Interview

Interviews: Learn to Bite Your Tongue!

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InterviewDear J.T. & Dale: I need interview help! I’ve been on three separate interviews in the past month where the hiring manager asked me, “What’s your greatest weakness?” I didn’t get any of the jobs, and I think it’s because of the way I answered that question. I was completely honest and told them I have a low tolerance for ignorance and sometimes show my frustration when co-workers make stupid mistakes. Do you think I should answer this differently? — Rae

Dale: Rae, Rae, Rae… this is a major, major weakness you’re confessing to, and I get the sense you think because it’s true, you should say it. One of the important skills of corporate life is knowing when NOT to blurt out the truth. In fact, a critical corporate skill is biting your tongue like a piece of Juicy Fruit. So, the answer is yes, your answer disqualified you.

J.T.: I can’t disagree with that conclusion, but let me back up and explain lots of hiring managers are utilizing “behavioral questions” as a way to get inside the heads of potential employees. The “weakness” question is one of them. Proper answers are always truthful, but it’s not just what you say but how you say it! I would argue that how you’re describing your personality is scaring employers away because it implies that you would create tension in the workplace. Instead, I would reframe your response to something like this:

“I love doing good work, and push myself hard to be the best I can be. I do find at times that I can get frustrated with co-workers if I feel they aren’t trying. However, I try to remind myself that everyone makes mistakes and that showing my frustration won’t help the situation.”

Notice you don’t just explain your weakness, but you define how you negate it.

Dale: I do hope you work at making J.T.’s version true. There’s that old saying about someone “not suffering fools gladly.” Well, “not suffering gladly” is not suffered gladly in corporate life (unless you’re Steve Jobs). You’re going to come across fools in every job, some in high places, and it’s part of your job to suffer them long enough to help educate them.

Feel free to send questions to J.T. and Dale via e-mail at advice@jtanddale.com or write to them in care of King Features Syndicate, 300 W. 57th Street, 15th Floor, New York, NY 10019.

© 2011 by King Features Syndicate, Inc.

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J.T. & Dale

“JT & Dale Talk Jobs” is the largest nationally syndicated career advice column in the country. J.T. O’Donnell and Dale Dauten are both professional development experts.

19 comments

  1. Well this is one of the silly pseudo psychological questions that are used by HR only to make another person feel embarrassed and humiliated. And yes, my major weakness is being too straightforward. Although HR or recruiters could regard this as a lack of oh-so-beloved-by-them-soft- skills, customers value my honest nature (and I earn a fortune for my current employer), so I don’t actually care about the opinion of the recruiters. Until today I AM the best sales no matter what company I was working for. Name it “lack of communication skills”, if you need to do so.

  2. Very good article. Behavioral questions are becoming a major part of the interview these days. They want to know how you will fit and work with their team.

    • Behavioral qts are becoming a norm.It is really important to go prepared for the soft skills portion of the interview.What are your weaknesses and strengths? How did you hanfdle a high pressure situation? How do you work with difficult co-workers?

  3. Hi JT,
    Have been following your advice columns and love it!

    I want some advice though, I have recently quit my workplace due to issues with the co-workers, how can I ensure that any place I go for an interview doesn’t call them up for references. I am certain they will not be giving out anything positive. Please help!

  4. Truly great advice.  It’s always better to turn a negative into a positive.  The key to interviews is to practice, practice, practice.  Interview with a family member or with friends – just to get the practice in that you need.  If you don’t want to do that, then sit in front of a mirror and answer some questions – talking to yourself.  I know it sounds ridiculous but it truly will help you be prepared.  Every interview has the question “what are your weaknesses” or “what are your strengths” even if the interviewer doesn’t ask the question using those words.  Check on the Internet and find some of the most commonly asked interview questions as that will truly help you to be prepared.  Behavorial questions seem to be the common theme today so that should give all job seekers a heads up to be prepared before they walk in the door.

  5. This is great advice. When I coach my clients, I take them through a mock interview and help them know when to shut their mouths. Sadly, too many job seekers are really feeling desperate in this economy. What happens is they over sell themselves and end up saying too much. Behavioral Questions are definitely the trend. Your advice is spot on. I’ll be sharing this with my clients.

    Jerome Imhoff

  6. I would say that my greatest weaknes is not answering stupid questions like that.   This is a bush league question.  Anyone who asks this question should not be at their job.

    A true interview should go over your skills, and overall assesment if you are qualified for the job.

    I once had someone ask me that question, and I said, ” I am sorry, I think I am a little more sophisticated in the business world to answer that.  Have a nice day”.   I left. Did I show them? No, but if you are confident with yourself, and your worth, then you can make a statement like that.

  7. It’s all about how to say it. And what not to say. Soft skills. High level communicator. Work across silos. Consultants work best. Technical knowledge can always be taught or bought from a sweatshop.

    Diplomacy is required in order to be accepted in the corporate environment. They don’t have to hire anyone they don’t want.

  8. I usually say: I wouldn’t say I have weaknesses per se, there are just some things that I may not be as good at as other things. I consider them to be learning opportunities.

    • I would contact your former employer and find out what they will say when a potential employer does a reference check on you. It’s possible your company has a no reference policy in which case they’ll just give your salary and dates of employment as verification. However, if they don’t have a policy like this, they may tell them you had a claim. The law states that a company can’t hide information from another company about an employee that could ultimately hurt their business. For example, if you stole from the company and now a bank was thinking of hiring you, the former employer would have an obligation to let them know. Now, if you had a workman’s comp claim for a back injury and now were trying to apply for a job at a company where you were doing heavy lifting, can you see how they would need to tell the potential employer?

      My advice is to confirm what will be said about your employment, then choose what to say. Something like, “I got injured and I couldn’t do the job any more. I am fully recovered and have a doctor’s note that proves I am able to work doing the kind of duties outlined in this job. More importantly, I miss working and can’t wait to get back to contributing to an organization.” That last statement is key, because you need to prove to the hiring manager you want to be working, or they’ll be subconsciously concerned you will go out on workman’s comp for their job too if you don’t like the work. Is it fair? No. Is it reality? Yes.

      The secrete is to show an employer how excited you are to do their job and work for their company. Show them how the work inspires you and they’ll want to hire you regardless of your last position.

    • I would contact your former employer and find out what they will say when a potential employer does a reference check on you. It’s possible your company has a no reference policy in which case they’ll just give your salary and dates of employment as verification. However, if they don’t have a policy like this, they may tell them you had a claim. The law states that a company can’t hide information from another company about an employee that could ultimately hurt their business. For example, if you stole from the company and now a bank was thinking of hiring you, the former employer would have an obligation to let them know. Now, if you had a workman’s comp claim for a back injury and now were trying to apply for a job at a company where you were doing heavy lifting, can you see how they would need to tell the potential employer?

      My advice is to confirm what will be said about your employment, then choose what to say. Something like, “I got injured and I couldn’t do the job any more. I am fully recovered and have a doctor’s note that proves I am able to work doing the kind of duties outlined in this job. More importantly, I miss working and can’t wait to get back to contributing to an organization.” That last statement is key, because you need to prove to the hiring manager you want to be working, or they’ll be subconsciously concerned you will go out on workman’s comp for their job too if you don’t like the work. Is it fair? No. Is it reality? Yes.

      The secrete is to show an employer how excited you are to do their job and work for their company. Show them how the work inspires you and they’ll want to hire you regardless of your last position.

  9. Behavioral interview questions ask for a specific example of a time in your past work (or school, if you are newly graduated) you did were in a certain situation. The interviewer wants to hear about the circumstances, all of you actions and decisions, and the what the outcome was. They will infer your level of expertise in each skill from multiple examples.

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