Uh, my weaknesses are awesomeness and attractiveness. There is no charge for awesomeness or attractiveness.
September 10, 2009 4:34 PM   Subscribe

What are your best resources or best advice for job interviews for a position you desperately want?

I think I've managed to land an interview for a position that might actually suit me within my current company. It's a position that's perfectly suited to my strengths - researching, writing, strategizing. However, a few months ago, I blew an interview somehow for a position that my manager said I had in the bag. I wasn't overconfident and I was well prepared, but it just didn't go my way. And now that other candidate is my current supervisor.

So, I'm just not going to blow it this time, dammit. I've started doing research on the position and what tasks they complete for the company. I'm also researching their subject matter as well, so I can come in informed. But, they're going to ask me strengths and weaknesses and whatnot, and I never know how to answer that. What do you say in this situation? What do you want to hear in this situation?

What else can you point me toward on teh internets? Reading materials I don't know about? And, if you're wondering, I just read this post about being over confident in interviews, and I got a lot of good info out of that. I'm just looking for more.
posted by santojulieta to Work & Money (12 answers total) 28 users marked this as a favorite
When I desperately wanted a certain job (which i wasn't really very qualified for), I made a "demo CD" specifically for them and brought it with me. This was a software job, so coding the stuff on the CD was relevant to the position, but mostly i think they appreciated I did it just for them. Maybe there's something like that for your field?

As for weaknesses, the "I work too hard" strength-disguised-as-weakness is pretty cliched at this point and I can't imagine an interviewer not snickering at it. I go with a factual statement of something I don't know, am not required to know for the job, and that my resume factually states i don't know anyway.

For example, i usually say, "I would let to get a better understanding of Java." i am not a Java programmer and don't need Java to do my job, but it could conceivably help in some way, so it makes it sound like I'm dedicated to learning w/o really being a weakness.
posted by drjimmy11 at 4:49 PM on September 10, 2009

Sometime pro-interviewer here.

When I ask for strengths, it's to see if you're prepared/clever enough to provide specifics that actually apply to the job in question. Generic responses have no weight either way.

When asking about weaknesses, it's just a probe for honesty. Anyone who offers up the cliche "I work too hard, I care too much" answers gets an eyeroll.

But to be fair, the whole strengths/weaknesses questions are so overbaked that they're of very little value. Everyone has a pat answer, which doesn't tell me much. I prefer to ask questions that have never been heard before, in order to get a look at how the person actually thinks.

The best advice I could give, generically? Get plenty of sleep the night before. Dress in a way that is actually comfortable for you. Wear your lucky underwear if necessary so you're relaxed. Listen very carefully to the questions and for god's sake think about them before you answer.

Don't talk too much.
posted by rokusan at 4:49 PM on September 10, 2009 [2 favorites]

oops "I would *like* to get a better understanding of Java."
posted by drjimmy11 at 4:49 PM on September 10, 2009

I'd want to know how the guy doing the interview evaluates interviewees. It seems simple, but I really think different people interview differently. Some people claim to ask hard questions to see how the candidate performs under pressure. Joel Spoolsky writes that he intentionally makes bullshit up to see how the candidate deals with ... having an idiot for a boss. I'm not quite sure why he does it, really.

There's no good answer to "Whats your greatest weakness?". You can either dodge the question with a joke ("bullets!" "chocolate!" "cryptonite!") , answer honestly and look like an idiot, or make up some bullshit strength-as-weakness and look like a douche. It becomes a guessing game then, of whether the asker is looking for comedians, honest idiots or douches. Apparently in some circles giving an honest answer is a bad sign. Makes you look unprepared or unwilling to lie (ask this question and suddenly everyone's an overachiever and doesn't spend enough time with family).

I'd go with a joke answer, and hope they don't press you for something "real".

When this question comes up, I try to ask them a question when the opportunity arises: "What's the worst part of working here?" Never got a joke or a reversal response out of it.
posted by pwnguin at 4:59 PM on September 10, 2009

What's your greatest weakness? You can answer this with a quick (3-sentences or so) answer about how you used to have a certain weakness (maybe something on the periphery of the job) but then how you overcame it, and now are a superstar in the area that was once your weakness.

For example, "One of my greatest weaknesses was a lack of knowing how to create meaningful reports from my research for upper management. I recognized this weakness and received on-the-job training from a colleague whose reports I greatly admired. Now, I'm responsible for creating reports for the quarterly management meetings!"
posted by Houstonian at 5:12 PM on September 10, 2009

With that question, I tell them the truth, which is that my weaknesses are actually my strengths taken to an extreme. I then point out that this makes them easy to catch and quell in action!

For example, I excel at imparting knowledge (someone else's words). However, I'll also tell you how to build a clock when all you really wanted to know is the time. I'm thoughtful and observant, but at the extreme, people think I'm snooty and aloof because I'm observing and processing. In the first case, I have to know to pull back; in the second case, to reach out.

I wouldn't necessarily go into those examples, but I could pull one or the other off if I needed to. Just say that you consider those "weaknesses" as areas for development.
posted by jgirl at 5:15 PM on September 10, 2009 [2 favorites]

Don't act desperate and be yourself.

Never say "my weakness is..." and then describe something work-related. Your "weakness" should be something on a personal level that is sadly "poignant", so as to elicit empathy from the interviewer.
posted by Zambrano at 5:22 PM on September 10, 2009

The "weakness" question gets asked a lot because it gives the interviewer useful information, on several levels.

First: because that question is common to the point of cliche', if somebody hems and haws at it, that tells me they've done no "how to interview" preparation or learning. That may or may not be disqualifying depending on the kind of person I'm trying to hire, but in any event it's interesting to know whether somebody tries to learn how to do things before doing them.

Second: a lot of interview questions boil down to "Please give me a reason not to hire you." Your job as a candidate is to decline that invitation. A surprising number of people answer that question with a reason that they're utterly unsuited for the job they're applying for: accountants who say that their biggest weakness is that they're not detail-oriented, or customer service reps who say that theirs is that they're bad at dealing with people, or people who say they go into murderous rampages when their boss asks them do so something they don't want to do. If you give that kind of answer, you've given the interviewer a reason not to hire you. Don't do that.

Third: it gives information about the extent to which the candidate can in fact evaluate his/her own abilities. I've had people tell me that they have no weaknesses. Um, no, let me help you there: your weakness is that you're an idiot.

Fourth: it tells me, or at least gives candidates the opportunity to tell me, whether they can overcome or compensate for their weaknesses, whether they can turn weakness into strength. Other answers above get into this well. "I've never been good at talking in front of large groups of people" is a weakness; "I've never been good at talking in front of large groups of people and so I took classes on how to do that, joined Toastmasters, and volunteered to give several important presentations, and now I'm the person in my group who's considered best at that" is a weakness that has become a strength. I also like jgirl's approach here.
posted by bac at 6:00 PM on September 10, 2009 [6 favorites]

I've not interviewed for many jobs, but I've been offered every job I have interviewed for, so I guss I do something right.

I've always tried to be honest and open in interviews. If the position is one that really interests me or that I think would be perfect for me, I will find an opportunity to come right out and say that, and explain why.

I don't know how often I've had the weakness question, but I'd regard it as something of a throw-away question really. No one is ever going to front up and say "I can never get out of bed in time to make it to work by 9am" or something. But we do have weaknesses, and we know them. I usually offer something that is job-related, but not major and make it clear that I am aware it has been a weakness and that I am alert to it and manage it - basically a weakness that exists but that I don't allow to manifest into a problem.
posted by sycophant at 6:09 PM on September 10, 2009

1. Come up with a story about yourself to answer the question "Tell me about yourself".
2. If you can, come with a portfolio or sample work. Ask if you can walk them through it.
3. Be relaxed. Smile a lot.
4. Ask them what their problems are, relate those to past successes of yours.
5. Some people say rather than a resume, offer to do actual sample work for a project.
6. Don't admit to past work problems. You had great relationships with everyone.
7. For What's your greatest weakness, I believe the best answer is to cop out a bit. (e.g. "I can be too detail oriented, etc.) Have a specific example ready. There is no way to win with this awful question, unfortunately, only lose. So don't lose too much.
8. Go through online mock interviews at Monster. Have answers for those standard questions.
9. If you have sticky areas, present them as lessons or experiences that provided opportunities in the end.
10. Practice your story aloud.
11. Best is if you can interview somewhere else first, just so you're not rusty.
12. Yes, you should dress up. Hide tattoos, remove earrings in unusual places, etc.
13. If someone asks you an odd question (e.g. what kind of animal are you), pretend to really enjoy that they asked it.
14. Let the interviewers talk that want to talk. They appreciate that you listen. Just punctuate with "know what you mean...", etc.

The most important of these is developing a story about your career. Work examples help you to tell more stories.

Good luck!
posted by xammerboy at 6:14 PM on September 10, 2009 [3 favorites]

"What's your greatest weakness" is simply a test to see if you're the type of person who monitors their shortcomings and will take action to improve them. Like "I am not very good at Photoshop, but I have been exploring the program and going through tutorials to gain more knowledge."
posted by scrowdid at 1:17 PM on September 11, 2009 [1 favorite]

As a recruiter who conducts interviews pretty constantly:

- 'Strength as a weakness' gets an eyeroll. I don't know how many versions of, "I'm a bit of a perfectionist, haha," and "I just get so caught up in my work sometimes," and "I love to help people - I really take on more than I should," that I've heard. However, this is sadly probably the safest answer; not because I believe it, but because I won't hold it against you.

- The factual but unnecessary skill answer is a bit meh. While it's true that it shouldn't count as a qualification you're lacking, at the same time it makes me wonder if you have a good understanding of the role in the first place.

- 'X USED to be my weakness, but this is how I overcame it' -- that's not what I asked you. I will ask other questions in the interview that deal with behavioral topics and how you deal with challenges. Please actually answer the question I've asked.

- Joke answers are fine, but only if you're able to then follow up with something more serious. Please don't just go 'Forest fires! Haha!' and stop speaking. I will chuckle, then prompt you for an actual answer. If you blank because you're hoping I'll leave it be, you will not end up looking great.

- Honest answer - points for not lying, but be careful; this depends on how it links in to the job. I've had people tell me that they can't stand public speaking, when that's the core of the position in question.

- 'Ummm, I really don't know.' This is probably the worst thing you can say. No one is perfect, not even the perfectionists who actually ARE perfectionists. Saying this to me means you don't have a solid grasp on your own skills.

The best response in my opinion is probably from the people who laugh a bit and go, 'This is where everyone tells you that they're a perfectionist, right?' and then they give an honest answer, but one where they're not shooting themselves in the foot.

Overall.. it's a sucky question, but keep in mind that it IS only one question. Give some sort of coherent answer, and even if it's not amazing, one so-so answer will very rarely knock you out of the running.

Good luck on the position you're going for. =)
posted by Kattiara17 at 1:51 PM on September 11, 2009

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