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BOB LANKARD: Problems in an interview

on April 07, 2013 1:50 AM

“I’m a perfectionist — keep doing it over until I get it right.”

“I’m a workaholic — quitting time always finds me still at my desk.”

These are suggested answers to the interview question, “Tell me your weaknesses.”

Some counselors seem to believe the job seeker should never admit to any weakness. They suggest substituting strength for a weakness. I am not impressed with this thinking and doubt if employers are either.

Why do employers seem to be seeking negatives in a situation where the applicant wants to accent her positives?

  • Employers want to identify mature people. Mature people, regardless of age, recognize deficiencies and take action to correct them. An immature person will not see any faults or blame others.
  • Such questions give a barometer of a person’s honesty.
  • The interviewer wants to see how applicants deal with stress.
  • Identifying applicants who will fit into a job or organization is a priority with interviewers.

This should be your priority, too. Even in a recession economy no one wants find themselves in a job that is wrong for them.

What are the dangers an applicant faces in the open-ended weakness questions?

  • Treating the job interview as a therapy session. Interviewers are often kindly persons who cause job seekers to lose sight of the object of the interview — a job. This is usually done in the context of a “tell me about yourself” request.
  • Some questions invite applicants to vent their feelings about a former job or boss. For example: Why did you leave your last job? Were you ever fired? Did you ever get a bad evaluation?
  • It is not a time to go into detail about non-job issues such as bills, need for health insurance, or family problems. People get into trouble this way in answering questions about why you want this job.

How can a job seeker score points dealing with problem issues?

  • Interviewers love turnaround stories. “I had a problem getting a job because of a lack of confidence. I took a Dale Carnegie course and came to feel much better about myself. I have been gainfully employed ever since.” Identify a problem and show that you have solved or solving it.
  • Learn to shift gears. Answer the question objectively, but then return to your theme — your skills or your enthusiasm for the job.
  • Learn to shadowbox. Mock interviews or practicing difficult questions with a friend will prepare you to handle questions about problems in a confident manner.

In addition to the weakness request, job seekers have trouble when they are asked about why they left a previous job? These are jobs where there were problems and the job seeker was fired or they quit. Some advise sugarcoating the truth on these issues. I recommend being honest without a lot of details. Emphasize how you have come to deal with these issues.

Other problem questions could include: “Were you ever given a warning? Were you ever told to improve your work performance? What was your greatest failure? What do you dislike about your job? What was your biggest work problem? Tell me about a work problem you faced?”

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