In yesterday’s Career Journal (a publication of The Wall Street Journal), #1 of the Top Ten Stupid Interview Questions was once again dissected, analyzed, and solved.
In the annals of interviewing, we know a wag once offered the best answer ever heard — “Chocolate.” — and that’s when it was time to retire that corn-pone question from the canon. But it lingers.
The question itself reveals what is perhaps an employer’s greatest weakness — stupid interview questions. “My greatest weakness is intolerance for psycho-babble that passes for a job interview. Do you want me to show you how I’ll do this job, or shall we move on to what animal I’d be if I could be any animal?”
The Career Journal addresses this interview hurdle thus: “The key? Thorough preparation.” Preparation for what? To come up with yet another clever answer that the interviewer hasn’t yet read in some interview book? I suppose one could prepare diligently by reading the hundreds of books that offer clever answers.
Then the article offers this pinnacle of organizational idiocy:
“Last month, an aspiring executive director of a nonprofit group in suburban San Francisco nearly jeopardized his selection because his reply to a variation of the weakness question ignored one of its core values, according to Ms. Klaus, a board member there. Near the end of his interview, she wondered whether he might have problems with any aspects of the job. “No, I am confident I could do it all,” the prospect declared.
“His flip comment dismayed Ms. Klaus, because she felt he lacked awareness of his weaknesses. She says his response raised doubts among board members that “he would be able to take critical feedback,” an attribute the organization values highly.
“Because the man was well-qualified, the board gave him a second interview — and demanded a fuller explanation of his weak spots. He said he had been “unprepared for that question and nervous about coming out with a big fatal flaw,” then described his tendency to make decisions too fast during workplace crises. Board members’ doubts disappeared, and they picked him for the nonprofit’s top job.”
Let’s look at this story a little more carefully:
1. The candidate told them he could do whatever the job required. That’s flip? That’s an opportunity! Here’s a guy I want to talk to further!
Employers are so busy following the rules of interviewing that they forget they’re supposed to be hiring exceptional candidates. This guy might have been full of himself, but how many candidates are so confident? The next step could have been to outline for him a handful of the key problems and challenges they needed him to tackle if they hired him. Let’s see if this duck can fly! Can he really do what he says? After all, we’re looking for the best ducks, right?
Start with the confident ones, Dopey, because why do you want to mess around with applicants who admit to less?
2. Instead, they brow-beat the guy into submission and he makes the confession they want to hear.
Threaten a candidate with loss of an opportunity, and he’ll tell you whatever you want to hear. “I’m just a poor, unworthy, nervous nellie… Thanks for the second chance to tell you what you want to hear… I’ll confess to my flaws now, and I’ll humiliate myself a bit to prove my worthiness since flaws seem to be a big deal around here…”
As soon as the guy broke down and told them what they wanted to hear, “Board members’ doubts disappeared, and they picked him for the nonprofit’s top job.”
I predict the guy will be gone within six months. They hired a confident manager who now must behave like a wuss to succeed. As soon as the candidate expressed his doubts, the board’s doubts disappeared. How Zen.
There are so many things an employer can do in an interview to figure out whether a candidate can do a job. So why do they ask stupid questions for which a thousand answers have already been scripted in books and workshops?
So, let’s have at it. What’s your experience been with What’s your greatest weakness?