Something I’ve done a lot over the last few years is interview.
I don’t mean like I’m looking for a new gig.
I’m talking about interviewing people for open positions in our organization.
I’m not a pro but I’ve definitely improved from five years ago, when I took over the leadership of my department.
That first summer, one of the first items on my to-do list was to hire 4 new staff.
Did I mentioned I’d never hired anyone before?
Trial by fire!
Along the way, I’ve been through some memorable interviews.
A few where it was evident in the first 60 seconds that the person was not, how shall I say this…our person.
And, there have even been a few where I knew within the first 60 seconds that I’d be working with this person for years to come.
There are a few answers to questions that I’ll never forget.
In one interview, we asked the applicant to tell us about something she is excited about.
We use this question to get at one of our core values: hospitality.
The way in which a person describes what they are passionate about often reveals if they have good instincts for communicating with people who are uninitiated and uninformed.
In that particular interview, the applicant told us all about her passion for Loopy phone cases. She crushed that interview and is still on staff with us. In fact, the “Loopy” story is often used in interview trainings.
The “Loopy” story is one of my all-time favorite interview answers.
But, this post isn’t about my all-time favorite interview answers.
It’s about my all-time least favorite interview answers.
This post is about that interview answer that becomes an automatic “NO” for me, even if the person is insanely talented and gifted.
What is the answer?
Well, let’s start with the question.
The question goes something like this:
“What are your weaknesses?”
“What are some areas you need to grow in?”
“If we hired you, where would you need support and help?”
This is that part of the interview where things get awkward.
We’ve spent a solid 30 minutes talking about the person’s strengths and accomplishments and now the conversation can go one of two ways.
We can have an honest conversation or the person will say something like,
“A weakness. Wow. Having trouble thinking of one. I guess maybe…I work too hard?”
If the person doesn’t give a clear answer here, I’m out.
Because it reveals that they either aren’t aware of their weaknesses or that they aren’t teachable.
Both are disastrous to teams.
Self-awareness and teachability are critical to development and professional growth. They are also essential for collaboration.
I’m a big proponent of both.
So, I have two ideas for you in this post.
First, if you plan to interview for a job soon, spend some time thinking about and practicing how to describe your weaknesses.
An articulate answer that reveals both awareness and teachability is incredibly attractive for a hiring manager.
I would much rather hire a person who is a 7 out of 10 in the skills I am looking for, but knows where she is weak, than a 10 out of 10 in the skills I am looking for who is totally unaware or uninterested in her weaknesses.
The temptation for an interviewee is to be slightly dishonest about your short-comings in order to impress the people interviewing you.
I’m telling you, self-awareness and teachability are huge assets and they are in rare supply.
If you truly don’t know what your weaknesses are, well…ASK someone!
Invite people who care about you to gently explain what your weaknesses are.
And here’s the second idea: Once you become aware of your weaknesses, it’s time to put together a strategy to shore up your weaknesses.
Here is one of my weaknesses as a leader.
I am not good at all things maintenance, implementation, organization and administration.
I’m very aware that I am simply bad at these skills.
It’s not how I am wired.
These skills are not what God made me for.
I know it and the people I work for and with know it.
So what’s my strategy to shore up my weaknesses?
To be barely competent as an individual and fully competent as a team.
When I say barely competent, I mean C- grade.
In other words, on a personal level, I’m simply staying above a failing grade.
I meet deadlines, I answer emails within two business days, I fill out my timecard on time, etc. But, nothing I am doing is WOWing anyone.
Now, while I’m pulling a C- individual, my department should be getting an A grade because I’ve hired and empowered people to maintain, implement, organize and administrate around me.
I don’t have to do it, but we do.
There is freedom in this idea.
You have weaknesses.
Of course, you do! We all do.
Now, here’s the mistake so many leaders make:
You don’t have to get good at your weaknesses.
That is a waste of time.
You just need to be barely competent—above a failing grade, while someone else is good at your weaknesses.
Stop trying to be awesome at what you’ll never be awesome at and focus on being awesome at what God made you to be awesome at.
Now, let’s get practical.
You might be thinking, Ok, Aaron. Cool idea but I work at a small church and there isn’t budget to just be hiring people to shore up my weaknesses.
But, something that I’ve learned is that God has made some people to LOVE doing the work that I HATE doing.
It’s hard to believe that someone out there is really good at and loves doing what you struggle with but it is true!
There are people in your church or in your town who would work 10 hours or even volunteer their time to do some of the work that you are struggling with.
I have a personal assistant who manages my email inbox, schedules all my meetings, and basically does any sort of administrative work assigned to me.
She only devotes about 10 hours to this work. But, her work gifts me with 10 hours to focus on what God made me to do.
10 hours is a lot of time in a week!
That’s an extra 10 hours for sermon prep, meetings with volunteers, strategy or whatever.
So, what are your weaknesses?
I would encourage you to be aware and teachable.
If necessary, ask the right people to reveal your weaknesses to you.
And, for crying out loud if you are interviewing somewhere, be honest!
If the organization is turned off by your honesty, trust me…you don’t want to work there!
And, once you are aware of your weaknesses, create a strategy to be barely competent as an individual and fully competent as a team.
There is great freedom in releasing yourself from having to be awesome at what you’ll never be awesome at.