“Constantly I am asked by the B-School interviews what my strengths and weaknesses are. And everyone tells me I am not supposed to be honest about my weaknesses. What is the point of asking this question? To see how creatively you lie??”
The Harvard MBA Says: I’m reminded of a Wall Street Journal article I read back in the 90s about the hyper-aggressive MBAs being churned out by business schools in China. When asked, “What are your weaknesses,” the student replies, “I am too ambitious and successful.”
Hint: That’s not the right answer to give.
I blame the educational system. From a young age, we’re taught that everyone and everything can be evaluated on a simple linear scale. A to F. 100 to 0. As a result, people believe that the goal of a job interview is to be flawless, to score 100% and get the job.
Nothing could be further from the truth. The truth is that hiring is less like an SAT and more like romantic matchmaking. There is no such thing as the perfect girlfriend, only the perfect girlfriend (or boyfriend) for you*.
* The notable exception here is Jessica Alba, who is the perfect girlfriend for everyone. Just kidding.
Everyone instinctively knows that there’s no single unified scale of romantic attractiveness–think of how many times you’ve heard someone say “she’s not my type” about a very attractive individual. It’s exactly the same for hiring.
Both you and the interviewer should be trying to figure out if you are the company’s type, and if the company is your type.
That’s why it’s important that interviewers ask about weaknesses, and that you provide an honest and thoughtful answer. If you abhor math, and the sight of Excel gives you hives, it’s probably not a good idea for Goldman Sachs to hire you. Conversely, it’s probably not a good idea for you to apply for a job there.
When asked about your weaknesses, the right answer is to truthfully mention the things that will help the interviewer figure out whether or not there’s a fit. Answers like, “I work too hard” simply don’t help. On the other hand, answers like “I’m lazy and dishonest” don’t help either, since no employer would be willing to hire someone with those traits.**
** With the possible exception of Congress. (rim shot)
Here are a few possible answers for you to consider:
- Mathematical aptitude
- Desire to work with people (especially clients)
- Preference for structure/flexibility
For a more in-depth look at some of these issues, I recommend reading the work of Marcus Buckingham. Here is my outline of his book, “The One Thing You Need To Know“.