Exit Interviews : Do not Burn those bridges

Burning Bridges

There is quite divergent piece of advice with regard to burning your bridges as in when you are exiting your current firm.

Lets first look at the issue of exit interviews.

If you have decided to leave your firm for better opportunities – you might be filled with a desire to let it loose, give it back to them.  Now that you are free from the shackles of the current employer  – there is nothing to lose.

My suggestion to you would be to hold your horses.

Avoid doing or saying anything that you might live to regret.

You never know when the tables might turn.

Recently one of my candidates interviewed with a client. The candidate a senior professional had a difference of opinion with his current CEO but had his paths covered or so he thought. He had a good reference from the managing director of the current firm and a few other referrals from the earlier organisations. The interview went off well. Turned out the CEO of the firm he was interviewing with and his current CEO were class mates.

This is a true story which is currently playing out. The reason I share it is because you don’t know who is going to be connected with whom and you end up regretting some act.

Moral when you are leaving an organisation don’t burn your bridges.

This advice is especially relevant for employees early in their careers. Generally we see that by the time you are in the 30-35 year bracket you have matured enough and realise the importance of maintaining these weak relationships.

What you need to remember is that you are not required to cozy up to your boss and the current employees with whom you may not be having a great relationship. But Maintain a polite , civil relationship, spleen venting can be done in the confines of your room or over a beer with a very close friend . Not with your boss or your boss’s boss or your HR. Definitely not the HR.

An HR manager doesn’t want to hear, during your exit interview, that you think your manager was a jerk. While it may be irresistible to use the meeting to unload, once you’ve made the decision to leave an employer, airing your gripes won’t do you any good. Your time to talk about concerns was while you were employed. Vent ahead of time, not during the interview.

Many reasons. Mainly the HR has its job cutout. They have to maintain peace and harmony. They have to manage the egos. And in the pecking order of things – your Boss is likely to have a greater say on matters. He might have more experience, more knowledge on the subject, better qualified or maybe just closer to the leadership. So your sabre rattling is only going to show you in a bad light.

So however piqued you are about your work and the current state of affairs – make your departure pleasant so that when you meet the people again in a business setting you are able to maintain a pleasant conversation.

One way to prevent any frustrations from boiling over during the interview is to vent it out before. Write down a no holds barred letter to the soon to be former Boss, detailing out every thing that you felt disgruntled about and that contributed to your decision to move on. Don’t post the letter. Save it for later reading. That will help in having a non-emotional exit. You could even frame your opinions in a way that shows that you are thinking of the best for the company.

Exit with grace by focusing on the positive. Criticism is not easy to accept especially not from a person who decided to move on. If you do not like a situation the easiest option is to vent out. The more rewarding option is to give feedback in a non-emotional way.

Companies do want to improve – they are aware that excessive turnover is not good for them. But companies being what they are corrections take a while coming. The likelihood of improvement or positive change is higher if the employees presents his feedback in a non emotional, professional manner.

From a professional perspective workplace relationships are unique and have huge implications for the individuals in the relationship. It does’nt require an Eintenien intelligence to realize that workplace relationships directly affect the employees ability to succeed. The times of exit, the times when you are about to leave an organisation, can throw up moments, tempting, enticing moments to act in a manner that jeopardizes these relationships forever. Keeping that natural human tendency in check has a huge upward impact potential for your professional life.

 Prakash Francis is a Talent expert based in Bangalore.

 

Recruiter:Are you biased?

workplace-diversity-RS-770“You must work with people whom you don’t like because a workforce comprised of people who are all best office buddies can be homogeneous, and homogeneity in an organisation breeds failure.”                                               Eric Schmidt – How Google works

A diverse Workplace is a high energy workplace. Diversity in hiring and employment allows for the development of a robust, well-rounded teams that can perform better in v.u.c.a environment.

A high diversity workplace is likely to have more differences of opinions, different view-points getting aired leading to vociferous discussions, raging disagreements but in the end a better product a better service. The biggest hurdle to such a diverse workplace is the very human bias towards sameness and conformity. This bias in recruiters can be detrimental to hiring for a diverse and innovative workplace.

What is recruiter bias? Recruiters have been blamed for a lot of mischief but this is one which is not exclusive to recruiters alone – it is part and parcel to all individuals. As Daniel Kahneman in his Nobel Prize winning book –Thinking Fast and Slow says our default thinking mode Thinks Fast and Jumps to conclusions he calls it the System1 our rational mode is the System2 which is lazy and slow. So by  default we think fast and take quick decisions hence – our tendency towards bias.

But this is the very tendency which needs to be avoided if we want a diverse workforce.

How do you change something so deeply ingrained in the human psyche – something over which you have almost no control. It starts with awareness. Just by being aware that such a bias is affecting our decision making will help us in exercising caution. Leading firms are making it mandatory for all employees in decision making roles to undergo bias training.

Human race is not homogeneous. People from countries that fought wars 20 years ago over religious, cultural, racial differences are now on the same table sharing workspaces. The basic instinct of survival – our lizard brain triggers our bias against people who not from the same pond.Recruiters are no different.

Typically the biases to which the recruiters remain susceptible are the following:

Affinity Bias

“Birds of a feather flock together”.

I am reminded of my dad and this very old saying which he used often. Whenever we kids sided with mom during fights – he would call us birds of the same feather. Sarcastic Offcourse. Nevertheless there is truth in this saying.

As we are so we associate – says Ralph Waldo Emerson. We are most comfortable with people we understand, with whom we share some kind of common linkage. As recruiters we tend to hire people with whom we share some sameness. When we talk of culture fit in companies it helps businesses to run smoothly. It is the same sameness which also is a barrier to diversity, inclusion and innovation.

Confirmation Bias

This is when people have prior beliefs and look for ways to substantiate those beliefs. It is an innate tendency to seek out confirmation for our preconceived notions. An example is in the case of college passed out from. The recruiter might form a favourable or unfavourable opinion purely based on the college of the candidate in question. Once the opinion is created He/she looks for evidence to support that opinion. He/she is giving in to confirmation bias. School can be replaced by village, town, state etc for the confirmation bias to trigger.

Gender Bias

This is one of the strongest biases in the workplace. Multiple experiments have repeatedly proven the unconscious bias we have about men and women. At the workplace males are believed to have better leadership qualities even if research shows otherwise. Even when a woman’s voice is thought to be trustworthy, clear, and comprehensible on its own, her credibility is lowered when her voice is compared to a man’s voice – even if the man’s voice was deemed as not-so-reliable or intelligent on its own. In an  experiment by Harward Business School more than a decade ago, the Heidi/Howard Roizen study showed that when the exact same story was told with different names (Heidi vs Howard), participants said the woman Heidi was selfish and not “the type of person you would want to hire or work for,” while the fictitious Howard came off as appealing.

All in all, when women are compared to men, they lose. And as you can imagine, this kind of “gendered listening” is a huge problem in hiring, as you might assume someone is best for the job, but you’re not really hearing what they’re saying.

Racial Bias

Racial bias remains another strong issue. Candidates with ethnic minority names are less likely to receive a call back on submitting a resume. Many companies shy away from hiring minorities for a more difficult reason. They fear customer pushback.

Whatever be the reasons these prejudices exist. Recruitment plays a crucial role in building a diverse, forward-thinking environment in fact it is the first step. Unfortunately, the hiring process is incredibly vulnerable to the influence of unconscious bias, which can hamper objective decision making and ultimately become a roadblock to the pursuit of diversity.

Hence it is important to take steps to contain this bias.

How do we do that?

Time

Give, devote sufficient time to the hiring process. Avoid quick decisions. Let the decision rest for a few days. This would allow the System 2 of Daniel Kahneman to kick in and give us a better more rational decision. Studies have shown that allowing enough time to do evaluations increases accuracy and reduces any bias. So, allow plenty of time to read interview materials and take notes.

Structured Questions

A set of structured questions asked to all the candidates in the same sequence sets the stage to compare apples with apples and prevents bias. Research has found that structured interviews are more predictive of on-the-job performance.

The idea is to standardize the interview process to make it more fair, objective, and accurate.

Accountability

Increased accountability reduces the effect of any kind of bias and increases the accuracy of evaluations. Hence a culture/requirement for interview note taking, and evaluators using named forms, and each interviewer selection decision is justified, documented and filed. Here again the google system of using a hiring packet is worth emulating. The Hiring Packet contains all known information about the candidate based on his progress through the interview process. All members of the hiring committee get the exact same information and every decision is based on the same set of data ensuring that there is no room for bias. An important tenet they follow is that only information in the packet is considered, if its not in the packet it doesn’t get considered.

This goes to show to what extent the top firms are willing to go to get the best talent on board. The talent selection process should reflect the vision, value and goals of the firm. The best available talent that helps the organisation to realize its vision should get hired. If individual biases are impacting the hiring process in a negative manner immediate corrective action needs to be taken.

Prakash Francis is a talent expert based in Bangalore.

 

Are you Good at Conducting Interviews?

“Nothing we do is more important than hiring and developing people. At the end of the day you bet on people, not on strategies.”   Larry Bossidi – GE

Interviewing is a skill that needs to be mastered. You can get the most from the interview by carefully planning in advance what you want to learn from candidates as well as what they will need to learn from you.

Each interview needs to be in a positive frame of mind remembering that, as a prospective employer, you are also a salesperson for your firm and the position you want to fill. As you evaluate the candidate, he is also evaluating the position and you as a potential employer. Remember your behavior during this interview reflects directly on you and the firm.

Here are a six tips to have an effective interview.

Be Prepared

To start with be prepared with a list of questions. Depending on the position it is good to take the help of a subject matter expert to decide on what you want to ask the candidate.

The questions need to be a mix of open ended, behavioural and yes and no times. The objective being to evaluate the best fit from among the probables. The questions need to be structured based on the type of behavioural competence expected of the candidate. For instance to check his ability to handle stress – you could ask “What is the most stressful situation you have found yourself in at work? How did you handle it?”. To check attention to detail – “tell me about a time when you were confused by a customers request. What steps did you take to clarify things?”

Go through the resume

It is never a good idea to open the resume for the first time after the interview has started. Go through it in beforehand and also check his/her linkedin profile. Possibly you could scan the recommendations section and see what his/her colleagues have to say. This gives multiple reference points to evaluate the answers.

Follow up on the answers.

Devil is in the details. Having list of questions gives a broad direction to the interview but the real understanding of the candidates level of competence is in being able to ask specific questions based on the answers she provides. Being able to probe in an encouraging manner helps one to get a clear picture of the how well the candidate has performed a similar role in the past.

Take Detailed Notes

Jotting down as the candidate explains is key because a you will need it for reference and comparison with other candidates and b as you write down it helps to focus thoughts and you are able to frame better follow up questions for the candidate to process. It is important that you write in a legible handwriting or half your time will be spent deciphering what you have written. I mention this because when I started out in this line I used to scribble during interviews and later would be left scratching my head as to what I had written a few minutes ago. I have come a long way now.

Listen

As an interviewer your job is to listen to what the candidate has to say. Your job is to evaluate the candidate so you should be listening , most of the time. Let the candidate talk. That doesn’t mean the interviewer should not talk at all. Probably a quarter of the time should be good enough. You need to be able to explain the position, the job, and the company the culture, and answer any other pertinent questions the candidate might have. But the majority of the time needs to be spent evaluating what the candidate has to say.

Be Courteous

Sometimes the interviewers are in such a hurry to get the interview over that they right away jump into experience part. A little courtesy won’t do harm – unless you are planning on stressing the candidate for some reason. Even if that is the case it would be a good idea to mention as much towards the end of the interview. Coz, even the candidate is evaluating you, and good candidates have options. Unless you are Miranda Priestly ( Devil wears Prada) you don’t have to be rude.

Fullscreen-capture-8172012-22402-PM

There is a chasm that separates politeness and being chummy. However attractive or like-minded the candidate might be – suppress the urge to bridge that chasm. This is not the time to make friends. You are at an interview get on with the job.

In the modern workplace where knowledge is the most important resource the ability to assess a candidate and select the best fit can be crucial differentiator to the financial viability of a project or even of a firm. That is the reason why leading organisations place so much importance on the hiring process.

Prakash Francis is a Talent Expert based in Bangalore.

The 3 C’s of Employee Feedback

SHERYL SANDBERG quote

They say feedback is the breakfast of Champions.

I say for an employee it is also lunch, dinner and dessert.

Whether we realize it or not, we’re always giving or receiving feedback. Sometimes it’s explicit, like in a one-on-one meeting, or it’s implicit, through our tone of voice and body language. Whatever be its manner, performance feedback can either inspire, uplift, and motivate the recipient to do better or it could even lead to de-motivation, resentment and loss of morale.

Feedback is an organisational imperative. To improve one needs feedback, to grow one needs feedback, to know that they are on the right track one needs feedback. Feedback is the invisible guide rope that keeps the team on track towards the organisation goals.

Hence, the ability to give and receive feedback is a skill that needs to be honed. Developing proficiency in this area is essential to building good relationships with and inspiring your team to peak performance.

Constructive performance feedback hinges on the three C’s – Clarity, Consistency and Consideration. These three C’s together help to shape the behaviour of employees and to keep them aligned to the organisation purpose. Lets consider each.

Clarity

Bosses and managers avoid confrontation because they would rather have peace and harmony. As a result the tendency is to soften the edges of the feedback. The feedback – Karan always gives his best only allows Karan to walk away thinking that he is doing okay. The organisation doesn’t get any insight on his ability, contribution or potential.

If Karan is a high performer he is going to be frustrated. If he is a marginal performer he gets affirmed and his mediocrity is reinforced.

Instead a specific feedback would affirm Karan in areas he is doing well and help him precisely focus on areas he needs to improve on.

Considerate

Performance feedback is not an opportunity to get even. Be tough, not mean. When someone drops the ball at work and you have to give him or her feedback, resist the inclination to belittle the person. Focus on the behaviour not on the person.

Discuss the behaviour you witnessed without allotting causes. For example, you could say that the report you needed wasn’t done on time, but don’t assume it was because he is not interested in his job. Instead, talk about the impact of not receiving the report on time and how that affected others. Give him a chance to explain why it wasn’t completed at the deadline.

There is no one way to do a task. In our eagerness to give feedback are we limiting the creativity of the staff. Before giving someone feedback, check to make sure that your expectations are reasonable . Limiting your staff to do everything your way limits innovation, learning in your organization and robs you of the varied skills, experience and perspective of your employees.

Don’t lose sight of your purpose for offering that feedback: to improve the employee’s performance.When a negative feedback is inevitable , make sure to deliver your criticism in private. There’s nothing more humiliating than being criticized in front of your co-workers.

Understanding that every person deserves a modicum of respect is critical to the entire process.

Consistent

When I am happy I am effusive in praise, slow to criticize. When I am not happy I sting with my criticisms and am stingy with praise. That lack of consistency is felt by people who I work with and keeps them off balance. Keep your emotions outside the equation. Being aware of how I behave and how factors impact me is a good start to responding to opportunities for feedback in a consistent manner.

To these three C’s we can also add the fourth C which is Constant. The feedback needs to be part of the routine. Leaders, managers and supervisors need to be praising and critiquing everyday whether it is effort or outcome.

Based  on the way it is delivered feedback can be of two types – Informal & Formal –

Informal feedback is spontaneous and made on the spot when possible. The closer in time and space the behaviour is paired with the consequence , the stronger the connection.  There are different ways to do this. It can be as simple as a compliment (Hey Arun , nice job with the presentation) or  mild rebuke ( Nitin, need you here okay?)

Informal feedback needs to become part of the workplace culture. Its especially important for new employees as they learn the ropes of not only their new job but also the company. Givning feedback early and often leads to the employee getting shaped up and aligned much faster.

The power of informal feedback cannot be overstated. When people get quick feedback the damage mistakes is minimized leading to faster results.

Formal feedback is given regularly on a weekly monthly or quarterly basis. Too many times when someone is called in for a one on one its only for screw-ups. Eric Schmidt the ex-CEO of Google shares an example where an engineer had shown exemplary performance so Eric decided to call him to his room personally. The engineer came in white and ashen faced and asked – “Have I done anything wrong?”. At Novel the culture was that if the CEO calls you for a one on one – it was to get fired.

Positive or helpful feedback makes sure the person knows what went right and what went wrong and points them in the right direction.

To sum-up, feedback is a crucial organisational tool. The satisfaction you gain from watching your team work together like a well-oiled machine will make the effort expended on your regular feedback sessions entirely worthwhile.

Prakash Francis is a Talent expert based in Bangalore.

 

Employee : Are you Too Nice?

Two Roads
TWO ROADS IN A WOOD

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,

And sorry I could not travel both…

…. I took the one not too nice,

And that has made all the difference.

Robert Frost (modified)

Have you been trying to be a nice person at work? Have all your attempts at being nice made you feel miserable? Perhaps you might consider being “polite” instead. This subtle shift can make all the difference to your future.

Being Nice has its pluses. Nice people are an asset to the organisation. They are well liked and are fun to have around. They are accommodating, helpful and Easy to work with. But Too often we find the nice employee gets passed up for promotions.

Does that surprise you?

Russ Edelman in his book Nice Guys can get the Corner office Says that Being too nice impedes career growth. According to him Nice people are so caught up in pleasing others and getting others approval that they don’t stand up for themselves. If you are a nice person, which most of us are, this insight can hurt.

Right from a very young age we are taught not to fight, not to confront, not to be blunt in voicing our opinions, not to hurt others. We are taught to be sensitive to the people around us. That is a very good thing. Thanks to this grooming we are tuned into other people’s feelings being careful not to cause them any kind of discomfort. In the process some of us overlook our own discomfort. And, in a work place this kind of orientation can at times lead us astray.

For instance it can promote conflict avoidance when practical solutions need to be ironed out by confronting the problem. Avoiding Face – offs at all cost leads to a refusal to address important disagreements in a straightforward manner which would help in improving performance.

Being nice is good but there is a point beyond which the rules of diminishing returns take over. If we were to plot the relationship between being Nice and performance it would be an inverted U. Beyond a point being nice becomes a problem.

 

inverted U

  • In trying to be Nice people suppress their view points to go with the flow even if they are strongly opposed to the view. The organisation misses out on valuable inputs and eventually suffers.
  • Out of deference to others nice people end up saying yes to everything and get taken advantage of.
  • Nice people feel awkward in accepting their rightful credit. A nice person believes he is being humble but not valuing your own work has its pitfalls. You miss out on your rightful credit and the just rewards.

To succeed at Work and avoid these eventualities there is one primary tenet which  people having a “Nice Guy” syndrome need to keep in mind.

  • Business is competitive. It is a place where people come together to work and they also compete. “Competition” is an intrinsic part of business. Performance counts. There will be winners and there will be losers. We need to decide with which crowd we might want to throw our lot in.

At the workplace the urge to be Nice needs to be balanced with the requirements of achieving results both individual and organisational. Nice people need to realize the importance of speaking up when they perceive that actions are not taking them towards agreed upon goals. Working in an organisation means times when we work with compromises, it involves mutual give and take. But win-win on paper should also be win-win in reality , Nice types should not allow themselves to be shortchanged.

So how do we move away from this self-defeating tendency ?

To start with it requires a mental shift from “nice” to “polite”.  That means we stay kind and considerate to our office colleagues but are clear about our boundaries. It means we are do not hesitate to speak up.

This mental shift would not be easy for the Nice and sensitive souls but it can be done. It will require practice. Here is how –

Know what you want. Have a clarity on your goals. This will ensure that you get to prioritize your results over others needs and requests. Getting clarity about your goals and internalizing the same would take time. But it will help in setting your boundaries.

Acknowledge Anxiety. When you anticipate others discomfort you might turn anxious. Acknowledge the anxiety and Let it be. Face your fears and move on.

Fake it till you make it: As Sheryl Sandberg the COO of Facebook in her book LeanIn says – sometimes you can’t wait for everything to be feel right. You might not feel confident but Just go ahead and fake it. Fake assertiveness speak up even if you don’t feel like it. See what happens.

If being Too Nice is an issue that is affecting your work it would need more attention. Start reading on this topic and enroll for workshops on assertiveness training. You could even get a coach to help you out.

_____________________________________________________________________________

The difference is too nice – where ends the Virtue, and begins the vice.

Alexander Pope

Prakash Francis is a Talent expert based in Bangalore. 

 

 

Interview: How not to Suck when asked “Do You Have any Questions”

6a0133f30ae399970b014e88179ee5970d-piTowards the end of interviews it is the norm for the interviewer to ask “Do you have any questions?”. The common response from candidates is a “ No, not right now” or something to that effect.

Per-se there doesn’t seem to be anything wrong with that answer. It seems to be polite, courteous and modest. All good traits to display.

But think about it, why wouldn’t you have any questions?.

You will spend a chunk of your waking time at this place if things work out. Would’nt it be good to have complete clarity on what you will be doing, how you will be doing and maybe even why?

It is an opportunity. Take it.

So, lets get into the details of the Why, What and How to respond to the query “ Do you have any questions”

Lets start with Why?

Why you should have questions to Ask? The benefits are multiple, and the three most important ones are –

  1. These questions help to build clarity on your role, the company, and your boss.Interview is a 2 way process. As you are being interviewed you have an opportunity to evaluate the company environment, and the work. These questions will help you do just and put you in a position to take a more informed decision.
  2. Building rapport with the interviewer is a major objective for any candidate. Rapport happens with engaging conversations and the right questions asked sincerely are the lubricants to ensure a smooth conversation.
  3. The third point is a by-product. Relevant questions will mark you out as a well-prepared and keen candidate, who has done his homework.

Those are the 3 key reasons as to why you should use the opportunity to Ask. Now lets move on to the what?.

What to Ask?

Once there is clarity about the objective of asking questions – deciding on what to ask becomes simple. These questions fall into 3 broad categories

  • Role related.
    • Ask questions to get clarity about the role in case there are areas that you feel have not been thoroughly covered in the earlier part of interview. Sample questions could be –
      • Can you share more about the day to day responsibilities of the position?
      • If I am hired, what would be expected of me in the first 90 days? ..
  • Culture related.
    • We spend a majority of our waking hours at work. You are more likely to enjoy your time at the workplace if you fit into the workculture. You are likely to develop better relationships and be more productive at work. A few sample questions are –
    • Can you share your thoughts about the company culture?
    • What is the culture like?
    • What do you enjoy most about working here?
  • Boss/hiring manager related
    • These would be questions relating to your prospective Boss’s working style, how does he prefer his reports whether email or face to face, or phone. How often does he prefer being reported to. Is he a micromanager or a hands-off chief . A straightforward question to ask would be –
    • How would you describe your working style?

And as he responds you could ask questions to probe further.

These are just a few sample questions to ask, they are not an exhaustive list. You will find enough resources on line which provide such lists. The thing is that with a clear understanding of why you are asking – the what to Ask becomes easy. Infact the best questions come to you as you answer the questions the interviewer asks. So when a question pops up, jot it down in a pad to ask at the end.

What not to Ask?

Just like there are questions that are good to ask, there are also questions to avoid asking. This would be –

  • Question relating to Personal topics, family or last working assignment.
  • Queries about happy hours, non- work activities, lunch and vacation times.
  • Salary is a topic which is best left to the interviewer to bring up.
  • Filler questions. Avoid asking questions for which you can get the response by Googling.
  • Lastly avoid too many questions. And what is too many? If the interviewer is getting restless or is subtly giving indications of the interview being, take the hint. At best 2-3 well thought out questions should be good enough.

That brings us to the How?.

How to Ask?

Let the questions be open ended. For example you could phrase the questions as .. “Can you tell me about …?, “How would you describe ….?. Framing the question in such a manner makes it easier to probe further, thus opening up the conversation. Avoid yes and no questions.

Further, open ended questions set you up for follow up questions. Based on the interviewers response these help you to dig deeper. Follow-up questions give us greater insight, letting us form a clear opinion.

A key aspect about asking questions is waiting for response. A thing to remember is that it is not just about asking questions it is about building conversations. Let the interviewer take his time in responding. Don’t interject or try to fill in the silence in anyway. Get comfortable with silences. And don’t interrupt when the interviewer is speaking. For one it interrupts his train of thought and the other it is disrespectful. Not quite your objective.  deer-in-headlights

Moral of the story is when asked “Do you have any Questions” – don’t be like a dear caught in the headlights. Be prepared with a list and ask 2 to 3 relevant questions. Art of the Ask is in engaging the other person in this case the interviewer. It is about building rapport and getting clarity.

Prakash Francis is a Talent Acquisition expert based in Bangalore.

Interview Question:What is your greatest Weakness?

I have come to learn there is a virtuous cycle to transparency and a very vicious cycle of obfuscation.

Jeff Weiner (CEO Linkedin) 

The question “what is your greatest weakness” continues to be one that stresses and stumps candidates. Sort of putting them between the devil and the deep blue sea. On the one hand you do not want to appear insincere, on the other you are not in a position to highlight something that could be red flag for the interviewer.Strengths and Weaknesses - Internal Part of a SWOT Analysis

You might wonder why ask such a question – and make candidates uncomfortable?

The reason is simple. It is to find out how aware you are about your weaknesses and strengths. Further, it gives an indication about how open you might be to receive some constructive feedback. This question in a way helps in developing clarity about your fit for the role.

There are multiple ways to handle this question and the online sources have a number of them listed out. But most of the listed advice is cute to say the least. One often quoted suggestion is to turn a strength into a weakness – I am a perfectionist. The problem is that the interviewer is likely to have read the same blogs, and he is going to know where you are coming from. This kind of response makes you appear evasive, and raises a red flag on your honesty.

Instead consider scenario shared below. Note how this candidate tackles the question in an open, transparent manner.

Interviewer: Ravi, can you tell us about your greatest weakness?

Ravi(candidate) : Sir, I assume you mean with respect to the job I am interviewing for.  

Interviewer: Yes, You are right.

Ravi: I feel I need to work on my organizing ability and productivity. Let me explain. I have a good record at my work so far. I have consistently achieved or surpassed the numbers and have been commended for the same. I have excellent ability to approach and persuade prospects and clients. I am good at asking questions and am good at follow-up. But where I fall short is in not being completely organised. I can be better at managing my time and in organizing myself in a manner that I my productivity improves and I am able to achieve much more. 

Interviewer: Mr. Ravi, does that mean you are saying that you are not productive enough.

Ravi: No that is not what I am saying. What I am saying is that with my existing skills I am good on the job considering my overall performance – but I can do a lot more. But to move ahead in my career –I need to work on my ability to organize myself, so that I can handle greater responsibilities with ease.

Interviewer: If you are good on the job and that is shown by your performance results that means it is your strength. We would like to see an example of your failing.

Ravi: I see where you are getting at. But thing is that I do not like to fail so I try to anticipate such situations and prepare myself accordingly. Based on self evaluation I realize that – if I do not work on my skills of organizing I will have challenges while taking up greater responsibilities and work loads. Hence I am preparing myself accordingly – by reading books on the topic and enrolling for courses.

I hope I have answered to your satisfaction , I would appreciate if you could share your thoughts on areas that I could improve upon.

This is one way to handle the question. Have a frank discussion about your weaknesses.Inability to stay organized is a weakness – yet it is a weakness a number of candidates struggle with especially in the early years. The other thing is that the candidate is open about how he is tackling the situation and his keenness to improve himself.

This answer displays

  1. the candidates thought clarity,
  2. Self awareness
  3. Willingness to work on himself.

All attributes of a positive, career focused candidate.

The writer is a Talent Acquisition Expert based in Bangalore.