I have a colleague who is legendary at Muskingum University. He is Professor of Business Charlie Drubel, and he built the business program at our school back in the mid 1980's.

Anyway, Charlie teaches our Human Resource Management class and the other day he said to me, "Gary, I have an idea for you to write about in Inc.," he continued, "why do we always ask candidates in a job interview what their weaknesses are, when everyone who ever interviews, knows the strategy on how to answer this question?"

As he always does, Charlie makes a great point-- why do we continue to ask that question when we all know the strategy on how to answer it? It's mind boggling to think that it could have much value anymore. To illustrate, why exactly do we ask it? Why do we simply accept the standard, strategic response, which includes the candidate's spin on improvement?

I say today, right here and right now, the question should be banned from all job interviews; but the bigger dilemma is--what question do we replace it with?

With both interviewer and interviewee going through the motions, for the sake of asking and answering, it's like asking someone, "Tell me something you used to struggle with but are now doing okay with?" Or we might as well ask, "Don't share with me what you really suck at or what you are incompetent with, just explain to me an area you are becoming moderately competent with."

What is the point of asking "What are your weaknesses?"

Do we really want to know what they suck at? Do we want to know how they have improved upon something that they used to suck at? Or do we just simply want to know if they have the capabilities to perform a task related to performing the job? All this has become unclear to me.

And one main reason for the loss of clarity is because we all accept that same strategic response of "Well I struggled with X, but took some workshops to improve with X, and am now much better at X." 

If we always get the same response of identification with a positive spin of improvement, then why are we even asking in the first place? It seems like all we are doing is doing the old "wink, wink, nudge, nudge" routine with this area of inquisition.

Am I ranting?

I think it would be cool to just have the candidate tell the truth.

Ask them, "What are your weaknesses that you believe you will never be able to improve?" That would be fun, and probably very helpful. I would love to hear some responses to this one-- but I also imagine most candidates would still attempt the standard response.

Just once, it may even be refreshing for a candidate to admit "I'm not very social and struggle with having emotional intelligence."

I really am not sure of any solutions to this common interview question conundrum. I just know that it has run its course with me and should be ditched for a question that has a more meaningful way to extract what you need to properly evaluate your candidate.

Meantime, if you have any solutions on how to make the common question, and common response to, "what are your weaknesses" better, please feel free to share.

Published on: Jan 29, 2018