A Tough Question

I have recently been mentoring a couple of graduates that are interested in joining the financial services sector, on the buy-side. In our discussions around mock interviews both mentees asked me how to respond to what they thought was one of the tougher interview questions. 

“What would you say is your greatest weakness”?

Outside of the question being poorly formulated, I didn’t think anyone asked this type of question anymore. Yet, both confirmed that they had been asked this as well as; 

“Where do you see yourself in the next 5 years?”  

Interestingly for me, both mentees held an underlying belief that the interview process itself was a competitive environment, which of course the job market is; however it should not be a win-lose between the interviewee and the interviewer. Finding the right candidate is an obligation, yet representing the client in an appropriate way is equally important. 

The approach of a competitive interview often leads to standardised unauthentic answers which play out as hidden strengths. For example, my weakness is, I am a perfectionist and let me demonstrate…then their following practiced narrative supports their assertion. 

Whereas weakness can of course become a strength, that is obviously where experience and ongoing development of your skills come to bear. Yet trying to pretend we have no weakness or trying to convert the weaknesses to strengths, perhaps lacks authenticity and selfawareness. That of course to some may seem counter intuitive and naive, yet I find the process question is often where the build out starts.  For example, I recently had another mentee who hated making sales calls to prospective clients, yet it was an important element of her role.   Having read the job description she knew that calling is an essential skill, so no way will she say I absolutely hate calling clients. 

The interviewer may say that, “as part of this role it is critical that you call prospective clients, have you done this in the past?” She will of course say yes and so she should. Now some people will ask instead, do you like calling clients? This casts two lines; yes I love it!  Or no I hate it; however I actually believe that it is irrelevant let me explain. Managers often say, perhaps she doesn’t culturally fit into a sales environment and link it to some future unhappiness. Yet my experience says that questions and contexts seldom overlap in the  interviewee’s immediate response. They simply respond without elaboration in their answer, should I care that she hates it?  Is it for me to judge her, or am I testing competence. Therefore, the question is “how many calls do you normally make a day?” “Do you use a defined script or adjust with each client?” “What are your calling ratios to first appointments and then to sales?”  The question to actually whether they enjoy calling clients  is therefore technically irrelevant from a behavioural perspective. It is often not the calling that is the issue, it is the way they feel when clients resist them, a feeling of rejection and how they emotionally handle client resistance and how it impacts self-esteem.  Understanding whether they have built a process for dealing with rejection, is more important to success than whether she likes cold calling. 

Perhaps tough questions only exist where your narrative and experience are in direct conflict? Where you know that you have very limited experience, yet you want the job or even need the job, so like all actors we create a new persona. The authentic truth about ourselves and our ability to adapt and reframe our narratives, is perhaps where there is a fine line, when it comes to interviewing well. 

Role playing and practicing mock interviews is ultimately good practice and would always recommend my mentees run through an interview scenario’s with a personal mentor.

Go change your world, one step at a time.

Nick Savastano 

International Coach and Mentor &  Board Advisor to TARA.