The Problems with Definitive Job Search Advice

February 21st, 2014

I saw reference to this article on Business Insider: Here’s The Best Way To Answer ‘What’s Your Greatest Weakness?’  Of course, the best way to answer this is to ditch the longstanding advice of taking a strength, then making it your faux weakness, then showing that it’s really a strength again.  Like:

I’m really bad at not finishing work until the job is done right.  Sometimes this means I have to stay late, or come in early, or work at home.  But in the end, I know that the job is done right the first time and won’t have to be done over by someone else.

Wow, if your greatest weakness is that, and you’ll save me money and frustration, why shouldn’t I hire you, right?

But the BI article says that is NOT the right answer.  The right answer is to “be honest about what you need to work on. Better yet, describe how you’ve already begun to address the issue.”

Here’s the problem with this “best way,” which sounds like it is definitive.  And therein lies the problem.

See, you can have a “best way” for some things, but when human nature is involved, all bets are off.  Maybe this is the best way for the person giving advice (he is a senior level HR person), but what if the hiring manager doesn’t want to really hear about your weaknesses, and he only asked the question because he googled “how to interview a job candidate” and found that question, which seems a little stupid to begin with?  He hasn’t been a part of this dumb game before, and your honest might shock him.

Well, this is kind of embarrassing.  I’m a kleptomaniac, and usually take office supplies from the desks of people I work with.  I am getting treatment though, and going to group therapy every Thursday night.

So maybe the seasoned interview veterans are ready for a change… all 30 of them, but pretty much every other human being that does a hiring interview isn’t emotionally ready to handle your weakness, or they don’t know that they are really supposed to want to know your honest issues.

Well, I have this problem I’d rather not discuss.  It is illegal, and I don’t want to put you in a position where you might need to report me.  But next week I’m going to get the help I need.  Don’t worry, it has nothing to do with my ability to do this job.

Are you, Mr. Interviewer, ready for that?

See, the problem I had with interviewing was that I went through an interviewing workshop.  After the workshop I had a chance to try out the tactics they explained… and found that I was grossly overtrained for the interview.  The interviewers were not prepared, or trained, and didn’t know what they were doing.  This was for a mid-level project manager job at a well-funded start-up (that eventually failed).  The main interviewer was an absolute butt-head egotistical and probably narcissist from Microsoft.  He flaunted the “I worked at Microsoft so I’m way more awesome than you’ll ever be” attitude.  He was also a liar.  He interviewed me, and he had two other project managers interview me.  When I asked them questions about the job they said “we didn’t even know there was an open position…”  Turns out, there wasn’t.

Like I said, maybe this new-fangled advice of “just be honest and lay it all out” is right… for about a dozen people.  But for the most part, because of the nuances of human beings doing the interviews, I would say there is not one best answer.  The best answer will vary based on type of organization (stuffed-shirt corporate vs. high-tech flip-flop-wearing casual), the person (traditional vs. millenial), the industry (government vs. automotive vs. chemicals), your level (executive vs. front-line burger flipper), etc.

This concept applies to a lot of things in the job search – how to network, how long your resume should be, how to use LinkedIn, how to create a killer 30 second elevator pitch, etc.  There are many clever pieces of advice out there, but you have to consider who you are and who your audience is before you take one tactic and apply it to everything.  That’s one reason why you’ll see resume writers and career coaches who specialize in a certain industry or with a certain client.  They know their stuff works for that industry or client, but not necessarily for other industries or clients.

And, in light of all that, maybe my advice above … doesn’t apply to you :p


2 responses to “The Problems with Definitive Job Search Advice”

  1. […] Yeah. That kind of hiring manager. The kind Jason Alba talks about here: […]

  2. Rich says:

    “My greatest weakness? It’s … well … [deep breath] … that when I hear an interview question that [clenching and unclenching of fists] clearly was just lifted from a “How to Interview a Candidate” article on the internet or something [grinding of teeth] I—I start to *lose control*, and it’s ALL I CAN DO to RESTRAIN MYSELF FROM JUMPING OVER THE DESK AND——YAAAAGGGHHH!!”