Bad piece of advice #2: When an interviewer asks about your weaknesses, offer up a positive framed as a weakness. This is the fastest way to exasperate me. Claiming that your biggest weakness is perfectionism and you work too hard is disingenuous and looks like you’re avoiding the question. Candidates who can’t or won’t come up with a realistic assessment of areas where they could improve make me think they’re lacking in insight and self-awareness—or, at a minimum, just making it impossible to have a real discussion of their potential fitness for the job. I want to know about your weaknesses not because I’m trying to trip you up but because I genuinely care about making sure you’re a good fit for the job. I don’t want to put you in a job you’ll struggle in, and I definitely don’t want to have to fire you a few months from now. Isn’t it better to lose the job offer now than the job itself later?
Ah, that old chestnut. You usually hear it from twenty-somethings who are full of themselves and, as Alison says, lack self-awareness. The sort of people who go on the Apprentice. At some stage, some other know-all, probably slightly older, has trotted out this hackneyed piece of advice and the hapless candidate has taken it to heart.
Mind you, they often get away with it. When I was in my twenties, I used to respond to this question by saying, “I’m impatient to get things done and I don’t suffer fools gladly.” Can you believe that? Yes, I really was that irritating!
To this day, I’m still amazed that no-one chinned me, or, at least, responded by asking me to define a fool. No-one ever called me out on it, suggesting that, perhaps, I had a tendency to go away and do things without listening to suggestions, objections or advice from anyone else.
But, to a certain extent, young people tend to make up for their lack of skills and experience by being gung-ho. Too much self-awareness would just get in the way. If you’re twenty-four and you dress up your weaknesses as strengths, it’s almost to be expected. If you’re still doing when you’re thirty-four, though, it’s just crass.
These days, if someone asked me about my weaknesses, I’d probably respond by saying, “How long have you got?”