You head into your job interview ready to knock their socks off.

Firm handshake, nice suit, loads of confidence.

The first few questions are a cinch to field, and you easily share stories illustrating how perfectly your experience matches the job requirements.

And then, along comes that BS question nobody likes:

“What’s your biggest weakness?”

Nobody likes this question. We all know it’s total BS.

Interviewees don’t like it because it requires the preparation of a well-crafted story. A story that reveals when you’ve made a mistake, how you remedied it, what you learned from it, and how you’ve integrated that lesson into your current habits. Developing such a story is no small effort.

Interviewers don’t like the question because it’s only marginally helpful.

This question merely tells them one of two things:

1. that the candidate wasn’t prepared enough to have developed the well-crafted story mentioned above, or

2. that the candidate was savvy enough to prepare a carefully-crafted story, although who knows how much it has been embellished.

And although your story might actually illustrate an honest weakness of yours, they know that it’s likely not your biggest weakness.

So know this: they don’t enjoy this dance of ask-a-BS-question-get-a-BS-answer any more than you do.

Because the question isn’t as useful as they’d like it to be.

Why Do They Ask This BS Question?

They’re trying to get at something.

Something to which you might be oblivious.

They’re trying to get a sense of your self-awareness.

Basically, what that hiring manager really wants to know is how well you know yourself. Your traits, feelings, behaviors. Your strengths. And, yes, your weaknesses.


Because your traits, behaviors, strengths and weaknesses impact the world – and the people – around you. And that interviewer is trying to determine if letting you into their world – with their people – is a good idea.

Penelope Trunk, author of Brazen Careerist: The New Rules for Success, writes: “Everyone has specific strengths and everyone has specific weaknesses. It’s pretty certain that if you are not clear on your weaknesses then you are not clear on your strengths, and your value at the office will be questionable.”

So the more self-aware you are, the more you bring to the table as an employee.

Hult International Business School reports, “Instead of excessive confidence, executives tell us they want to see more self-awareness in graduates. They also tell us they’ll gladly hire the self-aware over the self-confident.”

The Non-BS Version

In a recent LinkedIn post titled, “Three Killer Interview Questions” Taproot Foundation founder Aaron Hurst revealed the questions that he has developed to help determine a candidate’s degree of self-awareness.

He reveals, “It took me years to figure out how to get professionals to open up on this topic in a way that didn’t generate canned answers.”

Here are his questions:

1) Did “ACME” (insert most recent employer name) do performance reviews?

That’s great. Not enough employers do them anymore and they are so important to helping staff realize their potential. What did your most recent performance review say were your greatest areas for growth?

That’s too bad. It is hard to grow when you don’t have good coaching on how to develop. If you had done a review, what do you guess would be the 2-3 areas of investment your manager would have called out as important for your growth?

2) Let’s assume we both decide to move forward and you have been on the job for three months. After 90 days one or both of us decide it isn’t going to work. What is the most likely reason this happened?

3) You don’t need to tell me the name, but think of one person you worked with in the last year that always gave you energy. Tell me about them and what it is about them that worked so well for you? (answer) Now, on the flip side, who was someone you respected and was good at their job but that you found draining and tried to avoid at work. What was it about them that didn’t work for you?

Can you see how Hurst’s questions cut through the traditional interview BS? Or how effective they would be in drawing out sincere examples that illustrate how well a candidate would fit with the rest of his team?

When you know how your traits, feelings, and behaviors affect your strengths and weaknesses, questions like these are easier to answer.

Instead of feeling pressure to have manufactured a well-crafted story for your interviewer, you’re able to sincerely reflect on an experience and just share it with him instead.

Image courtesy of David Paul Ohmer.