Mr. President…What is Your Biggest Weakness?

Jason Pankow Interviewing, Jason Pankow, Recruiting

Look…my friends…I’m a political junkie.  I’ve been carefully watching both campaigns and all of the debates.  Politics and the Mariners: the two topics that will earn eye rolls from friends and family on a daily basis.

During the VP debates, Gwen Ifill asked Senator Biden and Governor Palin, “What is your Achilles heel?”Obamamccain080212

During the second Presidential debate, a town hall format, someone asked the question, “What don’t you know?”  (I have a feeling this person works in HR.)

Is it just me, or does this scream of the common, and pointless, interview question, “What is your biggest weakness?“:

“Senator Pankow…you are running for the most powerful position in the world.  Keep in mind, that your opponent will twist anything you say to make you sound like a complete fool who is out of touch with every single person in the United States.  With that said…What is your greatest weakness?”

“Well…I sometimes work too hard.  I don’t take vacations, even if it would involve Camp David.  I’m a perfectionist, so I sometimes become WAY too committed to making things work, whether it involves the economy, energy, or meeting a deadline.”

Seriously?  What do we expect from this question?  Do we expect an interview candidate to spill their guts and tell us, “Well…I crack under too much pressure, so I don’t like to work a minute over 40 hours a week, no matter what the circumstances are?”  Do we expect John McCain to say, “I have anger management issues,” or Barack Obama to say, “I’m pretty new to this whole thing and have an awful lot to learn?”

Still, so many of us expect a straight answer to this question.  We ask, we get the canned, “I work too hard” answer; we smile, nod, and wonder why we even still ask this question, as it’s just a waste of time.

There is a point to asking the question.  We’re not just trying to find out what someone sucks at.  We want to know how they have worked to fix it.  You want to know about their greatest weakness?  Ask them about a time when they missed a deadline.  Why did they miss it?  What was the result?  Ask them about a time when something they were responsible for failed.  What was the cause?  How did it impact the business?

Questions like these may not solidly identify a specific weakness, but you can certainly look for patterns.  They can also tell you how much responsibility the candidate put on themselves for the lack of success.  If the candidate passes blame, that should be a concern.  They also leave the door open for follow-up questions like, “What did you learn?” and “What will you do differently next time?”

So, “What is your Achilles heel?” doesn’t work too well, as we saw from the debates.  Unfortunately, since the moderators, so far, have done a crummy job following up to actually get an answer, I am not sure a question like, “Name something you have supported that resulted in a negative impact on the country,” would get us very far either.  They’ll still manage to only talk about how McCain is 4 more years of Bush and Obama doesn’t wear a flag pin.

Maybe Kris Dunn should moderate the next debate.