When someone asks you, in an interview, “What is your weakness?” do not give a bullshit answer. Saying something like, “I pay too much attention to detail” is actually a terrible answer for someone who is getting hired to do detail work. It means you have a deficit in the exact area you’re tying to get hired for.
The best answer to the question is when you tell a truthful answer, because it’s very unlikely will be hired for the thing you are most weak at doing. For example, my weakness is details. I hate them so much that I simply don’t think about them. And if you talk to me about them, I tune you out. I get hired to think big picture. I get hired to create big plans with big results. So no one cares that I don’t do details.
Someone who is a production artist could say his weakness is finance. When people start talking about budgets, he just wants to back to his cube and work on design. So what if he doesn’t like finance? He is not getting hired to do it.
If you don’t know your weakness, take a personality type quiz and the results will show you. Everyone has specific strengths and everyone has specific weaknesses. It’s pretty certain that if you are not clear on your weaknesses then you are not clear on your strengths, and your value at the office will be questionable.
I am writing this post from the Hampton Inn in Skokie, IL. It’s my favorite hotel when we have to stay overnight for my son’s cello lessons. I thought I’d wake up early and drive over to Wilmette to get his new cello. Because he’s outgrown his current cello, (which is 1/8 the size of the cello you are used to seeing). He is moving up to a 1/4 size.
But he’s not moving up because I forgot to pick up the cello yesterday and now the shop is closed. The teacher will be incredulous. We drive four hours each way to go to a cello lesson. We do it twice a week. Which means we are planning our whole lives around cello. So it seems absurd if we are thinking this much about cello that I would forget something so fundamental as getting the right instrument for the lesson.
This is what my real weakness is: mishandling hierarchies of information. Other people have the ability to sift through information faster and decide what is most important.
I don’t have shoes on to have breakfast at the hotel. It’s a buffet. Why does everyone wear shoes to breakfast? It doesn’t make sense to me. We are not going outside. It’s like eating at home. And I don’t put on shoes to eat at home. But there are about fifty people here and no on is wearing socks except me.
I have to work very very hard to look normal because I miss 90% of these moments when I’m doing something that makees sense to me but it’s totally out of step with everyone else. People do not like if you are clearly not following the rules of being with people. There are unwritten agreements that bother people if you don’t know them.
This is what a job interview is about: seeing if you know the unwritten agreements. Did you wear the right clothes for the interview? Do you know the social convention of looking at people when you talk to them? Is your hair in a style that is socially acceptable? Doing one of these things poorly is forgivable. People are forgiving. Doing a lot of them is too off-putting. People like you when you follow social rules.
I study social conventions obsessively because I know it’s the only way I’ll learn them. So when someone does something that I’ve studied, and they do it wrong, I know there is something wrong with them. There is very little variance in social skills, which is why Aspergers is a disorder.
I don’t know why, for instance, everyone is wearing shoes at breakfast, but I know it’s a disorder to not know why.
Maybe you think to yourself, “I am out of step with people all the time. That doesn’t mean I have Aspergers.”
If you think that, you’re right: no Aspergers. Because you know you’re out of step. People with Aspergers are also out of step, but have no awareness about it.
Fundamentally, I don’t care if I don’t follow rules. I don’t have that thing in my head that makes me scared of upsetting social conventions. My brain is good at other things. But it’s hard to tell people that. It’s hard to tell the cello teacher that I really do care so much about my son and his cello playing and I try very hard to remember things like the cello and the music. I know no one else would forget those two things on an eight hour car trip to a cello lesson. I want to tell her “Look, I don’t know left or right either. It’s all incredible. I know. No one can believe how dumb I am! I’m sorry! Please believe me that I’m trying!”
But in a job interview I know how to talk about my strengths and weaknesses. I am great with big picture. I can see the future clearly for ideas and for people. I know where ideas are changing the way we work, I know what people should do with their lives. I can see how everything works in the future but I can’t see what’s going on right now. The feelings people have right now are lost on me. The tasks that could be done in the next five minutes are infinite, most people can sort through them. I can’t.
Some days I think I should stop writing about work because when I write about work, people say, “I hate your workplace posts. I just want you to write about you.” But I love writing about work because the rules are so clear. It’s a game that’s organized by categories and you figure out your personality type and then you go to your category. Then you follow the rules to win by getting influence or power or both. And you get those by being honest with yourself about work, starting with the interview and the question about your weaknesses.