Archive for February, 2010

How to answer the weakness question!

It’s a question that always seems to arise in an interview and one that few people prepare themselves for. The dreaded “What are your weaknesses?” question. It may be dressed up as “What are your areas of development?”, but it still means the same thing and has brought many an experienced interviewee out into a cold sweat.

You don’t want to show the interviewer your warts as, after all, you really want this job. You want them to know what you are good at, not all the things you can’t do.

So, what is the right way to go about answering this question and still paint yourself in a good light?

Keen to seek the perfect answer, we put the question to a group of job hunters of all levels of experience. The best answer came from the President of an Environmental Service Company. This, is brilliant advice:

“I’m no expert, but here is how I think one should handle this type of question.

1st – identify one of your true weaknesses, everybody has them,
2nd – identify what you’ve done to overcome the weakness or attempt to avoid it or minimise the effect,
3rd – weave yourself a storyline to be used in the interview, make it short and concise so that you can quickly move on to the next question,
4th – include a real world example,
5th – overall be honest with yourself and with the interviewer…after all, the question isn’t intended to actually determine your weakness, it’s intended to see how you handle the question. The worst thing you can do is lie or give a trite answer like “I have no real weaknesses” as a good interviewer will see right through it. Also, if your real weakness is one that truly threatens your chance to be good at the job, maybe, for your own sake, you should be looking for a different job. The honesty part helps you most of all.

Here is my storyline, and it is all true…”I’m a knowledge hound, when I get involved in a new area, I dive in and learn everything I can until I am completely confident in my knowledge. I also enjoy teaching folks and sharing my knowledge. Sometimes, if I’m not careful, I can come off as arrogant. To protect against coming off as arrogant, I have developed a few techniques.

Firstly, I try to ask a lot of questions. This helps keep the conversation two way instead of it becoming a lecture, it also helps me focus on the exact information the other party would like to learn.

Secondly, I developed a specific technique as a result of a specific incident in a sales call. I was once accused of lying. A very technical customer said that it was impossible for me to be able to answer all of his questions, so I must be lying to him in at least one of my answers. After that, I was always sure to intentionally leave at least one question unanswered. I would tell the customer that while I couldn’t answer the question right now, I could get him the answer. Then I would call the customer within an hour after leaving the sales call, and provide the answer. This would work doubly well in that I would never be suspected of lying merely because I was able to answer all the questions, and it would show my commitment to getting the customers’ questions answered by using my network of resources.”

The main thing to remember when answering this question is to ensure that you explain to the interviewer what it is you need to do, or are doing, to overcome that weakness. This tells the employer that you are proactive, you seek to strengthen your skills and would develop within the role.

Everyone has weaknesses, but not everyone has a plan as to what they are going to do about it. Make sure you do!


Funniest and Worst Interviews – Part Two

More fine examples of the funniest and worst interview experiences from the Linked In/Personal Marketing survey!

  • I had a candidate cry during an interview. The question that started his waterworks was “So, tell me about your last job.” Ouch.
  • When I asked the candidate what he considered to be his greatest strength, literally after about two loooong minutes of complete silence while he thought about it, he told me it was his ‘communication skills’. I had to do anything I could just to prevent myself from laughing!
  • I remember interviewing one person for a Technician/Engineer position, he had very little clue about imperial measures, but even though we are officially metric, we use imperial measurements extensively, so I asked him..”How many feet in a yard?”…his answer was “well, it depends on how many people are in the yard”
  • Candidate’s question at interview with client, for a Chief Operating Officer position: “How long is the waiting period before psychological counselling will be covered by the group insurance?”
  • Candidate said:  “I was I didn’t want to come off as hyper so I smoked some weed before the interview.”
  • So today, I asked, “Why do you want to work for our company?”. Her response was, “Well it is a big building”… and she left it at that. Later on, I then asked her another standard interviewing question, “What are some characteristics you would use to describe yourself”. Her response was, “Umm, well, I can’t think of anything”. Last question was, “are you currently working full-time?”. Her response: “Yes, except for the 2 days I don’t work”…
  • The candidate who told me how he coped with workplace stress by going home and crying into his pillow.
  • We had one candidate clip his TOENAILS in the interview. He thought he was alone in the conference room which he was, but the room was monitored. We know this because we had closed circuit cameras in the conference room. He was there waiting and just by chance the receptionist peeked on the monitor to see if he was OK, and there he was, foot on the table, clipping away.
  • Half way through the interview day the candidate asked how much longer she would be there. She said it was close to her nap time and she needed a cigarette. It was 1130am.
  • I once had a female candidate turn up with a hairy chin. “You’ll have to excuse the chin”, she said. “I am just off to get it waxed at the salon after I’ve finished here”.
  • After the interview concluded, I went back to my office to find it stinking of  urine. I looked at the chair the applicant was sitting in, and you guessed it… a puddle.
  • One of my favourite closing questions is often, “When preparing for this interview what was the one question you hoped I wouldn’t ask and how would you answer it?” The candidate responded with a really tough question, one I would never have thought to ask. So, I then I inquired, “and what is your answer?” His response was, “I wish you hadn’t asked me that.”

Funniest and worst interviews

Always striving to help the job hunter, Neet Ideas posed the question, “What is the worst/funniest thing you have experienced from a candidate in a job interview” to the business networking site LinkedIn  “Corporate Recruiters” group.

Consisting of 34,000 HR professionals and senior managers, here is a selection of the group’s answers!

“I explained to an applicant that if he were to be hired, he would be required to go through a background check involving a drug screen and finger printing. He stood up and told me he would not allow his “sample” to be taken because he just knew we would use it (as he declared himself a genius) to clone him.”

“I was conducting an interview with a young lady who showed up in a pink jogging suit with the word “Juicy” across the rear end of the pants. Moments after the interview started, the receptionist knocked on my door and said, sorry to interrupt, but the candidate’s young children were in the lobby asking for their mother.”

“Met a girlfriend in an interview: Best. Turned out to be a psychopath: Worst”

“When hiring for my own team, I took a female candidate to lunch. She proceeded to order chicken wings and then went to work systematically cleaning all the meat off of every bone, whilst licking her fingers, as she told me about her background.”

“The interview was going along very well until he told me that the lunch he had was causing some problems with his teeth and if I minded if he could stop and take care of it. I thought, sure, he could take a short break and maybe go floss his teeth or something of that nature. But, no, he just opened his mouth stuck his fingers in there and pulled out his teeth, both the top and bottom set and then to top it off, he put the whole set right on top of my desk.”

“The funniest thing I have ever experienced was; I had a candidate ask me what the dress code was for the interview. I replied “Well, formal is good”. I show up at the client site to meet the guy, and in walks the man in a full blown tuxedo.”

“I had a candidate come from Philadelphia to NY for an interview. The receptionist called me and told me the candidate was here — with his dog. I asked if he was blind and she said he definitely was not. I came out to see him and he said that he drove in from Philly and brought his dog along for company. When he got to the parking garage, the attendant wouldn’t allow him to leave the dog in the car, so he brought him up. At first, we put the dog in a large coat closet off the reception area. The dog started to howl and we had to take the dog out. We put the dog in the mail room and found that one of our mailroom clerks was allergic to dogs. The clerk blew up with a huge rash and had to be sent home. The receptionist then said she loved dogs and we could leave him with her. To avoid the dog’s snapping at visitors, we tethered him to a huge palm tree in the reception area. The dog then started to yelp at the receptionist and visitors, straining at the leash, until he managed to pull the six foot 250 pound tree across the room. While caring for animals is an admirable trait, we nonetheless reluctantly decided not to make a job offer.”

“I was interviewing a candidate, finished my section, and went to get the hiring manager. On my way back to the room, building security rushed past me heading in the same direction. Looking out the front door I saw police cars pulling up and officers jumping out. As I got closer to the room where my applicant was, I realised that security and the police were heading there too. While he was waiting for me to return, the applicant had presssed the red panic button on the wall, which automatically summoned security and rang at the local police station. When I asked him why he pressed the button, he replied that he wanted to see what it would do, and when nothing happened, he pressed it a few more times.”

“When the candidate came in, she was asked one of our typical questions that referred to having to “wear many hats in order to meet all of the needs,” which was analogous to asking about their multi-tasking ability, and ability to do many things at once. The candidate immediately began talking about how funny her hair looks in hats, and how she doesn’t usually wear them because they’re not flattering on her, but she would wear one if she had to for the job…. etc., etc”


Wet Lettuce v The Bone Crusher: Handshakes

It makes no difference if you are a man or a woman. Offer a limp wet lettuce as a handshake and the interview could well be on its way downhill. Likewise, pumping their arm up and down like you are Willy Wonka won’t do much for your chances either.

In fact, one MP has even suggested that those who administer “bone-crushing” handshakes to prove the strength of their personality should be charged with assault.

So, how do you create a confident, not weak and not arrogant, first impression from the outset?

  • Make sure that you are holding your coat/bags in your left hand so that you are not fumbling about
  • Make sure your hand is clean and dry but DO NOT rub it on your trousers or skirt in front of the interviewer!
  • Let the interviewer start and finish the handshake and mirror their grip
  • Do not crush the interviewer’s hand as this can come across as over-dominant not assertive
  • Do not just stick out a wet floppy hand as this will make the interviewer’s skin crawl and make you appear weak
  • Do not hold their hand in both of yours, or go for a “mwah” kiss on the cheek (different rules in Europe)
  • Do not touch them on the arm, or anywhere else, while you are shaking their hand
  • Do not pump their arm enthusiastically. The handshake should go up and down around three times only!
  • Make sure that you stand up to shake hands. It’s only polite!
  • Make eye contact and smile with the other person as you shake their hand. (But not a crazy smile!)
  • Practise your handshake before the interview with friends and get their opinion

Often only western cultures shake hands so be wary of cultural differences. In the Far East a bow is the usual form of greeting, and in the Muslim world offering the left hand is considered a great insult. Shaking hands with a Muslim woman if you are a non-related male is a taboo. So, don’t take offence if you are not offered a handshake – it could just be a cultural thing!

First impressions are made in the first ten seconds of a meeting so get the handshake right!


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