The One Interview Question You Never Want to Ask

July 17, 2011 § Leave a comment

spanish-inquisition2 Tomas de Torquemada, Inquisitor General of Spain, is known for his campaign to ferret out crypto-Jews and crypto-Muslims in the late 1400’s. To do that, he asked some tough , stressful questions.

As a hiring manager involved in the selection process, you have to ask questions too because you are responsible for finding the right person to join your family-away-from-family based on ability, fit and potential amongst a slate of candidates. The job market, being what it is these days, is likely to offer up a wide variety of possibilities, many of whom, on paper, seem quite similar.  Hence the selection interview.

The WORST interviewing technique is to ask the all too common stress question : “So, Brenda, what would you say is your greatest weakness?”    You never want to ask this because:

  1. You are making people feel uneasy and probably forcing them to lie to their new co-workers and boss.  This is not a good strategy for starting a new relationship.
  2. It’s hard to believe that you will get a stranger to open their kimono and answer truthfully by telling you that they are lazy, they procrastinate, lose their temper, can’t handle conflict, or are horrible with numbers.
  3. It’s a stupid, pointless question.  Any interviewee with any savvy (the kind of person you WANT to join you) will see it as a stupid question and realize that she is dealing with an organization of low caliber people.

On the other hand, selecting for people who seek to grow and improve is a good thing.  So here’s a better couplet of questions:  “What area of development are you working on? Can you give me examples of how that would help you in your professional life?”

There’s some great interviewing techniques out there that are tried and true.  The best I’ve found is Behavioral Based Interviewing. This technique focuses ALL your questions on examples of the candidate’s past behavior, related to the knowledge, skills and abilities they’ll need in the job for which they are interviewing. No questions about what the candidate “would do” in a situation.  That’s because you could get a candidate who states a textbook answer.  Knowledge is good, but not sufficient. It doesn’t tell you how they would behave.  I once hired a young man to lead white-water canoe trips when I directed an outdoor adventure center.  In the interview, this passionate outdoorsman recited chapter and verse of how to conduct a rescue operation.  But when a situation occurred weeks later on a river, he panicked and froze. I should have asked for examples of past situations he encountered that required quick thinking under pressure.   I learned.

For those of you who are seeking jobs and will be interviewed.  Get ready, there’s a still a good chance that you’ll get asked “the greatest weakness” question.  If so, you can respond with: “Well, what I really want to get better at is ______.” Then turn it around by asking the interviewer for what they see as opportunities in your job for you to build that skill set.  Be truthful and turn the moment to the positive.

Good luck.


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You are currently reading The One Interview Question You Never Want to Ask at The Hollander Leadership Blog.