job when I really haven’t.’

I imagine that this would be the most honest answer to the interview question ‘what is your biggest development area/weakness?’. I’m currently pulling together an interview pack and debating the merits of this question… I imagine the answer above wouldn’t go down overly well, but it is probably true for most people. ‘I make mistakes, I hope the good stuff I do is better than the other candidates applying’.

The question is obviously asked to check the candidates level of self awareness, but if you really got an honest list it might sound like… well, here is mine

– I can’t pair socks. I’m just not wired to be able to do it. I can spot an error in a spreadsheet at 100 yards, but pair socks? No
– Sometimes I sing out loud in public without noticing it. On the way to this train I just got caught singing Arthur’s Theme by Christopher Cross
– For some reason I feel compelled to leave a restaurant as soon as I’ve finished my food. This leaves my wife feeling rushed and grumpy
– I sometimes use bad analogies, much like an elephant using a toaster, that I don’t notice aren’t helpful at all until a bit later on in my sentence.
– I tend to think I can separate my moods at home and in work better than I actually can
– If someone hasn’t seen It’s a Wonderful Life I feel it is my civic duty to convince them to. This can really interrupt the flow of a conversation
– I’ve been working on simplifying my language and the way I describe things for years. If I get challenged on not understanding something deeply enough (because someone has assumed that from my language) I get riled and set about making them regret underestimating the level of complexity and depth I can achieve. It’s a very ego driven reaction. Not good. I can obviously control it, but when I let it out to play it’s not pleasant.
– I’m not open minded enough to ever go to the ballet
– I challenge more than most, but I know there have been times when I should and I haven’t. Those times weigh heavily on me
– I always forget to turn off my PC
– I hate suits. Mine are therefore cheap and crumpled
– I can never be clean shaven. My face doesn’t allow it. I just have a face that permanently looks like I’m a baddie in a 90’s movie

We are people, with flaws – big and small. The impact of those flaws varies hugely by context. It’s the difference between the micromanager and the manager who is great because they are in the detail. The leader who gives you the space to perform – and the leader who is never about. In the eye of the beholder.

I know that you should answer this question by giving a ‘tangential weakness’ (check out ‘why should anyone be led by you’ by Goffee and Jones) but I think this question tests the ability to sneakily answer interview questions rather than do a job. It doesn’t feel right, I don’t want people to kick off one of their first interactions with an organisation by thinking about the smartest political answer.

Maybe my expectation of honesty from others is a weakness. Maybe. Maybe I find dressing things up to make them more attractive immediately uncomfortable… Maybe producing the equivalent of this sign at interview shows creativity…Maybe my greatest weakness is the classic ‘just being too passionate about my work’.


6 thoughts on “My greatest weakness

  1. We’re all brilliantly flawed. There are elements of who we are which are great and element which… well lets say that they are at the other end of that spectrum. That’s really quite OK – we can be nothing else. Do interviewers start with this expectation? I don’t think so…


  2. If this question was posed in the interview process for a job I think I’d walk! Totally meaningless question, contributes nothing towards determining success in role. It amazes me that in 2014 we are still using questions like this and others including “what would you do if you won the lottery” etc. Google stopped using them after it did the proper research. Everyone else should too! Context, as you imply, is king.


  3. I was recently recruiting – I asked my candidates “what grinds your gears”? They initially were cautious – it wasn’t a trick. I wanted to know what winds them up and what they do about it – helped me understand their values more. I explained. And then they shared!!!


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