sean

job interview question

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"What is your Greatest Weakness?" I'm sure a lot of job seekers out there have come across this question. How do you answer that, and furthermore, who REALLY answers that truthfully? And to any employers out there, what sort of answer are you really hoping to hear by asking such nonsense? Do people really need to throw themselves under the bus to get a job these days??? Oh, and telling them that your greatest weakness is not having any weakness never seems to go far. ;)

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"What is your Greatest Weakness?" I'm sure a lot of job seekers out there have come across this question. How do you answer that, and furthermore, who REALLY answers that truthfully? And to any employers out there, what sort of answer are you really hoping to hear by asking such nonsense? Do people really need to throw themselves under the bus to get a job these days??? Oh, and telling them that your greatest weakness is not having any weakness never seems to go far. ;)

I have never considered this a good question. It seems like a cheap trick, although there may be some rationale to it. I think in its best sense, it is meant to evaluate the extent to which a person can engage in honest self-evaluation and recognize the need to learn, gain experience, and so on. In a bad, maybe its worse, sense, it is meant to see how "humble" a person can be by engaging in forced self-deprecation.

It is a "catch-22." If you were to answer it with full honesty, it might cost you the job. But if you answer with only partial or no honesty, then why would they want to hire you?

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I answer that question honestly.

My initial answer is that looking for work is my greatest weakness, because I am used to people coming to me to solve difficult problems instead of me asking someone to solve their problems. However, I also advise that my prior weaknesses are my current strengths, while by prior strengths are by current weaknesses; because I personally engage in a process of continuous improvement.

When conducting interviews, I don't remember asking that question as I had more important questions; however, with such a question, I would be interested in a striking confession ("Meth is my greatest weakness") or the state of the candidate's self-awareness.

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In a recent interview, I was asked to name three of my strengths and then three of my weaknesses. I told them that both were difficult, the first one because I had lots and lots of strengths and it was hard to pick three of them, the second because I hadn't been aware of any particularly great weaknesses of mine. ;) I ended up naming "not being much of a team worker" as one of my "weaknesses."

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Next time I'm going to tell them that I strive to maintain a 'conceptual mentality'. It's always been my greatest strength, but can often be a weakness when I'm around people who don't want to hear it.

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Personally, I have never been asked that question. When my wife was going on job interviews she stated that almost every person/company she met with would ask "what is your greatest weakness." She has always strived to overcome and or master new challenges and she has never considered not knowing how to do something to be a weakness. I offered that the next time she was asked that question she should answer by stating that "she has a disdain for mediocrity which sometimes makes it difficult to work with other people." It is not really a weakness, but if the interviewer wants to ask stupid questions then give them an answer befitting the situation.

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I think that one needs to keep the context of the question before answering it. Remember, this is a job interview, so he's looking for answers related to the job you applying for. I don't think he cares if you can't swim or ride bike. Any and all such questions are typically directed to see how you handle pressure, how you respond to an unusual question, and how you can relate your answer to your work, previous experience as well as the job you are seeking. If you've done your homework of investigating the company and the position, you should have an idea about what parts of the job you should be able to fulfill and which you need additional experience in. So, your answer should focus on which part of the job you lack experience in, for example, you've never been in a supervisor of 10 people but supervisory experience is required for the applied for job. You could bring up any previous experience in which you may have led a small group of people or a team in solving a problem that resulted in a significant technical or business achievement. Never just answer a question with a negative, always relate it to something positive about yourself.

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And one more point. NEVER LIE IN AN INTERVIEW. Good interviewers have ways of figuring such things out.

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Paul, although I agree with some of the items you mention, I do not think that most interviewers today are asking the quesiton under mention for the reasons you list. When I applied for jobs in the past one of the questions I was asked was something like "what is it that seperates you from the others?" Or, the interviewer asked something like, "what is it that you can do for us/our company?" I think these types of questions allow the interviewer to get a much better glimpse into what a person can do and puts the focus on accomplishing goals, not demoralizing a person. I was also asked, scenario questions like, "if this happened while you were manager what would you do?" Once again I think this type of questioning tells you much more about the person and how they deal with situtions and if they can lead.

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I might say something to the interviewer that indicates my serious, joyful, easy-going style as well as my willingness to provide meaningful, relevant information like:

My weakness? Chocolate!

But I think you had something more job-related in mind. What, in particular, are you concerned about?

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My weakness? Chocolate!

But I think you had something more job-related in mind. What, in particular, are you concerned about?

You're in big trouble if you're applying at a company that specializes in vanilla beans.

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Paul, although I agree with some of the items you mention, I do not think that most interviewers today are asking the quesiton under mention for the reasons you list. When I applied for jobs in the past one of the questions I was asked was something like "what is it that seperates you from the others?" Or, the interviewer asked something like, "what is it that you can do for us/our company?" I think these types of questions allow the interviewer to get a much better glimpse into what a person can do and puts the focus on accomplishing goals, not demoralizing a person. I was also asked, scenario questions like, "if this happened while you were manager what would you do?" Once again I think this type of questioning tells you much more about the person and how they deal with situtions and if they can lead.

Presumably, an interview consists of more than one question. I have no idea how many interviewers would ask this particular question. The point is that one should be ready to answer almost any question from the perspective of one's ability to perform the job. Only politicians are allowed to answer a question with any answer they want to give.

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Presumably, an interview consists of more than one question. I have no idea how many interviewers would ask this particular question. The point is that one should be ready to answer almost any question from the perspective of one's ability to perform the job. Only politicians are allowed to answer a question with any answer they want to give.

True, but one does not have to answer a question that has absolutely nothing to do with their performance of a job. If an interviewer wants to know an applicants specific talents they could specifically ask, "do you know this computer application," or, "are you up to speed with the new 3D CAD?" If I, as the interviewer, have the applicant and their resume in front of me I should also know what they have done and what they can do. So, if an interview ask such a question, I do not think it is to find out what experience's one has had. Also, if the interviewer ask such a question, the applicant can ask a question in an attempt to have the person clarify what it is they are trying to get. The applicant is not the only one being interviewed as the company and it's members are, or at least should, be going through an interview also.

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The distinction I am trying to point out through the use of examples of possbile alternative questions is that this question and questions similar to it are of a moral nature and not in the nature of a skill set or technical knowledge. In other words, it seems to me that the interviewer is attempting to get insight into whether this person is honest or not (in other words, immoral) with a "catch 22" type question. An Objectivist does not hold a lack of knowledge as immoral, but an Objectivist does hold as immoral the act of knowing something is wrong and still taking that action. If interviewers wanted to ask a specific question, such as, "have you worked within large groups?" or "have you used this type of computer application before?" then they could just do so. But, when an interviewer ask "what is your weakness" they are not asking what is it that you lack in skills, they want to know if you are moral enough for their company as they believe everyone is immoral to a certain degree. Which is why I stated that the applicant should ask for clarification on what it is the interviewer is attempting to get before they answer the question. And in doing so the applicant can explain that they do not see a lack of knowledge or skill as a weakness and if given the time to learn they will master that skill. Maybe today not living according to one's virtues is the norm, but stating that one's weakness is that "I am not always honest, I am sometimes sloathful during my breaks from work, I sometimes procrastinate to much, I sometimes bully my coworkers," and so on are idiotic answers to an idiotic question.

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True, but one does not have to answer a question that has absolutely nothing to do with their performance of a job. If an interviewer wants to know an applicants specific talents they could specifically ask, "do you know this computer application," or, "are you up to speed with the new 3D CAD?" If I, as the interviewer, have the applicant and their resume in front of me I should also know what they have done and what they can do. So, if an interview ask such a question, I do not think it is to find out what experience's one has had. Also, if the interviewer ask such a question, the applicant can ask a question in an attempt to have the person clarify what it is they are trying to get. The applicant is not the only one being interviewed as the company and it's members are, or at least should, be going through an interview also.

I agree. The question is far to vague. In what regard is the question asked? Is it regard to ones ability to attract the opposite sex? Is it ones ability to play the fiddle? Is it a question on one's church attendance?

I would ask: In regard to what?

This is a smart-arse type question in my opinion, that can unnerve and lose a good applicant who isn't glib enough for a clever answer.

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If you are applying to an i-bank, a consulting firm, or other large corporate entity, the only acceptable (BS) answer is variations on "I work too hard" ("I sometimes have trouble keeping the life part of my work-life balance especially towards deadlines" etc.) showing you are ready to burn the midnight oil for them.

It's not a lie, because you are, most probably, applying for a job you like, or that will be a step towards your goals, so performing well comes as a given for you.

NEVER say "I don't work well in teams", unless you are applying for a super creative job. A web designer can "not work well in teams" but a consultant, banker or engineer really needs to be part of a team - the job is just too big to be done alone.

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If you are applying to an i-bank, a consulting firm, or other large corporate entity, the only acceptable (BS) answer is variations on "I work too hard"

Haha, could this be the reason IBM hasn't gotten back to me yet? :D

work-life balance

Ouch, that's an ugly false dichotomy there if there ever was one!

NEVER say "I don't work well in teams", unless you are applying for a super creative job. A web designer can "not work well in teams"

How about a software developer? I mean a super creative one, of course. ;)

BTW, if you wrote this to any extent in reaction to my post above, I should point out that I didn't say I didn't work well in teams, but rather that I wasn't much of a team worker.

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Haha, could this be the reason IBM hasn't gotten back to me yet? :D

Maybe.

The click moment in my head was in a phone interview with Shell HR, for an oil trader position. The commodities trader is by definition an individualist who is able to think for himself, think fast and outside the box, and be very aggressive in personality. But the HR woman was looking for a person who would fit the "Shell culture" (think sheep with A grades) and every answer I gave over the phone was a tick against hiring me.

After this I googled this stuff to word "perfect" answers, and got almost every corporate interview I applied for.

You must remember who is making the initial selection. It's a woman (in over 200 applications I have encountered ONE man in that position) working 9-5 who is following (and "living") corporate rules. Not your future boss. Getting past this hurdle is part of the game.

Most importantly, she DOES NOT understand your field. The banking HR do not understand the words balance sheet; their finance understanding is limited to asking where the FTSE/Dow traded that morning and gleefully writing you off if you're more than 5-10% off, thinking they are smarter than you. I would guess the software ones could not tell the difference between IF and NOR.

How about a software developer? I mean a super creative one, of course. :D

BTW, if you wrote this to any extent in reaction to my post above, I should point out that I didn't say I didn't work well in teams, but rather that I wasn't much of a team worker.

The issue isn't so much working in teams or not (although I do think a corporate software designer is more of an engineer than a designer and would be working in teams most if not all the time) but the coupling of a "team"-related word with "not" ;)

A 30 second scan of your answers might be enough to not select you out of the 500 CVs that landed on the desk for the 2 positions...

That being said I do think the kind of people drawn to individualist ideas and who tend to make things happen, creative thinkers if you will, are much better off working for small outfits with disproportionate reward than in large corporate organisations (with some exceptions, e.g. the Lockheed Skunkworks, Apple, Goldman Sachs' prop trading desk). If you are fortunate enough to know how to code well, Silicon Valley is the way forward!

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Haha, could this be the reason IBM hasn't gotten back to me yet? :D

Maybe.

As it happens, in my specific situation, the reason they haven't gotten back to me has more to do with them not working very hard: the German guy who has to make the final approval is on vacation right now (where else would you expect to find a German? LOL) and they are waiting for him to come back.

The issue isn't so much working in teams or not [...] but the coupling of a "team"-related word with "not" ;)

OK, but then it's clear that it's nothing but an intrinsicist obsession with a word, isn't it? I'm never good at fulfilling a requirement to be an X type of person that exists solely because coupling any X-related word with "not" is frowned upon.

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The click moment in my head was in a phone interview with Shell HR, for an oil trader position. The commodities trader is by definition an individualist who is able to think for himself, think fast and outside the box, and be very aggressive in personality. But the HR woman was looking for a person who would fit the "Shell culture" (think sheep with A grades) and every answer I gave over the phone was a tick against hiring me.

After this I googled this stuff to word "perfect" answers, and got almost every corporate interview I applied for.

You must remember who is making the initial selection. It's a woman (in over 200 applications I have encountered ONE man in that position) working 9-5 who is following (and "living") corporate rules. Not your future boss. Getting past this hurdle is part of the game.

Most importantly, she DOES NOT understand your field. The banking HR do not understand the words balance sheet; their finance understanding is limited to asking where the FTSE/Dow traded that morning and gleefully writing you off if you're more than 5-10% off, thinking they are smarter than you. I would guess the software ones could not tell the difference between IF and NOR.

I've both been in this situation firsthand, and seen indirect evidence that it is happening at other places I've been (where I haven't observed it directly), and been consciously aware that a filtering process of this sort was being performed.

It is utterly baffling to me why an otherwise competent and productive company would set up such an infrastructure.

The very term "human resources" itself is insulting to any creative worker, and inherently supports the view of a corporation as a process-driven, bureaucratic entity, where any employee is more or less interchangeable with money or any other type of "resources". The term implies pride in the discovery of this reduction of humans to a mere metric.

(If the only purpose of the term was to simply refer to a department of an organization that provided internal services relating to employee management, it wouldn't have been called "human". It would have been called "employee resources", or "worker resources". The connotation of "human" is clear, and deliberate.)

The differences in corporate governance and politics in the many places I have worked in, volunteered in, and otherwise observed have been fascinating to me. Spanning issues such as how org charts are structured, who has hiring/firing authority, how workers are evaluated, how pay is decided, how much do managers and executives need to understand and/or micro-manage the jobs going on beneath them, and to what extent and how these decisions affect the success and failure of an organization.

That being said I do think the kind of people drawn to individualist ideas and who tend to make things happen, creative thinkers if you will, are much better off working for small outfits with disproportionate reward than in large corporate organisations (with some exceptions, e.g. the Lockheed Skunkworks, Apple, Goldman Sachs' prop trading desk). If you are fortunate enough to know how to code well, Silicon Valley is the way forward!

Yes, I agree. Innovative software companies are among the most efficacious entities in society today. And by "efficacious" I mean the ability for a single person to massively change a not insignificant segment of society in a very short amount of time.

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Oh, they do it for a very simple reason. In most corporate jobs, you are trading most of your upside (by accepting a fixed salary) in exchange for absolving of responsibility and risk-taking. The company itself needs "human resources" rather than fickle, dangerous, potentially high upside but also high risk employees. Management is (supposedly) where the calculated risk-taking will take place, you're only supposed to execute.

For example, if I am a Goldman Sachs M&A managing director, I need reliable top of the class kids who will happily work until 2am every day of the week for my client. Those kids should be reliable enough to produce quality work (e.g. no spelling mistakes - it seems these days you need an Ivy League degree for this) but not independent minded enough to 1. take their own decisions (and either screw your client relationship or show me up as not particularly smart) 2. realize that being paid 50-100k USD/annum (200k post-MBA) is nowhere near enough for the hours and efforts they are putting in, and move to the buy-side where they will make twice as much doing creative stuff.

On the other hand, if I am a hedge fund manager with a team of 7 people in charge of 3 billion dollars, I want the craziest, most creative analysts money can buy. I don't care if the Excel spreadsheet doesn't have the right colour coding or if the powerpoint title is not aligned to the left invisible border of the second slide. I care that out of the 10 ideas the guy will give me a month, 2-3 will be profitable.

More on this: http://scottlocklin.wordpress.com/2009/09/...-everyday-life/

More on what to do if you are a fresh grad: http://www.slideshare.net/choehn/recession...raduate-1722966

Historically, the risk-takers have always been rewarded. And unlike Roark, in today's world you do not need to wait an entire lifetime for success - a few years is usually enough to sort the wheat from the chaff.

The best thing about having the balls to take risks is that it makes you so much more comfortable with yourself. I think anybody reading this forum, let alone posting on it, is enough of an individualist to seek this kind of career over handing over all decision making to some higher authority with a Harvard MBA.

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Oh, they do it for a very simple reason. In most corporate jobs, you are trading most of your upside (by accepting a fixed salary) in exchange for absolving of responsibility and risk-taking. The company itself needs "human resources" rather than fickle, dangerous, potentially high upside but also high risk employees. Management is (supposedly) where the calculated risk-taking will take place, you're only supposed to execute.

This is indeed the approach taken by many corporations, including those in the software business, but I think it is entirely unsuited for software. The very essence of this industry is to have machines perform tasks that involve a mere execution of predefined steps so that humans don't have to do it.

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I think next time i get that i will say " My sense of humor is too brilliant to the point the observational hilarity I produce can sometimes be too much of a distraction for undisciplined workers." also I might say that I am usually in a good mood and coworkers who are usually in a bad mood just don't like people who are in a good mood. So that can cause problems. or I am too willing to shed light on the incompetence of others because it is so pervasive and some people don't like it when the boat rocks.

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