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.



The Secret to a Great First Impression

People will forget what you said. People will forget what you did. But people will never forget how you made them feel.” Maya Angelou

First impressions are not about you!

They are about the person you are trying to engage with.

And as to the question  ” How to make a great First first impression?” the Best response is “Don’t try to impress.”

Engage the person and get interested in him/her.

Trying to impress will get you the opposite result of what you desire.

When we go to social events we come across some people who appear fake. These people are worried about impressing you rather than being genuinely interested in you. It is a turn-off.

On the other hand, what about people we do like. People whom we like to speak to, to engage with? What is it about these people that we get impressed with?

In my opinion, it has a lot to do with being natural, being comfortable in our own skin. Being genuine.

Broadly the traits that lead us to get impressed can be classified into two categories :

  1. Non Verbal
  2. Verbal

These two aspects form the microcosm of our impact on people when we meet them for the first time.

Non Verbal

The cornerstones of good Non-Verbal engagement are –


They say Eye contact begets eye contact. Typically people are comfortable in holding our gaze for 2-3 seconds but with mutual consent this gaze gets prolonged. Scientifically it is proven that there is a neurological connect, during good eye contact, ( activation of mirror neurons), which creates a bond. This ability to maintain a good eye contact has a huge impact on how we are perceived by others. Good eye contact paves the way for the next key factor of Non Verbal impact The smile.



The transition from an eye-contact to a smile takes just a few milli-seconds. First the eye contact , followed by a smile then perhaps an imperceptible nod. The smile here refers to a “genuine” smile. A smile that involves all the muscles around the mouth and the eye. Infact scientists even have a name for this smile , it is called the ” Duchenne” smile after the neurologist who goes by the same name.

Both eye contact and the smile do not involve a tactile touch. The next cornerstone of non Verbal engagement involves a physical touch, that is the Handshake.


The rules for a good handshake are simple. A firm clasp, a gentle shake and a confident stance. The duration would not be more than 3-4 seconds. Again it is based on mutual consent. More than 6-7 seconds and things can get weird. Mentioning your name during the handshake leads to better name retention.

These are the fundamentals for good non – verbal engagement and this entire routine (Eye-contact , Smile and Handshake)would take less than 10 seconds. These 10 seconds pave the way for the next stage which is the “Conversation”.

Conversations are the “Building Blocks” of a relationship. Infact they are the life blood of healthy relationships. Business or personal. While the Eye-contact , Smile and the Handshake help in creating the initial “impression” it is the actual conversations that will determine what impression you leave the person with.

Having a good engaging conversation is not about being witty, or in cracking jokes. If it comes naturally to you well and good. Else stay clear. Don’t try to be funny.

Engaging in conversations is as simple as showing genuine interest in what the other person has to say and in response, sharing your thoughts in a positive, non-intrusive manner. It is all about giving the other person the “Gift of your Attention”.

There is a ton of literature online about how to become a good conversationalist. The advice revolves around asking questions, active listening, nodding your head appropriately etc. Perfect advice no doubt. But if it doesn’t come naturally to you, don’t do it. People see through the fake stuff. Often we fall into the trap of showing these outward signs of listening to the person, while actually we are thinking about what to say next. We get in to an auto mode. That ultimately kills conversations.

The key to good memorable conversations is to stay true to yourself and be genuinely interested in the other person. It is about how you make the other person feel. Because that is what they are going to remember. Nothing is worse than a person realizing that he was speaking to a wall.

Incase you are not interested in what he/she has to say – politely dis-engage. Move onto the person you find interesting to talk to.

Best way to get better at conversations is to have more of them.

I am reminded of an old story of a wise man named Chidananda.

Chidananda was a great writer and once he was called to speak about writing to a bunch of college students. He went on stage and asked “How many of you really want to be writers”?

All hands went up.

“In that case” he said “ I suggest you all must go home and write”

With that he left.

So, if you want to genuinely engage with people for the first time or the nth time – meet more people and start having more conversations.

I do the same.

Prakash Francis is a Talent Acquisition Expert based in Bangalore.    




In a Rut

Do you feel like you are trapped , stuck in one place? Are your dreams getting un-stuck? Are you running and running and running only to stand still , maybe you are even sliding backwards.


What do you do when you find yourself in such a situation?

Do you start fantasizing about your dream vacation – that long desired trip to Malibu , Tahiti or Monaco?

Or perhaps you start working longer hours, working harder. Kicking screaming frantically flailing your arms throwing in all that you have got.Digging in, waiting out.

What if you have waited long. And, nothing has changed.

What then?

What should you do?

Should you try out a totally different track?


What would that be?

Why are’nt you taking that?

What is stopping you?




What is a Structured Interview?

Job Interview

In a structured job interview all the candidates are asked the same set of questions in the same order. This ensures that they are assessed on the same parameters, translating to a fair and objective assessment.

The flipside to this style of interviewing is that they may not elicit much information from the candidates.

Unstructured interviews on the other hand are conversations that follow promising lines of inquiry as they appear. You get to know more a lot more about the candidate this way, but it makes comparing the candidates difficult.

Which is the best bath? Depending upon the requirement it could be a either or neither. In my opinion the best path would probably the middle path. No i am not referring to the path showed by the Great Gautam Buddh.


What i mean is, stay flexible in your line of questioning – but have a core set of questions common for all the interviewees. By preparing these core questions in advance – you can be assured that all key points are covered.  While, the unstructured element of the interview opens the door to productive areas of enquiry which you may not have anticipated.



What is an employee’s most important need?

Self-fulfillment is the most important parameter for candidates considering a switch.

Gallup the global workplace monitor asked employees to indicate attributes they consider when deciding to change their jobs. 60% of a sample of US based employees ticked as most important –  the ability to do their  the best in the job. According to Gallup it effectively means that employees do their best when their roles are seamlessly integrated with their talent (the natural capacity for excellence), skills (what they can do) and knowledge (what they know).

Employees aspire to Self Fulfillment

It comes as no surprise that employees want to reach their full potential. Self actualization is the mantra – as Maslow stated.

For hiring managers the key takeaway from this survey would be to make it clear to candidates that the company values their strengths and their new role will help them to hone those talents, knowledge & skills.

Prakash Francis helps organisations in hiring , developing and engaging talent. He is based in Bangalore.

The Skill Paradox

What got you here won’t get you there.

Marshal  Goldsmith wrote a book on this topic to highlight the importance of letting go of the delusions of success. Typically this book was targeted at the Leaders and CEOS who were successful and who were under the belief that since they accomplished so much there way is the right way and things will straighten out to their favour. But that is not the case. Else we might not see such successful CEOs and the organisations they represent biting the dust. Think Paul Allen.

The Skill ParadoxBut my reason for writing this post is directed to the aam junta – the lesser mortals who make up for 90 % of the employed – the minions.

The queer fact is that the minions of today will turn out to be our future Leaders – some of them atleast.  I think we can say with a reasonable amount of assurance that some of the minions we will take up key roles – 5 years / 10 years down the line.

Hence the statement from Goldsmith – addressed to us minions

What got you here won’t get you there.

I like to call it the skills paradox. The skills that got you here won’t get you there.

As new entrants to the work force your skills in languages , technical know how and qualifications help you step through the door or break through the threshold. But, increasingly organisations are realising that Managerial roles call for a certain different set of skills. Which, you may choose to ignore at your own peril.

No doubt an organisations’ success depends on the individual skill levels of their employees. But, if those highly skilled and highly paid employees are not able to work in sync as a team – then the teams’ and by extension the organisations performance levels suffer. This is especially true for the manager. If the manager is unable to resonate with his team a lot can get forsaken. There are  umpteen instances where an exceptional performer gets promoted and we soon find the overall performance of the team nose dives.

The irony is that our educational curriculum on which over 15 of our learning years are spent, is geared towards developing our Intellectual Skills – memory and analysis. Almost negligible importance is given to building our social skills – communication, giving and taking respect, self awareness, self belief, etc. Life habits that build character are not touched upon. The reason could be that these skills are not easily measuarble. How do you measure discipline? Or for that matter your ability to negotiate? Tough .

So that gives rise to a situation where we have ultra smart, tech savvy students with data on their finger tips – aces at number crunching. But place them in a social setting – they break into a cold sweat. Promote such an individual Top Performer to a Managerial role and you are likely to see the whole team performance suffer

What are the abilities that separate a leader from an individual team player-

According to an article by the Guru of Emotional Intelligence Daniel Goleman – the five abilities that distinguish a good leader are

  • Self Awareness
  • Self Regulation
  • Motivation
  • Empathy
  • Social skills

Ironically – these are the very same skills that are not taught at school.

The good News is that leading organisations have woken up to the importance of interpersonal skills.

Over the past couple of decades the trend has been increasingly towards gearing up the employees with skills to work better in concert in the work place and helping them to improve their emotional quotient.   But still a not needs to be done to take these learnings to the grass roots.

Lets hope the coming years will see a speedy tapering of the skills Paradox.

Wishing you all Happy Holidays and Warm wishes for a Fantastic New Year!!

Workplace Relationships

Yesterday I was sitting with a few friends and the topic drifted to relationships at work. One of my friends, lets call him Prasad, mentioned that relationships at his office overtook performance. People who maintained good relationships with some key decision makers at his office managed to get away with huge bonuses at the end of the year(he comes from the Banking sector –so Bonuses are Huge).

Fact is that this is not only applicable in the Banking segment – it is the norm everywhere. In positions where performance of an individual can’t be pinned down to clearly measurable criteria – relationships take precedence in appraisals. Even in other positions like sales or Software development where the results are measurable – this might not have such a huge influence. Yet the ability to build and maintain relationships cannot be undermined.

Another friend who is in the sales line had this instance to share about the efficacy of building strong relationships.  It was one of the lean months and his collections fell drastically. He was facing intense pressure to show numbers. In desperate straits he approached one of his good clients and explained the situation to him. His client came to his help – made a cheque for 2 crores, off-course the whole thing was regularised later – with proper documentation.  But, my friend stressed that it was only his relationship with his client that helped him bail out of the tough situation.


Though my sympathies are with Prasad as I know him to be very sincere and puts 100% to his job, my vote goes to the approach of my Sales friend. By building strong relationships he has stacked the deck in his favour.

My take on this situation is whatever position you be in – give 100% to your work but give an additional 25% to building and maintaining relationships at work and not only with your superiors.

So how does workplace relationships help us?

Well a simple reason is that without decent relationships the work itself can get boring. A friendly work environment will keep everyone happy to stick around.

Good workplace relationships does not mean having to give in to every demand from your co- workers. You have the choice how to balance the two demands – your family and that of your work.

The key to maintaining good work relationships lie in a few simple techniques.

a)     Maintain a Cordial Tone with all peers, superiors & subordinates

b)     Flexible Nature

c)      Offer to help

Cordial Tone : It is quite easy to maintain more than just a cordial tone with people whom  you like. The challenge is to maintain cordial relationships with people whom you don’t like. And invariably there will be people at office whom you don’t particularly look forward to meet. If you are able to master this ability you are half way to cementing your place in your office team. Combine it with good listening skills and you will become the go to guy for any office related advice.   

Stay Flexible

Stay flexible to the demands of your workplace, even if they appear to be unreasonable. Be willing to let go of your point of you at times and go with the team decision. This is a difficult advice to take. But pays huge dividends in terms of getting acceptance as a team player. Sticking to your guns over any issue or getting people to enrol to your point of view – doesn’t pass the team spirit test.

Offer to Help

Offer to help others when you have free time and you see they are overwhelmed or bogged down. Ask for help when you need it too. By admitting that you don’t know all the answers and need the expertise or support of your co-workers, you establish a foundation on which you can build respect, one of the main ingredients for good relationships. A co-worker asking for help when it is time to leave or the boss dumping something on Friday evening. Offering to be of help is one thing but being able to help when the other person needs you – really boosts up your ratings as a Mr dependable.

Whatever be the industry you are in – you are likely to be working with people. To be able to work easily with a range of people with different temperaments and different socio –cultural backgrounds will be a great asset to develop. 

Do you have any workplace stories to share – whether on relationships or otherwise. Mail me –