It’s that time of the year. Job sites are loaded with postings. Search committees are working their way through hundreds of resumes. And job candidates are weaving through day-long on-campus interviews.
It’s an important process. We get such a short time with candidates to determine whether they’re a fit for our office and campus culture.
Sitting on another search committee myself has given me plenty of time to reflect on the process. And if there’s one thing I would change, it’s this: The weakness question.
It’s slowly disappearing, but given long enough in any interview, it will surface. It’s a simple concept: Tell us your strengths and weaknesses (Or, for the more political, your growth areas).
But that one question can trip up both the candidate and the committee.
In their book Switch, Dan and Chip Heath talk about our human tendency to remember negatives over positives. Looking at 24 of the most common emotion words in the English language, only six are positive. When a psychologist looked at every English emotion word he could find (558 of them), he found that 62 percent were negative verses 38 percent positive. Negative emotions stick to us more easily. So for the interviewers, there’s a chance that we’ll see a great person who is a perfect fit for the job and our team, but we’ll walk out focusing on concerns about how they will “manage their time” just because it’s the first thing they mentioned as a growth area.
Candidates aren’t in a better position. They don’t want to be seen in a bad light, so they’re less likely to share that “real” things they’re working on. But they have to answer, so we end up getting inauthentic or vague responses from potentially strong, relationally aware people.
What type of weakness are we hoping to learn about? A character flaw? A task in which the candidate doesn’t excel? A task they don’t enjoy?
Usually, our weaknesses are shadows of our strengths. So if you’re a big-picture person who loves new projects and the growing edge of an organization, you’re probably going to be less energized by the day-to-day detail work. It’s doable, but too much administrative work will begin to drain your energy.
For the most part, that’s what we want. We want to make sure candidates are aware of their strengths, they’re using them, they’re aware of the challenges those strengths bring, and they’re able to manage those challenges.
Maybe instead of “What are your weaknesses,” we could start asking how they are managing the areas in which they struggle, or what areas of this job are least likely to energize them and how will they work within those areas.
So that’s my interview observation. What are yours? Any question we need to drop in the interview process? Any questions we need to ask more often?
Jon Sampson is a Program Coordinator and Residence Director at Azusa Pacific University.