Jack Hammer CEO, Debbie Goodman-Bhyat, recently spoke to Cape Talk’s Koketso Sachane on the topic of interviews, especially that pesky “what are your weaknesses?” question!
Koketso: Such a silly question, what are your weaknesses? “Admitting I have any”. That is what Barbara says on the WhatsApp line. And that is what we are talking to Debbie Goodman-Bhyat about, who is the CEO of Jack Hammer Executive Headhunters. Hello Debbie, thank you for making time to speak to us this afternoon. Some describe it as a silly question but it’s a question that people are asked in interviews. I must be honest I haven’t had a lot of interviews in my life so it’s a question I can’t imagine has come up before for me. How does one even start to tackle this question?
Debbie: Absolutely! What are your weaknesses? What are your strengths? They are absolutely utterly predictable questions that are likely to come up in almost any interview. And they are the kind of thing that one can prepare for because they are expected. I think the real issue is to ask yourself why your interviewer actually asks it in the first place. And it really is around trying to understand whether an individual; whether interviewee is somewhat self-aware. Unfortunately what people do is they do not want to look bad, so they push things and they often make their weaknesses sound like strengths with things like, “You know I am a perfectionist so that gets in the way sometimes” or “I can be impatient when things don’t go as fast as I would like” and they’re wanting to sound like they don’t really have any terrible weaknesses, but those kinds of rehearsed clichés unfortunately do not position oneself as a very authentic or self-aware person because as predictable as the question is, those answered are just as clichéd.
Koketso: Let’s talk about the relevance of the question itself, you’ve touched on it slightly, but one would argue that in an interview you want to know what’s the best that somebody can do, why do we need to focus on an area that is perceived to be negative because that could surely stand in the way of whether you like somebody or not and the job or not.
Debbie: So, really, the heart of it is less about the answer and more about whether somebody delivers it in a way that comes across as credible or authentic and portrays a level of self-awareness because by virtually raising something that they are aware of as something that trips them up from time-to-time. It makes the interviewer believe or consider that perhaps they’ve started to address that. Now if one can further support one’s answer around this particular thing, “when I am in an environment where I am starting to feel stupid for an example this is how I respond” one can then say that this person has reached the level of maturity and self-awareness, self-appreciation where they have actually being aware and they have started to address some of the things that stand in their way of being successful. That comes across in a very positive light for an interviewer. It’s less about what the detail is and more about the fact that are you are aware of it.
Koketso: Is there a way in which you can get the answer to reflect exactly what you just described because there might be somebody who is going for an interview and the question comes up how do I answer it because I can be extremely honest and find that it was a little bit too much so is there a way that one can coach it?
Debbie: I suppose there is a bit of that TMI or oversharing that some people get into. So one needs to think about the relative measurement balance so definitely don’t air dirty laundry as in if it’s portraying somebody else in a particularly bad light but I think the main point is to raise something that’s real and then support that with an example of where it;’s tripped you up and perhaps support that with an example of how you started to learn to address that. Now if you can really begin to do that in a real and authentic way, you’re going to pass with flying colours.
Koketso: A message from Graham said “I used this once and got the job, of I often take on more than I can handle” Graham was very honest but also “taking on more than I can handle” means I am more than willing to work, I do tend to or intend to work really hard even though I might overwhelm myself but its shows that I’ve got some level of work ethic.
Debbie: Ja, I mean “take on more than I could handle” honestly if I am interviewing somebody I am going to probe in a lot more detail and so will any other skilled interviewer. They will be asking questions that are going to say “so okay, what happens when you do that? Or why do you do that?” So if you sort of thumb suck some weakness that doesn’t have substance to support that you’re going to be called out on it in an interview where the interviewer has got a level of skill.
Koketso: Power play in interviews, Debbie, also impact on how an interview concludes or how as the interviewee you perform, is there a way that one can approach what would be quite intense power play. I mean I was sitting with somebody last night and who mentioned an uncomfortable situation in an interview and what I noted was that there was a lot of power play there. As the person could possibly determine your future I can easily get lost in the power behind it.
Debbie: Yes, there is always a power dynamic in any scenario where you have buyer and seller and so yes, one needs to be aware of the fact that if you want the job, if you’re looking for a job you’re in the somewhat lesser powered position but I think that also to bear in mind what is the value that you are going to be adding to this organisation, build yourself up and follow with confidence that you’d a credible employee that would be able to contribute something to an organisation, do your research, gain confidence in what your skills actually, be able to support that with real substantial credible examples, prepare well and yes, the dynamic is one where if you’re actively looking for a job you’re going to be in a somewhat lesser powered position but don’t let that intimidate you. Remember somebody if interviewing you because they are looking for somebody to fill a job that they need filled.
Koketso: The research that you mentioned just finally, the importance of knowing who is interviewing you, the business itself, what they stand for and what you see your position within that company and the role that you play. Not many people make that effort.
Debbie: These days access to information is just so simple, for a candidate to walk into an interview without having done proper homework is just really inexcusable. If somebody walks into my office and they haven’t done some research on the company…It’s not about do you know who I am, it’s about coming for an interview and all you need to do is go onto Google and you will be able to find information about anybody, about the company, about their challenges, about their growth objective, there is just so much information all over the show, to walk into an interview with only the most basic of job briefs that perhaps a recruiter has sent you, you’re setting yourself up to be in that inferior position from a power dynamic. Do your homework and just one other thing I do see sometimes that people try to play the flatter card, they’ve done a little bit of homework on me or the interviewer and they think that by trying to point out some kind of comment, common hobby or something that they’d read, I have often had people…. [Presenter disturbs with your dog Sam comment].
Debbie: When people spark phrases that come from my profile on my website it freaks me out and I can imagine that any interviewer will feel like that. Do your homework and make it your own. Be authentic, be real, be you and feel confident that there’s something that you’ve got that you can contribute to this new opportunity and this new environment.
Koketso: Don’t come into an interview sounding like a stalker.
Debbie: Yes, that’s so super creepy!