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Stop Asking Job Candidates the 'Biggest Weakness' Question

"So, what would you say is your biggest weakness?"

It's a question many of us ask job candidates, even though it rarely yields any useful information.

Let's put the biggest weakness question out to pasture for good. Here are three reasons why, inspired by Priscilla Claman's The Worst Interview Question on HBR.org.

  1. It's embarrassing for both parties, a trick question that's not really a trick -- we all know it's coming. In the end, I think it reflects poorly on the organization asking it, and probably creates ill will with the candidate.
  2. It stops the flow of a great interview. You ask the question and sit back to see which expected response will be delivered. The candidate sits back and goes into "Well, I Probably Work Too Darned Hard" mode.
  3. It yields no new information. Look, if a candidate flubs her answer on this question, you should have had numerous warning signs in other parts of the interview.
Are there alternatives? Of course. "Tell me about a work problem and the steps you went through to solve it. And then tell me a problem you didn't solve and what you would do differently next time." Sure, this is another often-asked probe, but how it is answered gives you plenty of opportunity for follow-up questions about the candidate's thought process. How do you follow up "Well, my biggest weakness is that I'm something of a perfectionist."

Claman says the question became popular in the 1950s when adversarial interviews were thought to demonstrate how a job hopeful would handle pressure. But today, she says, "it's much more useful for an interviewer to know what strengths are needed to do the job and to determine if the candidate has those strengths."

Couldn't agree more. What do you think is the biggest weakness with the biggest weakness question?

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(Photo by Flickr user bpsusf, CC 2.0)
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