As I promised yesterday, today’s post will be all about the question ‘What is Your Biggest Weakness?’ Jeremiah Peschka threw down the challenge at me, the challenge coming to him by way of Brent Ozar who himself was tagged by David Stein. This is starting to remind me a bit of the episode of Futurama where Fry becomes King by drinking the previous King, which has my all time favorite quote, “It’s just like the story of the grasshopper and the octopus. All year long the grasshopper kept burying acorns for winter while the octopus mooched off his girlfriend and watched TV. Then the winter came, and the grasshopper died, and the octopus ate all his acorns and also he got a race car. Is any of this getting through to you?”
The question being posed though is What is Your Biggest Weakness? now before I answer I would like to examine this question and its prominence in hiring people. Frankly this question is bullshit, you may as well ask someone any of the following because they are about the same.
- How well can you lie to me?
- Are you ready to debase yourself for the promise of money?
- I think you are fucking stupid!*
*Not technically a question
The question is a social contract we have all entered to for reasons unknown, it is like the dance we do when someone sneezes.
- Sneezer: *sneezes*
- Sneezee: Bless you
- Sneezer: Thank you
- Sneezee: You’re welcome
Four steps to every sneeze, why, because we are afraid our souls are going to shoot out of our nose. No, now it has just become ingrained in the culture as the polite thing to do, even though the reason for its existence long ago stopped being relevant. I’m sure at some point in history the “What’s your Biggest Weakness?” question was original and clever and useful. There were people in the world who hadn’t heard it and prepared a canned answer. It was a probably a great way to see how someone thought on their feet and could wiggle out of a tough spot. That is no longer the case.
Now this question is an insult to both the person asking and the person being asked. The person being asked knows this question exists and if they have a snowball’s chance in hell of ever being employed they have an answer all cued up and ready to go. Some clever little spin on how they work too darn hard, are too much of a perfectionist, or are just too damn likeable for their own good. In that fake answer is the insult to the person asking the question, but really, they deserve it.
If you’ve ever answered that question with one of these fake answers, don’t bother, I have your greatest weakness, you are a whore for money. And guess what people, that’s my greatest weakness. When I was interviewing for my current job I recall clearly being asked that question and giving some cock-and-bull “I work too hard and am a perfectionist” line. The truth of the matter is that I’m a bit obsessive compulsive about my code, I am a bit of a perfectionist, but is that my greatest weakness, no. My greatest weakness was that I was too gutless to refuse to answer that stupid question, or too timid to respond with an actual weakness instead of some shrink-wrapped bullshit about working too hard. My greatest weakness that day was letting my fear of living on the streets eating catfood overcome the voice in my head calling out this faux question for what it is, a slap in the face to any prospective employee. I could have answered with any of a wide range of actual professional weaknesses that I have:
- I get bored easily
- I don’t test simple fixes as thoroughly as I should
- I don’t work at consistent output, I have times when I’m incredibly productive and times when I just want to nap
- I don’t agree with most corporate culture, telling me what to wear, when to show up, how to act, is understandable, but it shows a lack of respect that I find insulting, its a rigid structure in which I am less productive not more.
- I value my free time more than I value money which makes me a less than ideal candidate when the idea is trading time for money.
- I like people, sometimes I’m more interested in talking to someone about code (or monkey or robots or zombies) than writing code
Those would have all been great things to say, but I didn’t. I sat there with a phony smile and a phony answer, I lied and it worked. I’m hired, I’ve worked on several projects and they have all been successful, on-time and on-budget. I’m cognizant of these failings that I have and I think that that is my greatest strength.
If I had it to do over again I would have answered with my actual weaknesses, and then I could have spun it a bit. I know that these are the things that can derail me and potentially derail a project. I don’t overlook my failings anymore, I remain conscious of them and actively work to counteract my natural tendencies. I’m aware of the fact that I don’t test thoroughly the small stuff, so now when I’m pushing a small change that fact pops up and I have to ask myself, did I test this thoroughly or did I cut corners and just run it in the compiler in my brain (which is full of all kinds of bugs and edge cases). The first step to dealing with any weakness is admitting it and being aware of it, the second step is doing something about it.
I’m going to continue this game of blog tag by asking Mark Essel to respond to this question next.