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What's Your Greatest Weakness?

I'm looking for a new job, and I've already had a few interviews.  I thought that the question "what's your greatest weakness?" was already discredited as a valid interview question, but it's not, apparently.

What's a good answer to this question?  "I work too hard" is too obviously self-serving.  "Office equipment goes missing when I'm around" may be a little too honest.

What sort of answer is the interviewer looking for, and how can they can expect a useful answer in the grotesquely unreal atmosphere of an interview?  Or is this a kabuki, a bit of necessary theatre in the dance of getting a job?

Justin Johnson
Wednesday, February 11, 2004

Ive always liked 'I dont have any great weaknesses' as a response.  Its not so obviously self-serving as whinging on about my workaholic tendencies and (in my case at least) its perfectly honest.
well...mostly honest..I _do_ spend too much time using a computer each day, but hey...Im  geek..

FullNameRequired
Wednesday, February 11, 2004

I used "I hate job interviews" once :)

Frankly, one I always use on this
question  - because it's true - is that I hate bureaucracy and
excessive process.  Since I wouldn't work
anywhere where there was excessive procedure and
process - and idiots who think fancy process is the cat's
meow - it works nicely as a way to see if I want to work
there or not.  If the interviewer gets defensive and starts arguing
about "necessary" process, I know it's not a place I want
to be.  If there's vehement agreement, I've scored a point
_and_ it's probably a good place to work.

x
Wednesday, February 11, 2004

How about "I don't consider weaknesses great."?

Wayne
Wednesday, February 11, 2004

"My greatest weakness is that I continue to work for a company that would ask such a ludicrous question to its employees, out of the pure conviction that it believed it would get a true and useful answer. I vow to resolve that in the next 12 months, I swear."

:-D

Brad Wilson (dotnetguy.techieswithcats.com)
Wednesday, February 11, 2004

It is a silly question, but since they're asking it you can give them a canned answer. Pick one of these:

1) Chocolate

2) Boys under the age of 14

3) I struggle to be patient with co-workers who are less intelligent than I am. I recognize the weakness and work hard to be helpful, but it is frustrating at times.

Tom H
Wednesday, February 11, 2004

haha, all great answers. 

I think if *I* was asked that, and I didn't have the balls to give one of the answers above, I'd say something like "My greatest weakness is the fact that I've never had to opportunity to work in a heavyweight software lifecycle, although i've read a lot of books on it."  Its honest, but basically saying I'd be good at it with a little experience. 

vince
Wednesday, February 11, 2004

Well,

Its a dishonest question and the answer will be dishonest. No one is likely to be saying "Cheating on ones wife"  as a weakness, will they?.

?
Wednesday, February 11, 2004

Kryptonite.  But don't forget to mention that you'll need time off if a super villan attacks.

Bill Rushmore
Wednesday, February 11, 2004

"I think it would be imprudent to answer such a question. If I am honest, I risk looking bad. If I lie, I risk being caught out in my lie. When faced with a no win situation, I firmly believe the best option is to not play the game."

Sum Dum Gai
Wednesday, February 11, 2004

"My greatest weakness is that I'm unable to be tactful when morons ask me idiotic questions like that one."

(But only if you don't actually want the job.)

Gareth McCaughan
Wednesday, February 11, 2004

Honesty


Wednesday, February 11, 2004

Anything yellow. My power ring is powerless against such objects.

GL
Wednesday, February 11, 2004

"Given that the only candidates likely to answer that question honestly either (a) aren't that bright or (b) don't care whether they get the job, are you sure you want me to answer it?"

I usually just mention that I'm horribly forgetful and need to write things down, which is both true and not all that bad.

Sam Livingston-Gray
Wednesday, February 11, 2004

Well...You know it's a stupid question, I know it's a stupid question, but the automatons in HR think they are being fiendishly clever by asking it.

...and since they are the ones that are likely to have control over your hire into an otherwise good company, you might want to have some canned response that makes them all giddy inside.

Mark Hoffman
Wednesday, February 11, 2004

Sam, thats brililant!  It makes you look honest, but it also shows that your disciplined enough to overcome your apparent "weakness".  I'll definatly think about using that one. 

vince
Wednesday, February 11, 2004

i guess it were all them people I had to kill for axin' 'em stupit questions, hoss.  they needed killin' though, so i kilt 'em real good.

anon
Wednesday, February 11, 2004

I don't know if it's the dumbest question ever, but if I was part of a group conducting an interview, and one of the people asked that question, there's a lot that would impress me.

For example, "My greatest weakness would have to be my communication skills. I don't think it's something that comes naturally to me, so I've taken courses X and Y to get some practice, as well as put myself in situations where I was forced to improve."

That would impress the heck out of me. Every single person has weaknesses, and an answer like that would show me that this person is serious about their career.

I want people that are confident in their strengths, and confident in their ability to work on their weaknesses.

Nigel
Wednesday, February 11, 2004

"I consider myself to be a competent C++ and Visual C++ programmer, but I haven't had much opportunity to work with Delphi, and I hope to tackle some projects that allow me to expand my horizons."

No personality defects, just a lack of opportunity in the past.

www.MarkTAW.com
Wednesday, February 11, 2004

I get mad when I see injustice (-8

Karel Thönissen (www.hello.nl)
Wednesday, February 11, 2004

I like David Brent's answer in "The Office":

"The words 'Can't Be Done' are not in my vocabulary. Also, too loyal."

as
Wednesday, February 11, 2004

POOR IMPULSE CONTROL

Mr. Fancypants
Wednesday, February 11, 2004

I always prefered the Past-Present-Future model for this question, it allows you to really bill yourself and turns the whole thing into a positive.

In the past I wasn't good at basket-weaving, but I sought to improve that by taking several basket-weaving classes at the local college.  While I still don't consider myself to be an expert, I am more proficient than I had been.  In the future I hope to take an underwater basket-weaving class to improve my skills even further.

Lou
Wednesday, February 11, 2004

What is your greatest weakness?

I think the biggest challenge is balancing work life with family life. How do you support a flexible work environment?

...

Everyone can relate to balancing work and their life. By its nature, balance requires work and most people find it hard to keep things in balance.

m
Wednesday, February 11, 2004

"I drink too much coffee. Where's the nearest Starbucks?"

klown
Wednesday, February 11, 2004

If I were interviewing, nobody here would get the job.

Nobody is perfect. NOBODY. Every member of a team has flaws. A good team complements each other - they understand how to deal with each other's flaws.

This is much, much easier if people know and can articulate their own flaws. The two I generally talk about during interviews are that I tend to be overly optimistic about deadlines, and that I often jump to conclusions without stopping to think it through. (I'm working on both of them)

I mentioned both of these during my interviews at Microsoft.

You have flaws. If you say you don't, you're either self-deluded or lying. Pretty much grounds for a "no hire" to me. :)

Philo

Philo
Wednesday, February 11, 2004

"I've sworn an oath of secrecy to reveal that question to no one other than my brothers at the Skull and Bones. But if you wish to know what my second greatest weakness is, I'd have to say it's cannibalism."

Maneater
Wednesday, February 11, 2004

Aw Philo, you spoiled it :(

"Bad handwriting" used to be the standard response.

"JoS" is probably the real one.

"Too eager to please" is the one I usually give

Les C
Wednesday, February 11, 2004

Avocado pits -- I made them too big.

it's me, whatcha been doin'
Wednesday, February 11, 2004

"You have flaws."

I have character flaws, I have social flaws, I even have dressing flaws.  (for instance I prefer wearing shorts and a tshirt to a suit).

But how far are we meant to go?  Im applying for a _job_, not for a _friend_

the only weaknesses Id consider mentioning are those that would _negatively impact my ability to do the job_, and Im sure as heck not going to mention those _or I might not get the job_

which is why its such a stupid bloody question.

<g> the flaws that you mention are wonderful examples of a good answer in fact, entirely because htey are so meaningless. "I tend to be overly optimistic about deadlines"...well _duh_ every programmer in the world is..you know thats true, I know thats true, the people who interviewed you know its true.  Its a meaningless answer, while at the same time being entirely honest.
"and that I often jump to conclusions without stopping to think it through"  thats another answer of the same type...apparenely honest but without enough actual meat to actually be a problem...I mean, so what?  everyone jumps to conclusions...I bet you also blathered on about how youve managed to deal with it by being able to recognise when youve made a mistake..

its a meaningless question, and the only good answers are the kind youve mentioned...meaningless ones.

FullNameRequired
Wednesday, February 11, 2004

I once bombed an interview that had this question (many years ago, one of my first interviews).  The "Greatest Weakness" was no problem - I can't remember what I said, but I think I talked about perfectionism.  Then I underscored the point with the next question: "What's your Greatest Strength?"

How could I pick one? It wasn't a question that I had prepared for (or really even knew the answer to). I panicked and couldn't answer.  I was so embarrassed I even put my head down on my knees (which the interviewers had no idea how to handle <g> Now I have empathy.  At the time I wished they'd go away and let me leave the room gracefully...)

I had the rest of the interview down pat.  Ah, memories...

Better be Anon
Wednesday, February 11, 2004

OK, what about Keith, also from "The Office" - "Eczema"

as
Wednesday, February 11, 2004

the question really is:

"okay, you know by now, and have problably been asked this is just about every other interview, so you will have had time to formulate a response to this question that, while sounding like it is a weakness, is actually a rather weak weakness and you will have thought up a way to make this weakness sound positive. Go."

I always enjoy your posts Phil, but I got to agree with the previous posts, your answer was a lame as any of the others.

(in agreeance with a previous poster) the question is dishonest, why not just come out and say what they are looking for, why not pose the question like this:

"Are you the type of person who is able to recognise your weaknesses, are you the type of person who will work toward overcoming these weaknesses, do you have an example of a weakness that you overcame or are working to overcome, how were you made aware of this weakness, did a colleague tell you, how did you react to that?"

.......far far less on the spot type of question, and more truthful.

Aussie Chick
Wednesday, February 11, 2004

If someone asked me that (my new and improved version of the question), I would grin and say "I have lots of weaknesses, and I work take pride in the fact that I work hard to overcome them, let me think of a work related example...."
I would feel comfortable, I am not spouting rubbish so I would feel relaxed...

Aussie Chick
Wednesday, February 11, 2004

Philo said...

>tend to be overly optimistic about deadlines, and that I often jump to conclusions without stopping to think it through. (I'm working on both of them)

>You have flaws. If you say you don't, you're either self-deluded or lying. Pretty much grounds for a "no hire" to me. :)

Seems to me Philo you are showing your second weakness above when you say this :-)

And being overly optimistic about deadlines is not a weakness man...if one was not optimistic nothing would ever get done...that is pretty much the basic trait all good engineers have.

If you asked me this question I would say my greatest weakness is I cannot take questions about my greatest weakness seriously :-)

Code Monkey
Wednesday, February 11, 2004

"And being overly optimistic about deadlines is not a weakness man"

It's one of the greatest weaknesses in the software development profession -- it's what gives the illusion to everyone else that software developers over-promise and under deliver. I'm definitely guilty of this, so I'm not stating this from pedestal.

Dennis Forbes
Wednesday, February 11, 2004

Sorry, Philo, but you lost a point or two there.  As pointed out already, who among us isn't optimistic about deadlines?  (I thought I'd be done six months ago with the product I shipped today!)

Anyway, I have plenty of flaws, but most of them aren't open to discussion with someone I've just met in a professional context.  ;>  I do have a few stock answers (I had someone ask for my top three strengths and weaknesses; oddly, she was in all other ways an excellent interviewer), one of which, as mentioned, is forgetfulness.

And I don't mean I'm a little forgetful.  No, I mean that today is my partner's birthday, and I barely remembered to bring her gift with us out to dinner.  Twice.  (Once going out to the car, once going from car to restaurant.)  I've taken a few college courses online, and for one of them, I FORGOT TO TAKE THE FINAL EXAM.  I had to make it up the following term.  We're talking a flaw that borders on disability here.)

Keeping written reminders on everything goes a long way toward making up for this, but it easily qualifies as my greatest flaw even if the other deeply personal stuff is included in the pool of possible answers.  ;>

Sam Livingston-Gray
Wednesday, February 11, 2004

Oh, and vince: the idea is not, as you seem to think, to "make me look honest."  I *am* honest, and hopefully that comes through.

Sam Livingston-Gray
Wednesday, February 11, 2004

Sometimes I contribute 110%

But occassionally I slip down to 109%

S.Tanna
Wednesday, February 11, 2004

Trust me, I've met plenty of developers who were overly optimistic about deadlines and didn't realize it. Look at the slew of posts before mine - everyone is absolutely perfect and never makes mistakes. A few jokes about "I work too hard" or "I never know when to go home" but no real flaws.

But when I post mine, I get "oh yeah, everyone does that" - not according to the notes beforehand.

Do you see my point? Everyone else thought it; I said it. Things like that make a real difference.

What I am (and I'd hope most interviewers are) looking for is that you recognize a shortcoming, can admit it, and can explain how you deal with it.

Philo

Philo
Wednesday, February 11, 2004

Is it time for the software industry to grow up? This type of question is the sort of thing you ask low level staffers.

If anyone asked me this, I would answer that I didn't want the job.

Rob
Wednesday, February 11, 2004

It's a conundrum. Do you go for the perfectionist answer because everyone else does the same and you don't want to seem weaker, or do you go for the truth hoping it's a refreshing change from all the fakers before you.

www.MarkTAW.com
Thursday, February 12, 2004

>What I am (and I'd hope most interviewers are) looking for is that you recognize a shortcoming, can admit it, and can explain how you deal with it.

Agreed, however it would be much easier if they simply asked, rather the hide the real question beneath and incredibly broad and scary question. (ie "your greatest weakness").

I have a tonne of weaknesses, but I couldn’t label any of them the ‘greatest’, just ‘one of many’…its hard to pick a single weakness and label it as the greatest, this I think is were candidates get bogged down “okay I have know greatest weakness, so I will think of my many weakness, pick the most appealing and say I am working on it.”

Aussie Chick
Thursday, February 12, 2004

No, most interviewers are asking a dumb question right
out of the "Ten Standard Interview Questions", and they'll
get a pat, "turn weakness into strength" answer 99% of
the time.  And the more someone's been interviewing, the
more likely they'll answer this way...

If you have to ask a question of this sort, ask a more
focused question like "what personal weakness has
affected your work?"

The "Greatest Weakness" question is so open-ended that
if answered honestly, would rarely have anything to do with
work.  That's why it is dumb, at least phrased this way.

x
Thursday, February 12, 2004


Is overly optomistic really your greatest weakness? If you recognize and can compensate for it I don't see that as being a great weakness.

You are really answering about a weakness you have overcome. That is a good strategy for this type of question.

I think my greatest weakness is that I am introverted and quiet. I never got a job offer when I said that as my answer though. Even when I said it made me a good listener and able to hear others opinions. Similar questions also hurt me in performance reviews. I'll never answer this question truthfully again.

INTP
Thursday, February 12, 2004

Maybe my greatest weakness is that I sometimes answer questions too literally.

For example, when asked my greatest strength, I thoughtfully replied with a single thing that I did indeed think was my greatest strength. The interviewer replied "What, you've only got one?"

Obviously I was meant to gush on about how I was the greatest thing since sliced bread, thereby giving the interviewer no useful information what so ever.

Guh, I hate HR people. Why ask for salesman style answers if you're not bloody employing someone to work in sales?

Sum Dum Gai
Thursday, February 12, 2004

I've always found the best approach to be picking a weakness that I've tried (with some success) to remedy. 

I even finished my reply once by pointing out: "If you'd like an example of a weakness that I haven't tried to remedy, then I'm afraid you're out of luck".

JR
Thursday, February 12, 2004

"Trust me, I've met plenty of developers who were overly optimistic about deadlines and didn't realize it"

umm, yes.  OTOH if you are overly optimistic amount deadlines, and know it, and are (presumably) working hard to improve....is it _really_ one of your _greatest_ weaknesses?

"Look at the slew of posts before mine - everyone is absolutely perfect and never makes mistakes."

Personally I dont believe for a second that anyone here believes any such thing.

"But when I post mine, I get "oh yeah, everyone does that" - not according to the notes beforehand. "

because, and this is the thing, _everyone_ does it.  I didn't mention that sometimes I drop glassware either...

"Do you see my point? Everyone else thought it; I said it. Things like that make a real difference. "

yep :)  Which kind of proves the point about that question.  Its _not_ about discovering the persons greatest weakness, its about finding out whether they are the kind of person who can blather on about all kinds of rubbish when under pressure.


"What I am (and I'd hope most interviewers are) looking for is that you recognize a shortcoming, can admit it, and can explain how you deal with it."

thats a worthwhile goal I agree....the point is that that particular question does _not_ enable you to discover this.

I dont ask it when I interview programmers.  I ask other questions, I ask questions about work they've done, I ask questions about problems they've had, I question them about why they used specific solutions, I ask them how they would solve certain problems.
I _dont_ ask them indirect questions with rules neither they nor I understand, if I want to know something I ask it or a specific open question that will afford me the same information.

If I want to know whether bob has a problem admitting when he is wrong, I imply that I think he is wrong about something he has said. 
<g> if he leaps up and attacks me with a broken bottle I consider it a negative sign.


You want honesty?  why didn't you tell the interviewers about the fact you get athletes foot in hot weather?  about the fact that you are bipolar (1 in 5 are)?  about the fact you are a retired alcholic?  about the fact that, late at night, you spend more time than is healthy exploring websites of immoral content?  about the fact you spend more time than a good employee should at internet chat forums? about the fact that you have a tendency to burn out after 2 weeks of high pressure coding?  about the fact that you hate authority and would prefer to gnaw your own foot off than apologise to someone holding power over you?  about the fact that various online games have a bigger and better hold over you than is good for you? about your gambling problems?  about your periodic depression?  about your addiction to sex?  about your drug habits?

<g> ok, maybe I made some of those up (I dont really believe that philo spends his evenings exploring websites of dubious moral content) but the point is why did you choose only those two weaknesses philo?  are they the only ones you have?  _really_?  why didn't you share the others?  the bad ones(your _greatest_ weaknesses)....everyone has them philo, why didn't you tell the interviewers at microsoft that you cant work past a pretty woman without checking out her boobs?  why didn't you mention your tendency to spend longer than necessary in the toilets if you have reading material available?

and yet you are (I assume tongue in cheek) standing there sounding self-righteous about your honesty...but you weren't _really_ honest, were you philo?  those two arent _really_ your _greatest_ weaknesses, are they?

FullNameRequired
Thursday, February 12, 2004

<g> after all that I actually failed to make my main point....which was:

that question is a gaming question, its not about the answer as such, its about whether they _have_ an answer, and whether that answer follows certain specific and accepted rules.

that answer must:

(a) be _reasonably_ original (not recognizably derived from a known book or website.
(b) not be sufficiently bad so as to stop the company from wanting to hire that person, ie, if I told them that my _greatest_ weakness was a tendency to pinch money from the snack box Id prolly not get the job.
(c) be 'bad enough'.....
(d) be pre-prepared....undue hesitation in delivering the answer will be looked on as either signs of deceit, or stupidity (because, lets face it, everyone asks that question so not having a prepared answer is a bad sign in itself)

philos two answers follow those rules perfectly, recognizable and real weaknesses, but nicely inside the line.

FullNameRequired
Thursday, February 12, 2004

>...blather on about all kinds of rubbish when under pressure...

I remember someone speaking of a manager who had been let go during the latest round of layoffs, "I miss him: on late-nite phone calls with the customer when there was nothing to say, he said it really well."


Thursday, February 12, 2004

The two that I have said (not verbatim) in the past are:

"I hate dealing with organizational bureaucracy.  In the past I have habitually procrastinated tasks that involve filling out forms, routing them for approval, and lobbying for buy in from other departments.  I force myself to deal with this problem by reserving 1-2 hours / week to work on administrative tasks."

and,

"I hate preparing presentations.  I don't mind getting up in front of a crowd and making presentations.  In fact, I often enjoy that.  But whenever I'm spending time putting together the materials and making the slides, I can't get past the feeling that I'm not being productive. I always feel like I should be spending the time getting 'just one more thing' done before the presentation and be able to share that.  The downside is that my materials tend to be bare bones and sometimes incomplete, but the upside is that I have gotten better at ad libbing."

Nick
Thursday, February 12, 2004

"I remember someone speaking of a manager who had been let go during the latest round of layoffs, "I miss him: on late-nite phone calls with the customer when there was nothing to say, he said it really well."

<g> actually its not a bad trait for managers to have, so long as they know what they are doing....that particular question originated from management interviews back in the 80's and has since spread like a lice infestation.

FullNameRequired
Thursday, February 12, 2004

"My girlfriend.  I can't help myself, I want her and nobody else.."

i like i (in shame)
Thursday, February 12, 2004

Let me translate that question into English for y'all.  The question is:

"Do you know how to tell people what they want to hear when it is necessary to do so?"

The correct answer is, "Yes, I do." but must be translated into HR-speak.  Therefore, the answer is something along the lines of:

"Sometimes, I get so deeply absorbed in a project that I forget about other priorities."

"Sometimes, I get so excited about my work that it's hard to remember that my family life should be my number one priority."

Matt
Thursday, February 12, 2004

"The correct answer is, 'Yes, I do.' but must be translated into HR-speak."

I've had tons of interviews over the years, and sad to say, it's never been the HR person that posed this question to me.  It's always been a peer or hiring manager.

So I've always answered this question honestly.  It's a lame question, but my honest answers have led to non-lame follow-up questions.

I've got answers for several possible follow-up questions for each of my weaknesses above.  By having those bases covered, I've been able to steer the questions into areas that I've shined.

Nick
Thursday, February 12, 2004

If you're hiring for a development position, which type of developer would you prefer:

a) One who tells the manager "No, this can't be done in 2 weeks, it's going to take 4".
b) One who says "It will all get done on time, no worries!"

Apparently HR folks prefer the later, when they should be preferring the former. Is it any wonder communication sucks so much in big companies when they only hire people who lie?

HR should be the first people that they look to outsource to India. Only they shouldn't bother to hire anyone over there either. Suitability of hires would probably go up overnight.

Sum Dum Gai
Thursday, February 12, 2004

I think this is a useful question. It has a bad press because some interviewers use it to be manipulative. In my experience I take this as a warning that the 'lets wind him up' part of the interview is coming.

I think you need to see this as a kind of abstract question. The actual answer is usually irrelevant (unless you go for 'office equipment dissapears  . . .). The type of answer is more important. Let's face it, you get asked a lot more stupid questions than this in our business. How you deal with stupid, inappropriate or manipulative questions is much more important than saying 'gee I always make impossible deadlines, but sometimes the act of leading from the front and working 90 hour weeks can be damaging to me personally.' because we all know that's crap.

A subtext of the question could be 'what is most important to you' or 'tell me an aspiration that you fall short of.' That tells you what is important to the person and perhaps lets you talk about their most important motivations. Personally, I would prefer to be more direct about that.

What I don't want to hear is 'I don't have any weaknesses.'

As a candidate, I would either ask what they really mean by the question or  deflect the question into some siding that cuts off that avenue, so 'Led Zep', 'Mozart', 'Ian M. Banks novels.'

Ian Sanders
Thursday, February 12, 2004

"I think you need to see this as a kind of abstract question. The actual answer is usually irrelevant"

exactly, its a gaming question where the interviewer gets to decide randomly which responses they like, and which they do not.
At its best a response to it serves merely as an excuse for the interviewer to base their decision on.

"How you deal with stupid, inappropriate or manipulative questions is much more important than..."

so you are saying you are deliberately asking a stupid, inappropriate and manipulative question?  <g> personally I consider that kind of behavior in an interview to be inappropriate, manipulative and downright stupid.


"A subtext of the question could be 'what is most important to you' or 'tell me an aspiration that you fall short of.'"

as aussie chick said, if thats what you want to ask, why not just ask it?  much easier than making the poor interviewee guess wildly at exactly which subtext you wish them to reply to..


"What I don't want to hear is 'I don't have any weaknesses.'"

interesting.  Personally I dont consider myself to have any weaknesses that _impact my ability to do my job_

Why dont you want to hear that?
I am good at software design, good at testing, I deal well with clients and I deal well with pressure, I write maintainable code, I create and maintain systems within the office for backup, security and all the rest, I deal fairly and competently with my employees and ensure that the systems for managing their needs is in place and kept to.
<g> I could go on listing the things Im good at for a while....Im not perfect, but Im at least averagely good at most things and Im spectacularly good at some things.

My greatest weaknesses exist (of course) but lie in other areas than my work, and because of that I would feel absolutely no need whatsoever to share them with you during a job interview.

given that, do you really want me to lie about my abilities so that I can be shoehorned into your manipulative questioning games?


"As a candidate, I would either ask what they really mean by the question or  deflect the question into some siding that cuts off that avenue,"

which is why its a stupid question.  it _really_ is.  It means different things to different people, the acceptable answers lie within a narrow range and tend to be meaningless in terms of real information.

FullNameRequired
Thursday, February 12, 2004

This question is really:

"In what area could you improve your ability the most"

So, those of you who answer "I have none" would be a no-hire for me as well. I agree with Philo - self-knowledge is the path to improvement.

I don't hire people merely for thier current skill set. I'm looking at wha t they can do in the future.

The real Entrepreneur
Thursday, February 12, 2004

"This question is really:

"In what area could you improve your ability the most""

good lord man, if thats the case why dont you actually ask that question?

IIRC we've been given _5_ different possible interpretations of that question by 4 different posters to this thread.  As an interviewee how am I supposed to know which one you want me to answer?

"self-knowledge is the path to improvement."

absolutely, but knowing thy self does not necessarily require that you have weaknesses in a specific area.
<g> the flip side of that coin in fact is that I have known gifted artists, programmers, mathematicians and scientists who were almost indecently humble or unable to to understand about their own abilities...in response to that question some of them would almost inevitably have responded with deprecatory comments about their abilities.

"I don't hire people merely for thier current skill set. I'm looking at wha t they can do in the future."

which requires questions about how well they learn new skills, and how interested they are in increasing ltheir skillset...it does not require them to blather on about their tendency to underestimate project times.

that self knowledge is a new tendency Ive seen crop up in american conscious recently.  lets me clear, listing an arbitary set of weaknesses in response to an expected interview question does _not_ illustrate 'self knowledge', it illustrates your abiility to memorize and repeat information when required.

FullNameRequired
Thursday, February 12, 2004

>This question is really:
>
>"In what area could you improve your ability the most"
>
>So, those of you who answer "I have none" would be a
>no-hire for me as well. I agree with Philo - self-knowledge
>is the path to improvement.


I don't think the quest for self-knowledge is in doubt, I think the ability of the 'greatest weakness' question (unless worded in a much more appropriate and clear manner) to gauge the candidates desire for self-knowledge is in doubt.

I think the question leaves the candidate feeling cheated, because they want to give a good response, but they are really really not sure what you are asking.
Philo, Mr Entrepenuer you guys may be A1 people (and as far as the persona I have met on this board I believe you both are), and you two might read this question to mean, "give me examples of some weaknesses and how you have gone about resolving them", but as a candidate in an interview, I don't know you that well and can't be sure if that is what you want to hear.
At any rate, as has been said, there are much betters ways to create an open-ended question that would give you a more relaxed response.

Perhaps I could throw this around the other way.
If you wanted to gauge a potential employees abilities in an area such as gaining self-knowledge, is this exactly how you would word the questions?

Aussie Chick
Thursday, February 12, 2004

"Sometimes I like to get naked in pressurised situations and dance around. Do you wanna dance?"


Thursday, February 12, 2004

"Why yes, I'd love to dance with you. Can I lead?"


Thursday, February 12, 2004

I think the answer depends on context. 

If you're asking yourself (and this is a good idea) then be totally honest - the number of flaws you kick out will be extensive and it will give you the start for personal development. 

If your filling in the box on your annual appraisal, tie it to any training you think you need.  This is still honest but means the appraisal goes "my weakness is x and I'm doing y about it".

If on the other hand you're at an interview, think about whatever strength you're trying to sell and work out how it could be a weakness.  This is still the truth, just not the whole truth.  If you think about it at an interview you are selling yourself - so treat it like a sale.   

a cynic writes...
Thursday, February 12, 2004

BTW I'd like to say interviews are just about the *worst* way to recruit.  But it's relatively easy, cheap and gives the illusion of control.

a cynic writes...
Thursday, February 12, 2004

I'm on the peedaphilo's side.

I've hired people and I have asked this question before. I can tell if I'm getting an honest answer or a pre-prepared one. If I'm employing someone I want an open and honest individual. If anyone thinks they can just give an off-pat prepared 'weakness into strength' answer then they are wrong (with me anyway).

If people either present themselves as having no weaknesses or refuse to say what they are then they either don't understand themselves enough or they're defensive. Neither of these are what I want.

Really this question is finding out about your attitude.

Of course it may be that you don't want to admit that you're missing a key skill required for the job (e.g.. "must be good communicator") and if you admitted that communication is your weakness then you're probably out of there... but then you shouldn't have applied for the job...

It's a good question and it's not just about finding out what you weaknesses are.

I like to throw in odd questions too. Like "what's your favourite beer/drink when you're down the pub?". It's a question that they won't have prepared for and may take you somewhere interesting. If you see them overly fluster or hesitate you know they must have prepared for every other question if they answered those without difficulty.

gwyn
Thursday, February 12, 2004

Google is your friend. This question has been asked (and answered) too many times to actually add value. If you are not prepared for this question when you attend an interview, then you are not prepared for the interview.

http://www.google.com/search?hl=en&ie=UTF-8&oe=UTF-8&q=%22what+is+your+greatest+weakness%22

example....

"I find I get so excited about the projects I'm working on, I have the tendency to let less time-critical tasks like paperwork slide. So what I do is set aside ten minutes first thing in the morning to get these essential tasks out of the way. By imposing this self-discipline, I get done what I need to without hampering my productivity and creativity the rest of the day."

Tapiwa
Thursday, February 12, 2004

Response #1:  Silence, followed by a chuckle.

Response #2:  "You're joking, right?"

Response #3:  "Coming up with canned answers to canned interview questions"


Thursday, February 12, 2004

That's funny gwyn - when I'm interviewing I'd rather see they'd prepared.  I suppose it depends if the gft of the gab is part of the job spec. Ho hum... 

I think the main problem is that for the most part the interview stage doesn't tell you a great deal about how people are going to perform when in the job.  Which I suppose is why the (UK) Civil service runs problem solving exams as part of their recruitment procedure. 

a cynic writes...
Thursday, February 12, 2004

Personally I like Dilbert's answer in the Dilbert Principle -which went something like "Sometimes I work so hard I forget  to eat, and die of starvation at my desk."

a cynic writes...
Thursday, February 12, 2004

The only use of the weakness question is to test if the person is stupid enough to express a weakness that won't get them the job.

NoName
Thursday, February 12, 2004

"My greatest weakness is fearing that a psychotic murderer will be maintaining my code in the future."

T.J.
Thursday, February 12, 2004

"Which I suppose is why the (UK) Civil service runs problem solving exams as part of their recruitment procedure."

Not for programmers they don't.

Anonymous Civil Servant
Thursday, February 12, 2004

Don't they - bloodly hell!  Let me guess  - the march of crapita?

a cynic writes...
Thursday, February 12, 2004

"My greatest weakness is the tendency to attack interviewers that asked inane interview questions"


Thursday, February 12, 2004

My greatest weakness, is the inability to say no to beautiful women.

whattimeisiteccles
Thursday, February 12, 2004

Apparently this question's greatest weakness is that it's so expected it's impossible NOT to have a prepared answer.

In my opinion this question is asked either because they don't know what else to ask, or have been told they should ask this question.

I'm guessing they're using it as a sort of interview Rorschach Test. With a Rorshach test it's not what you see, but how you describe it. Some inkblots are supposed to look like trees, but no matter what you see, the implication is that it's a father figure, so how you describe the tree (or whatever you see) is what's important. You're actually describing your father, or so the theory goes.

I would suspect that the best answer would be one where you say that you have weaknesses, but compensate for them, which is the mature thing to do. Does your ego get involved, or can you admit to flaws and own up to them? And when corrected, do you accept the advice, or do you fight against it?

As FullNameRequired  pointed out, it's impossible not to game this question because it's so well known. Others, such as, "Describe a time you disagreed with your boss?" have an equally psycho-babble sound to them.

Again, I suspect that they're looking for signs of immaturity, even if they don't even know it themselves.

So in addition to Joel's edicts - intelligent and gets things done - I would add - is mature and plays well with others, including his boss, and that's what these questions are really getting at.

www.MarkTAW.com
Thursday, February 12, 2004

whattimeisiteccles - Turn the handle on your side.


Thursday, February 12, 2004

My answer to this one is always: "It depends.  I have several, and know of no common criteria to pick the "greatest" one. Do you?"

Recruiters rarely like that, but at least they understand you're not a fool, and start asking something more concrete.

Egor Shipovalov
Thursday, February 12, 2004

It would be my willingness to hook the ethernet cable into a 120v jack on the way out. Super size that network! I'll take "I'm out of here" for a thousand Alex.

trollbooth
Thursday, February 12, 2004

My tendency to patronize fools who waste limited time to learn something by asking insipid questions.  I've been working on it though.  How'm I doing?

veal
Thursday, February 12, 2004

"You mean, besides chocolate?"

Martha
Thursday, February 12, 2004

My weakness is that I'm the worst interviewer possible since I side too much with the person being grilled.  But here is a question that I like to use since some people read into much deeper than it is intended:

"What type of pizza do you like and why?"

Most think it's a trick question, but many times working late on software projects you end up ordering pizza.  Everyone likes pizza, right?  Also, if someone can't articulate why they like a particular topping over another why would you expect that same person to be able to passionately defend a go/no-go decision to ship something?

Papa John
Thursday, February 12, 2004

>Trust me, I've met plenty of developers who were overly optimistic about deadlines and didn't realize it.

So? Once again I would rather be around optimistic developers than "realistic" guys who say they will take 6 months to write a "hello world" program.  Any non-tivial project has many unknowns and it is the optimism of developers that their skills and experience can overcome them that gets such project done...sometimes later than expected but so what?

I am actually surprised that someone like you who works at Microsoft says that being optimistic about schedules is a  weakness ;-)

>Look at the slew of posts before mine - everyone is absolutely perfect and never makes mistakes

I am only perfect about making mistakes. I do not know how you read this in the other posts.  You don't seem very optimistic about others Philo....so maybe that is your greatest strength :-)

Code Monkey
Thursday, February 12, 2004

jees folks ... the question is intended to determine whether the candidate is capable of accurate self-assessment ... those who are good at this are very aware of their strengths and weaknesses, they're often reflective, can learn from experience, are open to candid feedback, open to new perspectives, and tend to get better over time ... do i need to explain why this is a good thing?

and, yes, sometimes the interviewer has no idea why they're asking this question but, often time, they do and the question and follow-up question will clearly indicate if the candidate exhibits any level of self-assessment.

bob
Thursday, February 12, 2004

Every answer you give in an interview should be directed to the company with which you're interviewing and job you're interviewing for.

For example, a good choice might be, "I'm a little weak in my XSL style sheet, but I have done a lot of XML work," where the position has XSL in the job description.  Then go on and talk about your ability to learn new stuff, like you did with XML.

Saying something like "I'm a perfectionist" leads the interviewer to wonder if you'll ever be able to make a deadline.

Bathmophobic skier
Thursday, February 12, 2004

And bring an XML book with you. ;-)

www.MarkTAW.com
Thursday, February 12, 2004

". the question is intended to determine whether the candidate is capable of accurate self-assessment"

is it?  <g> I believe that makes _6_ possible interpretations.

another point is that if that _is_ what its intended to do, do you believe that the fact we all know its going to be asked and have prepared answers ready adds to, or detracts from, its ability to fullfill its purpose?

FullNameRequired
Thursday, February 12, 2004

me weekness? no bro, no weekness, no meekness me so  flawless, accept no nonsense, kudos to my wiseness who say it's senseless when i have my 2cents! oh my goodness, i got myself into some madness.

Wacko Jacko
Thursday, February 12, 2004

You see, I'm almost perfect, but I have this weakness that is beeing too modest.

Ricardo Antunes da Costa
Thursday, February 12, 2004

I probably should stop commenting, as I don't like getting involved in long running never ending arguments. (and can people stopping picking on Philo, his post was 50 posts ago, and it has been torn to shreds by at least 5 people, myself included).

Still I have to agree with fullNameRequired. I keeping seeing posts that defend the question, and in defending the question they define what the question *really* means, which is rather different to the definition of a previous defender.

So which is it? What does the poor interviewee do?

I know, next time I get asked that question I am just going to look them in the eye and say "Could you explain what you really mean by that question, what is it you are looking for? Are you looking to see whether I can avoid the canned answer and say something original? Or alternatively, are you looking to give me points for being prepared (this being the ultimate of obvious questions)? Are you looking to see whether I am capable of defining my weaknesses and seeking resolutions to them? Are you looking to see if I have a sense of humour? Are you wanting to find out what my greatest weakness is so you can know whether I will cause any problems in the team? Are you wanting a practical weakness, ie I am afraid of arrays, or a broader weakness that you can pyschoanalyse, ie I have an opinion on everything and don't want to play netball with the girls from work? Because I want to give you an answer that addresses your question properly, however you question is not very clear as to its meaning, and the fact that it is an over-asked question means that it has been redefined so many times by so many interviewers and JoSers that I can't be exactly sure what it is that *you* are after" ----Aussie Chick smiles sweetly.

Aussie Chick
Thursday, February 12, 2004

"sometimes later than expected but so what?"

Well, when meeting the deadline is the difference between being paid or having your company go bankrupt and fire all the developers (with unpaid salary never recovered) then it seems like an important detail.

You see, every now and again deadlines actually have financial consequences, and being "optimistic" is really quite silly when you actually should have a realistic reason to believe that you can live up to your end of the contract.

The Real Blank
Thursday, February 12, 2004

"Also, if someone can't articulate why they like a particular topping over another why would you expect that same person to be able to passionately defend a go/no-go decision to ship something?"

Because arguing over trivial things isn't the same as arguing over important things?

Or, perhaps, someone's ability to go with the consensus and work to achieve the team's goal (as opposed to their own personal goal) may also be important, and could be demonstrated by flexibility in the pizza topping choice, rather than a passionate desire to get their own way all the time?

Any answer to your question can be interpreted in positive ways. Er. how exactly does that help?

It's quite possible to prefer many different pizza toppings without being passionate about any of them. Well, it is for actual humans, anyway - there probably are freaks who obsess about their pizza toppings.

Here's my questions: are there any people who seriously believe an interview is a realistic way in which to assess a person's suitability for a job? And if there are, does your psychiatrist know you've got net access in your room?

I'm not sure there is a brilliant way to asess people accurately, but trick questions such as "if you can't defend your pizza topping preference then how can you defend your opinion on any important topic?" don't actually strike me as particularly clever.

The Real Blank
Thursday, February 12, 2004

> So which is it? What does the poor interviewee do?

Just answer the question how you want. Be yourself

There's no correct answer. And that's the point. The interviewer has his own idea of what he wants to hear. No two interviewers will be the same, it's simply a way of getting you to express youself. And you may answer as he likes and you may not. But he'll find out something about you and will decide if he likes what you say or not.

The interviewer is selecting based on his private criteria. Will you fit in? Does he want to employ you. He's asking an open question. He wants to see the unique way in which you answer. You can prepare for it but you can't prepare for what he wants to hear because you just don't know. Different interviewers will react differently to all the possibilities.

So just answer as you think.

gwyn
Thursday, February 12, 2004

OK, here's my new answer:

My biggest weakness is I have a tendency to overanalyse what people say. You see, when you asked that question, I immediately began to wonder what you really meant. Did you want to know whether I'd prepared for the interview to expect the usual suspects? Did you wish to know whether I'm able to analyse my own performance? Did you wish to know whether I'm capable of self improvement?

I'm not sure, it's hard to know when you're talking with someone you've just met. You see, I wonder about the kind of person who asks such questions of strangers. Did you not get enough love as a child? Is your penis so small that you have to overcompensate like this? Perhaps it's a desperate cry for help from someone trapped in the heartless shell of a HR drone?

Should I continue?



Well, OK, you might want to forget the second paragraph if you actually want the job. It almost makes me want to apply for a job I don't want so I can use it though. :)

Sum Dum Gai
Thursday, February 12, 2004

"It almost makes me want to apply for a job I don't want so I can use it though"

<g> I used to know a guy who made a habit of doing exactly that.

it was a form of entertainment for him, he was a builder/painter/labourer...youngish chap and retty competent.

approx 4 times a year for the 3 yers I knew him he would apply for jobs he genuinely didn't want....at mcdonalds, at woolworths (local supermarket chain) etc etc and would, apparently, have a lot of fun doing so.

it always sounded quite ...whats that word? relaxing...getting stuff out...grr, I need a dictionary (ok, ok so maybe I _do_ have a weakness....bad memory for words...)

FullNameRequired
Thursday, February 12, 2004

>My biggest weakness is I have a tendency to overanalyse what people say

You have no idea how true this is for me. It runs in the family too. My rother (an he is total skill set in life involved the ability to drive a tank and shoot things) is exactly the same.
And if people are talking near us we both always assume that they are talking about us. It is a sad sad mentality, and I always laugh at myself when the assumption pops into my head….but this of course is completely off-topic.

Aussie Chick
Thursday, February 12, 2004

typos typos typos, I am so sorry

Aussie Chick
Thursday, February 12, 2004

Philo:

I understand you're in sales for Microsoft, now.  So let me ask you this:

If you went into a sales appointment, and your prospect asked "so tell me, what's your product's greatest weakness?," what your reply be, exactly?  Would you _really_ give an honest answer?

"well, you know, Windows does have 65,000 bugs, and I imagine they can't all be good...ha ha ha!"

(that one'll be a real knee-slapper for all...)

Oh, or how about

"well, Windows is overly optimistic about uptime"

Ah, I know...

"Windows doesn't always 'think things through' before it does them..."

Come on, now.  Do you really expect that any salesperson worth his or her salt is going to honestly deride their product in front of the customer?  Some customers may approve of blunt honestly; frankly I think most will just be scared off by the dirty laundry.

You never see McDonald's marketing that says "try McDonald's fries!  They're great, but man are they greasy..."

This is why interviewing is a skill.  If it were as easy as just asking people what's wrong with them, we'd never have bad hires.

I understand the desire to have weaknesses communicated to you, but I don't understand the feeling that this is an appropriate way to elicit them.  Nor do you have any context for understanding the honesty or "attitude" of the interviewer (salesperson).  Some people are frankly just better at selling than others, so you're really just more likely to be snowed over by those, and undersold by the nervous folks.

Also, let me turn the tables: if someone asked what the company's greatest weakness is, would you be dead honest about it?

everyones_selling
Thursday, February 12, 2004

Sales guys do courses in how to answer these types of questions and still seem as if they're giving off-the-cuff answers.

E.g when asked how your product compares with a competing product, you can

a)airily dismiss the other product with an implication the questioner is an idiot for even asking the question (works surprisingly well)

b) pretend you've never heard of the company or product and ask about it

I had a job like Philo's straight out of uni, and couldn't get out of it fast enough.


Thursday, February 12, 2004

What's your favorite pizza topping?
I'm allergic to pizza :)

Ducks...
Thursday, February 12, 2004

Well, I usually come in late and leave early.  Most of they day I spend surfing and posting on JOS, Slashdot, and various other web sites.  I don't work well with others and I constantly need to be reminded of deadlines.

So when do I start?

GuyIncognito
Friday, February 13, 2004

FullName... said "so you are saying you are deliberately asking a stupid, inappropriate and manipulative question?  <g> personally I consider that kind of behavior in an interview to be inappropriate, manipulative and downright stupid."

Well, no. If you read what I actually wrote - often a good idea, no ? - I said that this question is often used in a manipulative or abstract way and I would prefer to be direct if I am asking some other question. But I would ask the question to find out what the person thinks their weaknesses are - i.e. *directly* what the question says. No manipulation. No front.

Ian Sanders
Friday, February 13, 2004

'Also, let me turn the tables: if someone asked what the company's greatest weakness is, would you be dead honest about it?'

You've nailed it!


Friday, February 13, 2004

Hi Ian,

I really was merely trying to be light hearted, but since you've brought it up....

your exact words were:

"I think you need to see this as a kind of abstract question. The actual answer is usually irrelevant (unless you go for 'office equipment dissapears  . . .). The type of answer is more important. Let's face it, you get asked a lot more stupid questions than this in our business. How you deal with stupid, inappropriate or manipulative questions is much more important than saying 'gee I always make impossible deadlines, but sometimes the act of leading from the front and working 90 hour weeks can be damaging to me personally.' because we all know that's crap."

now, if I had a few spare minutes and was able to pick out the parts that had meaning I would read it like this:
"I think you need to see this as a kind of abstract question"

I have no idea what you mean by that....what exactly _is_ an abstract question?

"The actual answer is usually irrelevant"

thats pretty clear.  actual answer is irrelevant....personally I believe that also means that the actual question is usually irrelevant, but I guess YMMV.

"The type of answer is more important."

ok, thats interesting.  so although the content of the answer is irrelevant, the 'type' of answer is important..again I am _very_ unclear on what exactly you mean by this.


Then you go on a bit of a rant:
" Let's face it, you get asked a lot more stupid questions than this in our business. How you deal with stupid, inappropriate or manipulative questions is much more important than saying 'gee I always make impossible deadlines, but sometimes the act of leading from the front and working 90 hour weeks can be damaging to me personally.' because we all know that's crap."

now, if you _weren't_ implying that it was a stupid question, then blowed if I can understand what point you are trying to make here?

but all that nitpicking aside Ian, seriously, as an interviewee how should I decide which possible interpretation of the question to answer?  you give two different possible interpretations, other people have given other possible interpretations....which one is correct?  which one should I answer to get full points?

FullNameRequired
Friday, February 13, 2004

FullName . . .  you quote me: "A subtext of the question could be 'what is most important to you' or 'tell me an aspiration that you fall short of.'"
and you respond "as aussie chick said, if thats what you want to ask, why not just ask it?"

You seem to have light heartedly dropped part of what I actually said to cast me in an amusingly comic-villain light and then you invoke aussie chick to cut me down to size in pantomime fashion. So i'll reconstiute my flattened self at the bottom of the canyon cartoon stylee and stick some dynamite down your trousers . . .

What I really wrote was: "A subtext of the question could be 'what is most important to you' or 'tell me an aspiration that you fall short of. <snip>. Personally, I would prefer to be more direct about that."

uh-ohhhh <Kaboom>

Holy Smoke batman, we sure straightened him out.

Ian Sanders
Sunday, February 15, 2004

If someone did ask the question and I was an impartial observer, then Aussie Chick's answer is the best for me.  It shows awareness. It takes the interview and the process seriously it isn't glib and the interviewer can't get defensive about it as a response unless they are a teensy bit of a saddo.

Ian Sanders
Sunday, February 15, 2004

"What I really wrote was: "A subtext of the question could be 'what is most important to you' or 'tell me an aspiration that you fall short of. <snip>. Personally, I would prefer to be more direct about that.""

heh.  oops.  so you did :)

ah well....at worst that means you (broadly) agree with me, and I can live with that :)

All this still leaves the point about the possible different interpretations unanswered by any of the 'pro greatest weakness question' arguers.

Ill take that as overall agreement that its a good point I think :)

FullNameRequired
Monday, February 16, 2004

Cool ;¬].

Now. What about 'what is your greatest strength . . .

Ian Sanders
Monday, February 16, 2004

I dislike this question SO MUCH. It's like damn if you do, damn if you don't. So I borrowed from your website and came up with this one since I was recently asked this question myself.

"I don't feel I have any great weaknesses. There are always areas in my work life I would like to improve upon or hit the mark of perfection; However, perfection is not an attainable goal. Striving for perfection or doing things right the first time can be a goal, and that is what I try to focus on the most." 

Emily Z.
Wednesday, June 09, 2004

"I tend to get overcommitted at times because I have a hard time saying no to assignments.  It can be overwhelming at times but it seems to be a necessary evil."

Philly
Wednesday, June 16, 2004

So I am completely new to this commentary, but found it through an msn search as I was doing some last minute prep for an interview in a few hours. That question always gets me, so I decided to do some prep and give it some thought. So back from my interview, here is what I realized:

- They do indeed ask that question, although they phrased in it a very nice - give an example of two stenghts and two weaknesses you feel you may have and what you have done to better yourself in those areas (for the weaknesses).

- Your response completely depends on your audience. I was interviewed by 5 people (together) and could tell they were laid back. Had they been stiff and prim and proper, I would have gone another way.

- So I said I had this feel that the question was coming and that I've always wanted to answer chocolate. This got a big laugh and one person completely agreed with me and said that we would get along. Another laughingly said I was ducking the question and I was then able to respond that I was not very organized when I took my previous job and how I took steps to ensure I completed everthing etc etc etc. they were very impressed.

- Thanks for all of the feedback and those of you that analyze the question to death or are offended by it - don't be. an interview is getting to know a person - take any question like that and answer it in a way that will at least show your personality. if the job is a fit, your natural response will work. (unless your answer is completely rude or disgusting).

:-)

-

Nimster
Thursday, July 08, 2004

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