bright picture of man with crossed fingersInterviewers make the task of asking questions into an art. Like cracking open a pomegranate, there are correct ways and incorrect ways at getting to the juicy facts. Even so, interviewers are only as good as the questions they have drafted to ask candidates. Good interview questions elicit long and detailed answers from the respondent.

An interviewer should make it their job to ensure the interviewee feels comfortable sharing information with their questioner for two practical, and equally important reasons. Answers will be longer and more detailed; and the respondent will be honest with their feedback.

Recipients of information can’t make a sound, informed decision with incomplete and/or inaccurate feedback.

For this reason, human resource representatives across every industry need to take issue with the following popular interview question for job candidates: “What is your greatest weakness?”

Doing a quick search on Google, candidates will find volumes of cookie-cutter answers to that question – one being trickier than the next, and none advising transparency, nor honesty, as key strategy.

The “greatest weakness” question does more harm than good for three reasons:

  1. Encourages respondents to be dishonest
  2. Suggests your business favors job applicants that lie well
  3. Negates validity of everything else interviewee said as part of their interview process
    (If someone is dishonest about one answer, a real interviewer should be skeptical about the integrity of their responses in full)

Here are alternative questions that drive to what an interviewer actually wants to know when they ask that question:

  1. Would you please tell me about a professional experience when you really felt uncomfortable in your role?
  2. Is there a particular skill you would like to acquire, or improve as an employee at ________?
  3. What will be the most challenging aspect for you while transitioning into a new role at ________?

These questions will meet interviewers’ goal of eliciting long, detailed and truthful responses from candidates.

What are your thoughts on the “greatest weakness” question? Do you agree it should be pulled from the job-hunter/recruiter playbook? Let us know via LinkedIn or Twitter.

— Lee Sumner, Sr. Research Manager