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Interview Topics: Self Assessment and Self Correction

PostPosted: Tue Jul 05, 2016 10:57 am
by Dustin Levy
We’ve all met people who can be rude, insensitive, and out of touch with others’ feelings. Some of these people are jerks; others are behaving like jerks without even knowing it. We also know people who seem to repeat the same mistakes over and over again. None of us would want to spend significant time at work with the people described above. What they lack are two important and complementary skills: self assessment and self correction.

Regardless of your ability, you will make mistakes, and the best employees don’t need to be told when they’ve made one. They identify the mistake and initiate the process of correcting it, either by changing the way they do things or by asking for help. Few well-intentioned people get fired for a mistake, rather, they get fired for repeatedly making similar mistakes without taking ownership for correcting them.

Here are some interview questions and tactics that I’ve used and seen used to assess a candidates’ ability to self assess and self correct. You’ll want to be prepared for these, or else you may not like the answers that come out of your mouth.

1. Tell me about some of your weaknesses. First of all, you must answer the question. If you don’t offer a weakness, that’s a red flag that you lack humility and the ability to self assess. On the other hand, this is not the time to share a weakness that you expect may be a prerequisite for the job. My suggestion is to prepare to speak of at least 3 weaknesses that are honest but will not incriminate you. For example, you may not want to include your short temper on your top 3 list. Also be sure to talk about how you are actively working to fix these weaknesses as that will demonstrate your ability to close the loop between self assessment and self correction.

2. Tell me about a time you failed at something. This one takes a lot of humility to answer, but if you can answer it and at the same time describe how you learned from the failure, you’ll build a lot of credibility with the interviewer. Like the previous question, the inability to admit to a failure will be a red flag. Also, do your best to avoid placing blame on others for the failure and instead take the accountability yourself. Those who are willing and able to shoulder the blame and share the credit often become the best team players in the places they work.

3. Where do you want to be in 5 years? A classic question and somewhat annoying one to answer when all you’re worried about is getting your foot in the door. The key to your answer is that it be realistic. If your vision far exceeds what’s reasonably possible (like going from entry-level to the VP in just 5 years), then you are demonstrating a lack of ability to assess where you really stand in the pecking order. Two schools of thought on how to answer this one – you can be abstract and just talk about the sorts of things you’d like to be doing (e.g., leading a team, making key decisions, etc.) or you can be very specific and give a job title that you want. Just make sure that getting that title is realistic within the time frame.

4. What skill or behavior are you working to improve right now? No matter how experienced we become, we should always be working on some type of personal improvement. The fact that you can offer the interviewer an example of something you’re working to improve about yourself means you have the awareness and ability to self correct, which means you’ll be an employee who improves continuously and often without intervention from their supervisor.

Finally, though I’ve presented the questions above in an interviewing context, they are important questions to keep asking yourself throughout your career development. Always be sure to keep inventory on where you stand today, both in terms of your strengths and weaknesses, and how well you are progressing toward meeting your longer-term career goals. If you’re doing that continuously, you’ll naturally do well in the interview setting because you’ll have honest and credible answers that demonstrate a high level of self awareness that employers will value.

Re: Interview Topics: Self Assessment and Self Correction

PostPosted: Tue Jul 05, 2016 3:54 pm
by Dave Jensen
Thanks Dustin. As always, this is a first class post with great advice.

Some of my own comments . . . These interview questions would be considered "old school" by most H/R people, who would counsel the manager to go after something more behavioral, but in reality, Dustin's questions are those THAT GET ASKED. So, while we can write here about a bevy of "new wave" HR questions, those of the old-school variety are clearly darn important because they still work. The "Where do you want to be in 5 years?" question is an antique, but as Dustin says, it still tells the interviewer something about how realistic you are. I'd personally suggest you avoid the very specific title-headcount kinds of responses, and just talk in general about the kinds of activities you'd like to have on your plate.

I really like Dustin's last question. Companies like to hire "life long learners." If you go in with an attitude that you know it all right now, than you'll never get hired. Do an honest self-assessment, as Dustin suggests, and come back with an area that you are still working on improving, and also a set of new skills that you're trying to develop. If you give a personal area that you are working on, let's say "skills in delegation", than it's fine to add that you are also working on some technical skill area, "as well as going after a bit of further refinement in my large scale cell culture techniques."

Thanks Dustin.

Dave Jensen, Moderator

Re: Interview Topics: Self Assessment and Self Correction

PostPosted: Tue Jul 05, 2016 6:56 pm
by Rich Lemert
I agree with Dustin that you need to be prepared for these questions because someone will ask them at some point. I also agree that you will need to address the questions if they do arise, but not necessarily that you need to answer them. (There's at least one recruiter on LinkedIn, Liz Ryan, that agrees.)

1) Tell me about your weaknesses. Answering this question requires you to either talk about something irrelevant or to give the interviewer a reason to not hire you. I would acknowledge that yes, there are many things that I could do better, but I prefer to "build on my strengths". If you find that I seem to be missing a skill needed for this job, let me know so we can consider how I might address the issue.

(You can find Liz Ryan's advice for this question here: ... 7b0ded5519 )

2) Tell me about a time you failed at something. When Neal DeGrasse Tyson was on "Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me", he only answered one of the three questions he was asked correctly. He did not consider that a failure, though, because it meant that he learned two new things. The important part of this question is not the failure, but your ability to learn from things that didn't necessarily succeed. Otherwise, Dustin's advice to avoid blaming others is spot on.

3) Where do you want to be in 5 years? This question, while not really great for an experienced person seeking a new job, is really unfair to the typical entry-level person that generally comes here for advice. They don't know the typical career path - either in that field or in that company, so they really don't have a clue where they'll be. A better answer, in my opinion, is to say that your primary focus in this position will be learning how to fulfill its responsibilities to the best of your ability, but that while doing so you will be evaluating opportunities for growth as they arise.

4) What skill or behavior are you working to improve right now? I've never heard of anyone asking this question, but it's a great question and the only one I think is all that legitimate. For one thing, it focuses on something positive (how you're trying to improve yourself), whereas the first two questions in particular focus on a negative.

On a side note, I really like Liz Ryan's columns, primarily because she reminds job hunters that the interview process is a two-way communication. Sure, the company is looking to see how well you fit with them, but you are also checking them out. You need to be respectful of the interviewer, but you want to have a conversation with the interviewer, not submit to an interrogation.

Re: Interview Topics: Self Assessment and Self Correction

PostPosted: Tue Jul 05, 2016 8:39 pm
by Dustin Levy

I completely agree with your distinction between addressing the questions instead of answering them, very well said. A skilled respondent will quickly reframe these questions and get back to a positive tone. For example, "I used to be weak in this area, but I did this, this, and that to improve and now I consider it a strength."

I use some of these questions when interviewing others (guess I'm old school), but I care less about the actual response and more about the respondent's body language and poise, particularly if I probe with a follow-up question such as "tell me about a case where that weakness created a negative impact on others around you" (definitely one to address and not answer).

Re: Interview Topics: Self Assessment and Self Correction

PostPosted: Wed Jul 06, 2016 4:55 am
by D.X.
In general I agree with Dustin's comments and advise- but also agree with Dave on the point of antique questions that are still asked.

For me at my level of experience - I generally take these questions I
as a view into the interviewers mindset - in general if I get these my first impression of the interviewer is that they are giant idiots I don't want to bother with. That's the first so then already there is a hurdle they have to cross with me. My second impression is that it's the opportunity for me to assess if how much I want to play the interview game as it gives me insights into employer / hiring manager mindsets. The 5 year question is one where I am tempted to close the interview because I knew right away the hiring manager is maybe a none change management experienced. At least that's my first impression from there I want to see where the conversation goes. I can tell right away on how they response to my response. That's why I do like these questions because this is where I get to see if this is a hiring manager or company I want to work for. And this one I admit is personal to me - I have had so much change in my life that personally I am intolerant to those ith little change experience - I have rejected CVs of folks who have spent 7 or more years in one company - so it's a personal one to me as my disclosure.

The other one is the weakness one - yes one can spin it but for me it's the opportunity to state what my weakness is combined with a follow on statement that I can give a damn about fixing it and if the job wants me to work in an area that is a weakness of mine then thanks but no thanks ... Go away. It's my opp to put down a clear no go area if necessary. This question gives you insight into the expectation if the job, you you can ask back after you've answered what the expectation is etc. For me, it's administrative tasks to include deep level day to day budgeting. I am bad at that stuff mainly due to interests - so hells no I want a job where there is an expectation that I am strong here because it translates to most of my time doing this with probably no finance (controller) and administrative assistant - so at that point... Keep your job let's end the interview. I've ended interviews quiet a few times on the basis if these questions, but I do it nicely, ie " I think we have a mis alignment of expectations.. Would you agree?" If I get there that question is rhetorical - I have taken my decision - I'm just trying to close the interview nicely. Now this is how I am 80 percent if the time - if I think it's a job I could be interesting deeply -20 percent , I'll play to a certain extent but if it gets to a point to what I'm not willing to do then I get there. I rather transparency. Yes with experience these questions are easy to circle around. And this one in particular - it's ok to acknowledge weakness nothing wrong - it's ok to have blind spots - but let's be clear on the mix of focused strengths and risks for blind spots - and that's the conversation I want to have.

So point is, use these questions as your gauge to see if you want the job - ask clarifying questions just don't answer them without clarifying open question. And don't take my approach - I'm just speaking from a more experienced view - best if you play the game. When it comes to these questions.


Re: Interview Topics: Self Assessment and Self Correction

PostPosted: Wed Jul 06, 2016 9:19 am
by Dick Woodward
Just a cute look at the "strengths and weaknesses" question...