Please Stop Asking About Weaknesses in Job Interviews: A Better Approach

Please Stop Asking About Weaknesses in Job Interviews: A Better Approach

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Please Stop Asking About Weaknesses in Job Interviews: A Better Approach

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Are you tired of being asked the same old question in your job interviews, “What are your weaknesses?” You’re not alone. Many candidates find this question challenging and ineffective. In this article, we will explore why this question is flawed and offer alternative approaches that can provide more valuable insights into a candidate’s suitability for a position.

The Problem with Asking About Weaknesses

Asking candidates about their weaknesses has long been considered a standard practice in job interviews. It is believed to assess self-awareness, the ability to evaluate one’s capabilities, and the willingness to learn and grow. However, there are several reasons why this question fails to achieve its intended purpose.

1. Prepared Responses, Not Authentic Answers

The primary flaw of asking about weaknesses is that it often elicits rehearsed and generic responses. Candidates are well aware of this question’s likelihood and often prepare answers in advance. As a result, their responses may lack authenticity and fail to provide genuine insights into their true weaknesses.

2. The Trap of a No-Win Scenario

Candidates face a catch-22 situation when asked about weaknesses. If they answer honestly and directly, highlighting a relevant weakness, they may be viewed unfavourably. On the other hand, if they provide a safe or clichéd response, their answer may be deemed unoriginal or insincere. This question, therefore, sets up a minefield that candidates must navigate carefully.

3. Self-Awareness ≠ Comfort in Discussing Weaknesses

The assumption behind asking about weaknesses is that self-awareness correlates with a candidate’s willingness to discuss their shortcomings openly. However, this is not always the case. In fact, individuals who are highly self-aware may feel uncomfortable discussing their weaknesses, as they are acutely aware of their impact on their professional performance.

4. Power Dynamics and Unsettling Candidates

The power dynamics in an interview can greatly influence a candidate’s response. Asking about weaknesses amplifies the power differential, potentially unsettling even the most competent candidates. This question may inadvertently create a sense of low-key bullying, as candidates try to navigate a question that puts them in a vulnerable position.

5. Straying Beyond Professional Performance

Asking about weaknesses can delve into personal territory that extends beyond a candidate’s professional performance. While personal characteristics can undoubtedly impact work performance, it is essential to focus on weaknesses strictly within the context of professional skills and abilities.

6. Not Everyone Has Relevant Weaknesses

It is crucial to acknowledge that not all candidates have specific, relevant weaknesses. Some individuals may possess exceptional skills and qualities that make them ideal for a particular role. Forcing candidates to identify weaknesses when there are none may result in contrived responses that do not accurately reflect their suitability for the job.

A Better Approach: Asking the Right Questions

To gain valuable insights into a candidate’s suitability for a position, it is essential to ask questions that foster self-awareness, openness to feedback, and a growth mindset. Here are some alternative questions that can provide more meaningful responses:

1. How Self-Aware Are You?

Rather than directly asking about weaknesses, inquire about situations where candidates have faced difficulties working with others and realized that their behavior or approach was the root cause. This question assesses self-awareness without directly focusing on weaknesses.

2. Are You Open to Criticism?

To evaluate a candidate’s openness to feedback, ask about a time when their colleagues were critical of their work. Inquire about the nature of the criticism, its fairness, and how the candidate responded. This question provides insights into a candidate’s ability to handle constructive criticism.

3. Do You Embrace Growth and Improvement?

Instead of asking about weaknesses, inquire about the professional skills a candidate is currently working on improving and the steps they are taking to enhance those skills. This question reveals their commitment to growth and continuous learning.

4. How Do You Handle Mistakes?

To gauge a candidate’s response to shortcomings, ask about a time they made a mistake and how they addressed it. This question assesses their accountability, problem-solving skills, and willingness to take corrective action.

By asking these alternative questions, you can gain a deeper understanding of a candidate’s self-awareness, openness to feedback, and commitment to personal and professional growth. These insights are far more valuable than simply focusing on weaknesses.

Final Thoughts

Asking candidates about their weaknesses in job interviews may seem like a logical approach to assess their suitability for a position. However, this question often fails to provide genuine insights and can create an uncomfortable and unproductive environment. By shifting the focus to questions that foster self-awareness, openness to feedback, and a growth mindset, you can gain a more accurate understanding of a candidate’s potential for success.

Remember, the goal of a job interview is not to trap candidates or put them on the spot but to assess their skills, qualifications, and cultural fit. By adopting a more thoughtful and effective approach to interviewing, you can create a positive and productive experience for both candidates and interviewers alike.

So, the next time you conduct a job interview, please stop asking about weaknesses and start asking the right questions that truly matter.

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Helen Sanders Managing Director and Chief People Partner
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