Business owners and hiring managers pay attention. It’s a given that you all want to hire exceptional people for your business. The challenge is that those of you who are not seasoned interviewers face a daunting task when trying to figure out the right interview questions to ask. To make matters worse your main resource center of information, also known as the Internet, is full of bad interviewing advice. Many websites claim to provide sample questions that are the best for assessing applicant’s skills and attitude. Yet more often than not these questions are incredibly ineffective.

To top it off there is one interview questions that is repeatedly recommended as a must have when conducting interviews and it gets my vote for one of the worst interview questions ever. Let me use a scenario to paint a picture.

A few months ago you open a Mountain Bike shop. You love shredding the trails and it’s been a lifelong dream to open your own store. Turns out your shop is a huge success. So much so that you can’t keep up with demand for your bikes. Time to hire some staff. Unfortunately you have never interviewed before and have no idea what questions to ask. To make matters worse you have never heard of THE RIGHT HIRE interview system that would give you the exact questions to ask in order to get exceptional hires (shameless plug I know!).

You do a quick Google search looking for the best interview questions and you find a webpage that claims they have The Best Interview Questions Ever. You pick a couple of questions that you feel are important to ask and there is one in particular that really catches your attention. You think if an applicant can answer this one question you will have the superstar talent you need.

So you start your interviews by asking your top question.

Tell me about your greatest weakness.

You feel that if an applicant can self identify their weaknesses and discuss how they minimize it you will truly know the person you are hiring.

Unfortunately this question does not live up to the hype. The answers you receive are quite pathetic. I’m a perfectionist! or I work too hard! are a couple of gems that you hear. Another applicant tells you that one of their weaknesses was that they used to be disorganized until they changed their ways and is now an organizational wiz! You are underwhelmed to say the least. At the end of the interviews you leave feeling that you didn’t really learn much other than all of the people you interviewed have superhuman strengths and zero weakness.

How could this be with such a surefire question?

Well you just used one of the most over used interview questions in existence. In my opinion this is one of the worst interview questions ever! It has been asked millions of times by interviewers and is now so common, applicants are coached exactly how to answer it (more on that in a minute).

Now let’s be clear. The intent of the question is good. You want an applicant to be able to show some self-awareness, be able to reflect on a weakness and what steps they take to minimize it. None of us are perfect. That’s why as an employer you want to understand an applicant’s strengths and weaknesses. You want to know the strengths you will be able to depend on and the weakness that need minimizing. A degree of self awareness from an applicant is a key factor you need to consider when it comes to hiring.

Here’s the problem. As this question is so frequently used, there are literally thousands of websites that instruct applicants exactly how to answer it. Unfortunately most advice tells applicants to mask strengths as weaknesses. From our scenario you heard I am a perfectionist! or I work too hard. Both answers are complete nonsense and tell you absolutely nothing about a weakness. They speak to a strength! Applicants are also told to focus on weaknesses that are not required skills for the job (i.e. being mechanically challenged when applying for an office job). Or they are advised to talk about weaknesses that have been turned into strengths (i.e. being disorganized to becoming an organizational guru). You get my point. Overall this is a TERRIBLE question and one that should be buried so that hiring managers are not duped into thinking they have found the holy grail of interview questions.

At least this is what I used to think…

There is another way to ask this question that will surprise its effect to maximize its true intention. Recently I was ranting about my disgust for this question and was challenged by a colleague to word it differently. I didn’t think it was possible. My colleague told me that he had used this question for entry level interviews all the way up to executive level hires and it worked like a charm every time. He claimed same intent as the previous disaster of a question, way better results. So he gave me the new version:

What are three weaknesses you have that have affected your effectiveness at work and what are you currently doing to minimize the impact of these weaknesses? Be specific in your answer.

At first I wasn’t sold but I gave it a try and started to incorporate it into my interviews. The results were astounding. The question got applicants to focus on true, multiple weaknesses (yes we all have more than one weakness). It challenged them to think about weaknesses that could not be disguised as strengths and gets them to discuss how they address them to minimize their impacts. If their weakness is being disorganized I want to hear what steps they take to keep things in order? If they are easily distracted, what things do they do to stay focused? Weaknesses are not at all bad thing if the applicant is self aware and works at reducing any negative effects.

I now use this question in all my interviews. I find the responses I get incredibly revealing and it helps me make an informed decision on hiring superstar talent. This is a powerful interview question that you don’t want to overlook when hiring for your next vacancy. Feel free to ask this question as part of your interview repertoire. Just make sure you use the new and improved version.

This article was written as cautionary tale to do your homework when it comes to choosing what interview questions to ask. There is a lot of misinformation out there on interview questions that can lead to making a bad hiring decision.

And remember, if you don’t want to do your homework, buy THE RIGHT HIRE today. We do all the work for you by giving you the exact interview questions to ask for your job vacancy (yes another blatant plug!).

Happy Interviewing!

Clark Glassford
Founder of Five Interviews

PS  if you liked this article, please share this blog with any of your co-workers, friends or family that could benefit from these recruitment tips to help them make exceptional hires.



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