The interview question I’ve always thought is odd

I was in an interview a couple of weeks back. It wasn’t one I could do too much prep for because it wasn’t for a new position or based on my employment history. It was more an exercise for the interviewer to understand my character and motivations.

That said, I still tried to prepare because going into those things blind seems like the wrong approach.

I’m not sure if you’ve ever looked, but there’s a ton of stuff on the internet on how to get ready for an interview. And there’s no shortage of listicles naming the most commonly asked questions.

I suppose it’s expected that lists stating the most common things would have commonalities. However, what was interesting was that without exception all of these lists stated the same question at some point.

“What’s your biggest weakness?”

And as it so happened, I was asked this in my interview. Evidentially, the lists don’t lie.

Without any evidence to back it up, I get the feeling that whenever the first person thought to ask this question, they did so thinking it would be a good one to put the interviewee on the spot. And to be fair, if you’re not expecting it, it probably does.

However, I get the feeling that this question has lost its significance a bit. It doesn’t really require anyone to think on their feet because most people are expecting it and have a response lined up. Things like, “I’m a perfectionist” or “I’m a workaholic”.

Sure, these replies work as an answer to the question but in such a polished way that they don’t really sound like weaknesses at all.

And anyway, if we are aware of these personal weaknesses, isn’t the more interesting thing to hear what we are doing to combat or improve on them? To me that seems like a logical follow up question, yet it’s not one I’ve heard asked all that often, which seems like a miss.

I have recently gone through the process of interviewing for a new role on my team. I don’t claim to be an expert on it, but it’s something I enjoy doing and try to get better at each time.

When it comes to planning what I’m going to ask I avoid the weakness question and instead go for a variation of: what are you doing to get better and the things you’re not strong at? This way I get both answers, but it feels a little less formulaic. It has provided some quite interesting and insightful responses too, which seems to be the point of an interview in the first place.

Other questions I’ve found to be good door openers are “what’s not on your CV that you’re proud of?” and “what would you be disappointed to find not existing within this role?”. Again, personal preferences but go to ones for a reason.

I suppose interview styles are very individual. There’s no right or wrong way of doing them and unless you’re literally reading from a sheet, I’d hedge that very few candidates probably get the exact same list of questions anyway.

However, if you are planning to interview someone soon I’d encourage avoiding the weaknesses one, or at least frame it up differently. People know it’s coming, giving it a unique spin shows you’ve considered the question more, and as such offers insight both ways.

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