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April 06, 2011


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I consider myself fortunate that I've never been involved in an interview where I had to address such *ahem* BS / pop-psych questions. Perhaps it's my youth, or that I spent so much time in grad school only to immediately fall into a really great job doing exactly what I wanted. The interview for this job was conducted by a couple of straight-shooting, 'tell us what your skills are and we'll feel you out personality-wise over lunch' guys. As far as I can remember, they didn't ask any of the textbook 'hidden agenda' questions.

Other folks in positions that select from candidates may think that's a mistake, but these two guys have hired probably 20 engineers after me, and every one of them that I've worked with has been a diligent, first-rate engineer, except for one person who was foisted on us as a transfer from somewhere else in the company.

I really hate that question in an interview. Its stupid. Why ask it? The person asking doesn't really want an honest answer and expect them to give a BS answer. Or they're trying to trick someone into being honest. How stupid is that? I don't ask questions that I want to hear BS answers for. I ask questions to get honest answers. In fact if I asked that question and got the BS "I work tooooo hard" answer I'd consider that a negative and much prefer an honest truthful answer. But I guess thats just me.

My answer is that there are opportunities to better learn the company (who is interviewing me) internal business practices. It's typical BS but seems to do the trick. One thing a candidate should never ever do is answer the question with a work practice or personality weekness (ie, sometimes I'm late on deadlines or I get angry at coworkers for whatever reason). This just gives them a reason to not hire you.

You have to be real careful answering this type of question. If you give an honesty with progress response, make sure your weakness isn't a critical job junction.

While I agree it's not the a great question, and have never used it in an interview myself, I think even the "BS" answers can provide some value. Somebody who consistently shows up late and sneaks out early probably won't answer that his weakness is working too much. He would be more likely to pick a "strength" he actually has to portray as his weakness.

The person who answers that his weakness is getting angry when criticized obviously has never read any advice about preparing for an interview (since how to answer this question is address in just about every single article). Is someone who is unprepared in such a basic situation also going to be unprepared or uninformed in other areas?

How about "I have a low tolerance for stupidity/laziness/incompetence."?

I answer this one honestly, with a weakness I'm working on and some of the ways I've improved and continue to work on it. I can't think of a faster way to turn off an interviewer than to answer this one with the BS "weakness as strength" answer. I did it straight out of college and learned my lesson after a couple interviews. It may depend on the company you work for though. My company makes it very clear that if you are not self-aware enough to know your weaknesses, then you won't be an asset to us anyway. If you know your weaknesses and lie about them, we don't want you either. Nobody is perfect, and we don't expect that. But if you can't figure out what you need to work on and be honest about it, how in the world will you be able to analyze problems on a project, report issues to management that they need to know, or mentor others in improving their skills?

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