Your Greatest Weakness

If you have ever spent any significant amount of time interviewing for jobs, you’ve probably had someone ask you, “What do you think is your greatest weakness?” Most people don’t spend any effort on seriously considering that question, and often it’s just a wankfest of trying to come up with something that also sounds like a strength. “I work too hard.” “I do too much unpaid overtime.” “I sacrifice my social life for work.” Personally, I’ve never liked that, and whenever I’ve been a part of the interview process from the other side and heard a prospect give one of those answers, I’ll either write them off as being useless or if they’ve shown real promise before that get them to answer again, with a little truth this time. If I’ve bothered to ask you that question, it’s because I want to know that you are capable of not seeing yourself as perfect and understanding that you can improve. I certainly don’t want to hear how even your flaws are assets, because if it is an asset, a strength, it’s not a weakness.

For me, my answer has often been that I’m better at fixing or finishing than I am at starting. When asked to explain, I do so by telling them about issues I have with narrowing decisions. For example, I am told to build a webpage. In what language? The choice of language will dictate, down the road, what you can do. Some languages are great at some things and weak at others, and so at the beginning stages of a project I will often spent an incredibly large amount of time trying to think of and map out every possible feature we could want in the site in an attempt to make sure I’m choosing the best language, the best approach. If instead of being told “build a webpage” I was told “build a webpage in PHP” we can eliminate a lot of time and effort. I end by saying that while it is my greatest weakness, it can be greatly tempered with information and direction, and lessens over time as I become more comfortable with my working environment.

I’ve gotten better at that over the years, both through knowledge and speed of research, and by gaining confidence in my decision-making by having decisions I’ve made work out well. And so now my answer has changed.

My greatest weakness these days is that I expect other people to do their jobs. My job is software development with a little support thrown in (small company, everyone does lots of jobs). When I’m asked to write software or if I’m handed a support call, I do it. And when doing my job requires me asking someone to do their job, I ask them and expect it to be done. Too many times, it isn’t done quickly, which holds up my ability to do work. The delays lengthen and eventually I’m missing deadlines.

In my opinion, I shouldn’t have to yell at people to do the job they are being paid to do. They should just do it, as I do in my own job. Instead, I often find that part of my job becomes checking up on other people at other companies to make sure stuff gets done.

I call in and report a problem. I’m not asking for new service, I’m reporting that my existing service is broken. When people call me for things like that, I drop what I’m doing and work on the problem, because a customer who cannot use my service now is infinitely more important than that feature I’m working on that no one is using yet. So, I’ve reported the problem and am told someone will be calling me shortly. Two hours later, I haven’t heard from anyone. I call in to get a status update and find that no one has been assigned the call yet. I am assured the call will be assigned and someone will call me within a couple of minutes. Thirty minutes later I’m calling back in again because no one has called me. They transfer me to the guy who was assigned the call, he tells me he needs to read the problem. He does, we talk, he says it needs to go to another department, and they’ll call me back. This keeps repeating, over and over.

In the end, it takes three days to fix a problem that should have taken a couple of hours at most. Probably because they are dealing with the same stuff I am when they have to call someone about part of my issue. And I know, because I used to have their job.

My weakness boils down to this: I don’t like to yell at people because I shouldn’t have to yell at people.

I know this blog isn’t read by many people, but perhaps just putting thoughts out into the universe can make them heard. Do your job, as well and as fast as you can, because if people are waiting on you, just imagine how you feel when you are waiting on other people. Unfortunately this is one of those “Pay It Forward” types of things where you may never benefit directly, only if it loops around and the people you have to wait on decide not to make you wait. But it’s worth doing, at the very least you can be completely justified in your ire at having to wait on other people since you don’t make people wait.

One comment

  1. Tesh says:

    Like your previous lengthy rant about the workplace (planning and your “exit plan”), I find myself without much to add, but appreciative of what you’ve written, and in agreement with everything.

    This time, though, I can admit to a difference; my weakness is that I *really* don’t like micromanagement and poor planning that lead to crunch. As it happens, though, most manager types don’t like to hear that because it points out *their* flaws. That does seem like an echo of your complaint, though; I don’t like covering for someone else doing a bad job.

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