What is your biggest weakness?

Ever gotten that question in a job interview? Most people are prepared with a pseudo positive answer. “I am an overachiever.” “I can sometimes take on too much and then work myself to death getting it all done.”  “I am too organized and so others’ lack of preplanning frustrates me.”

Anyone who has ever recruited in the professional services space knows it is not easy to get a read on smarts, culture, experience and fit in one hour – but yet that is what we often try to do.  Have you ever interviewed somebody and come out of the room thinking they were nice but you didn’t really know whether they would be good at the job? You are not alone. Getting a feel for people is important but you need to make sure you have questions tailored to each individual candidate based on the experience listed on their resume.  Think about the job description and the people in your organization who do that job well – what characteristics to they possess? Then find questions that will get at whether your candidate has those qualities.

This summer, when our professional services practice at BlissPR needed to do a spate of hiring at the junior level, I went on the hunt for new meaningful interview questions that would net the right members to join our team. Here are some worth sharing:

  1. At a recent Council of PR Firms event Kathleen Reynolds from Cooper Katz shared her new “go to” question: Tell me what you know about my company? Usually everyone who comes in for interviews has looked at the website, but asking people more directly what they know about the company shows not only the depth of their digging but what interests them. Do they cite the bios, the client list, the study on social media, the blog – this could tell you a lot about where their interests are.
  2. Melissa Buden, a senior PR specialist at a top international law firm, says her most important question is ‘Do you have any questions for me’? “If the interviewee has less than a full page of (good, well researched) questions to ask me, I’m less than impressed. The questions interviewers ask say more about how they think than any answer/response they give.”
  3. According to Peter Bregman from Harvard Business Review the one interview question you should always ask is: What do you do you in your spare time? He argues that this gets at peoples’ obsessions; which helps us understand candidates’ natural motivations.  I think he is on to something and I am just happy that my spare time is no longer spent recruiting; I’m looking forward to getting back to learning how to cook.
  4. Tell me about a project that failed and why? How did you manage the outcome? According to Kellie Sheehan, a professional services PR expert and VP at BlissPR, these questions can give personality cues. Do they accept being part of the failure or blame others, what do they perceive as a failure?

My favorite: give a business scenario, something that actually happened to a client that person will be working with, and ask how they would handle it. In PR we often have to make decisions on the fly, weighing all the variables and potential outcomes. I want to see how they think on their feet – and there is no way they can have a canned response to that one.

What are you favorite interview questions? Which ones get at the heart of what we need to know?

To reach Cortney:

Phone: 212.840.1661
Email: cortney@blisspr.com
Twitter: @cortneyr
LinkedIn: Cortney Rhoads Stapleton

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7 Comments on What is your biggest weakness?

  1. I’ve had this question multiple times. My usual answer is that sometimes I work too quickly, but I am efficient and do not mind fixing my mistakes. I try to use a follow-up positive to outweigh the negative.

    • Chris,
      Thank you for commenting. Discouraging that you get that question so often but yes, flipping a negative to a positive, is usually the way people answer it. I wonder if a better question would be: “tell me about a workplace situation in which you had to overcome one of your weaknesses and what the outcome was.” It might encourage more dialogue. Thanks for reading!

  2. Very nice tips, interviewing a candidate in my opinion should be a good mix of “poking” enough to make him expose his true self a bit, in order to know if it’s good for the job, and being careful enough not to make him feel too uncomfortable and make you come out too rude.
    Definitely not an easy task but your points are all very valid, thank you :)

    • Gabriele,
      Thank you. Great point. I think exposing ones true self in an interview is hard, people have been conditioned not to. It is really the interviewer’s job to set the tone. I often tell stories in interviews; I want to get to a point where we are just two people, having a relaxed conversation, who both want to understand whether this job is a fit.
      Thanks for reading.

  3. My favorite question to ask is, “I have given you a project to complete by Friday. You are not finished and it is friday, a client calls with a critical situation that you need to take care of, what do you do?” If they tell me they call me and ask me what to do, I am disappointed. If they tell me they finish my project, I am disappointed. There are only two possible answers, take care of the client, or take care of the client and then try to take care of my project.

    • Christina,
      That is a good question. I think anytime we can give real situations in interviews and ask “what would you do?” it’s golden. It is tough for people to have canned answers and you can then discuss their answer and tell them what you would do and what you liked/didn’t like about their answer. Thanks for reading!

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