Friday, December 10, 2004

What's your weakness?

The lovely Diane asked a pertinent question and one I’m asked quite often when people find out about my shameful HR past. I found that my answer was long…so I’ve made it into a post.

Diane asked:

What the hell is the "right" answer to the "What are your weaknesses?" question?

Should I lie and say:"I push myself too hard." or some bullshit like that

Or should I be honest and say:"I am lazy. So incredibly lazy that I would be happy to spend my life lying in bed reading. I only work because I don't want to starve"


"I can be a real ding-bat sometimes. I work constantly to remember details, and I am notorious for not remembering where I've left things."

My answer:

Diane - you know, it's just a bullshit question to be honest.

I've had to work with jerks who think they're real pros at drawing information out of people, at playing 'mind games'. It's a little sad to see them work their movie-derived arsenal on some poor sod who isn't quite sure what he's being asked for.

I mean, *really*, what kind of a surprise is a question that comes up at parties as a stock standard joke? :)

On the practical side, though, the safest bet is to 'play the game' and find a strength that you can present as a weakness - as in your first example.

If you really want to ace an interview, simply put yourself in the interviewer's position.

A couple of days before the meeting, sit down and think about what the company will be thinking. If you were in the position of the line manager - what would *you* ask the interviewee in regards to skills necessary? It's really, really predictable most of the time.

Then think about your views on things like:

* How to work well in a team (You know, communication, delegation etc.)
* Conflict resolution techniques with team members
* Personal time management / organisational skills

And some fluffy shite about your personal life ambitions. Something like "I'd like to die at my desk from overwork" might be overdoing it a tad - just a hint.

Then remember to make eye contact with everyone on the panel - but fractionally more with the person who asked the question, control what your hands do (DON'T fidget with your clothes, papers, pen or wring your hands, be aware of your body), don't slouch, don't tap your foot or twitch your leg if your legs are crossed, smile - but not like a hyena - just enough to help the assessors warm to you, answer your questions carefully and ALWAYS check if you've given them the info they wanted if you're not sure, don't offer more than you're asked - there lies the road to info that can unseat you, don't wear anything too sexually alluring or something that makes you look like your grandmother, don't wear a joke tie - ever, strike a balance between confident and enthusiastic - too much either way and you'll either be seen as too cocky or too naive, I'm sure there are other things, just can't think of them now.

Oh yeah, NEVER EVER EVER EVER relax until you're out of the goddamned building. I can't tell you how many interviewees develop a sudden case of Stockholm syndrome and confess stuff the minute they perceive the 'formal' interview is over. The interview is NEVER over, smile at the receptionist on the way out - you never know if she'll be talking to the panel about the rude git that scowled at her.

Oh yes, and know your shit re: the technical requirements of the job.

This advice is for dealing with the usual idiots that hire. If I were interviewing you, these things would be really cursory and you'd end up sweating as I delved into your childhood and asked you all about your co-workers at your last position. Then I'd give you a few hypothetical scenarios that don't actually have clear-cut answers and ask you to take me through your thought process as you consider them. Then we'd talk about the hobbies you have and why you like them – all kinds of things that don’t seem to have anything to do with the job – I’d be looking at you as a person, that ‘attitude’ thing I mentioned in those posts. Then someone technical on the panel would lightly grill you on both sides for technical knowledge. Then we would pour you out of the room and take on the next victim.

Sorry about the swearing, once I start it's hard to stop. :)


(You know, I read this and realised that people might begin to be a little frightened of me, especially my London friends who read this blog. Rest assured that I don't consciously x-ray you with all my questioning - I'm just a naturally curious person who doesn't take things people say at face value. So I ask questions. And note down the answers on a little sheet of paper. And then score you at the end of the night. Nothing strange about that at all.)

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