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Scary Interview Questions: 
“Tell Me About a Mistake You Made” …
“Tell Me About Your Biggest Weakness”

 

  • Frequently in interviews, you will be asked to tell about a mistakes you’ve made or about your weaknesses.
  • The excellent candidate doesn’t wimp out.  When asked about an error, he tells about a serious mistake, and then tells what he learned from it and how it changed him. When asked about a weakness, he tells of a personality trait that he has learned that he has, has caused him problems in the past, and how he has dealt with it so today it doesn’t get in the way of him being effective.

I frequently ask candidates to describe an error they made.  My favorite answer to the question was, “I don’t make any mistakes.  My company makes all the mistakes.”

Would you like to work with her?

Her interview was filled with negativity and whining, and I wouldn’t have presented her to my client even if she hadn’t come up with such a foolish answer to this question.  The amazing part is that she was in human resources, and should have known better. And perhaps the biggest disappointment was that on paper, she was unusually qualified. She worked literally across the street from my client in a business that competed directly with them.

This error question upsets candidates, because they’re terrified that if they come across as anyone but Superman in their interview, they’ll be disqualified. Your interviewer isn’t trying to see if you’re Superman by asking this question.  He’s trying to learn whether you’re self-aware and confident – confident enough to admit that you’re not a deity.


Recently, I had a candidate tell me, “I make a lot of errors.”  That wasn’t a downer – it was refreshing. He was genuine. All human beings make errors every day; those comfortable with themselves can admit them. A really good manager makes the people who work with her feel comfortable because she’s openly taking credit for her mistakes, and even for those of others at times.

The superior candidate answers this question by telling me a really bloody story. One in which she personally really screwed up - badly. One that really stung. Then she tells me what she learned from that event, and what changes she made afterwards. Good people make mistakes all the time, but learn from them, and then figure out ways to prevent them from reoccurring. Idiots make the same mistakes over and over again. 

And how do you answer the companion question about your weakness? Many interview coaches recommend that you answer this one by coming up with a strength carried to a fault: “People sometimes tell me I demand too much of them. I expect as much of them as I expect of myself. I hit my due dates, and I expect the people who work for me to hit their commitments. Some say that I’m really unyielding in this area.”

What balderdash!  





Once again, the correct answer is to tell of a problem that you’ve had, are now keenly aware of, and have found ways to ensure that it doesn’t get in the way of your producing fantastic results.

“There was a time when I was always trying to keep everyone happy. I would make promises to people that could be kept only if I worked 24 hours a day, which catches up with you after a while, or by not doing something that was critical, but someone hadn’t begged me to do the day before. I’ve learned now that I do have a bit of a compulsion to please people, but I can’t do that and remain effective. When someone asks me to do something now, I ask them how important it is. If it’s my boss, I’ll ask where it fits in with the other major tasks I’m working on. If it’s someone from another department asking for a favor, I’ll ask them if someone else can do it, or how crucial it is. This isn’t the most comfortable thing for me to do, but I now know that it’s the only way that I’ll ever get anything important done. I still will say yes now and then when I shouldn’t, but that’s rare now.”

Wunderbar! Here is a person who actually understands herself. Maybe she can teach others in her department to understand themselves as well. Plus, I’m pretty sure that she’s not a fire-breathing ogre if she tells me a story like this.

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