Rude VC: Before I hire you, tell me about your problems

Jun 19, 2012
Vote on Hacker News

I’ve noticed a typical recruiting occurence in the States sadly creeping into hiring processes in Europe, even among startups. I’m referring to the dreaded question during a job interview of: “What are your weaknesses?”

“Tell me about your weaknesses” is an interview question with which I’ve always struggled. Without a doubt, it is far less pleasant to answer than questions like “Tell me about your strengths” or even “What is your greatest failure?”

The failure question is actually not all that difficult. The key is to recount an incident of failure, ideally with business implications, package it into a concise story, and polish it off with a moral of the lessons you learned during the ordeal.

But answering the “Tell me your weaknesses” question, at least in a sincere manner, is trickier.

What gives recruiters the right to probe into my psyche and perform a psychiatrical examination during a job interview ? Isn’t this supposed to be a professional encounter about my qualifications for a prospective job posting, not a therapy session ? Especially during a down economy with high unemployment and bleak prospects in Europe, I almost wonder if the interviewer is embarking on a bit of a power trip.

There was one job interview I had in France several years back with a person whom I found increasingly irritating during the process. When my counterpart asked me, “What is your greatest weakness?” I responded with, “J’ai du mal à supporter les cons” (I don’t suffer fools very well). Needless to say, I wasn’t offered that job.

Unless you aspire to join the ranks of a large French group, typically found on the CAC40, with an imposing corporate culture whose core tenet snuffs out any thread of creativity, rebelliousness, or originality in order to keep all company robots employees marching in the same direction, I submit that the weakness question is inappropriate.

When you’re recruiting for your startup, particularly of the fast-growing high-tech variety which interests many readers of this blog, this question has no place in a job interview. On the contrary, as an entrepreneur, you need to favor practicality over behavioral interview theory. You should try to hire a diverse set of energetic people that will bring fresh and original thinking to your business. Often great genius is accompanied by a flip side of personality quirks which could be construed as weaknesses.

And in the meantime, for seekers of jobs in startups, if you encounter the weakness question you could seize the opportunity to demonstrate your personality with a bit of humor, responding to “What is your greatest weakness?” with answers like:

“My greatest weakness? Excessive humility!”

or

“How much time do we have… shall we conf call in my wife for this?”