Lessons From The Election Campaign

by: Joanne Meehl

In last night's VP debate, moderator Gwen Ifill asked both candidates, "What is your Achilles heel?"

Essentially, what Ifill was asking was, "What's your weakness as it relates to your work?" She was the only questioner during what really was a nationally-broadcast job interview for Vice President. It was interesting to see how each job candidate handled it (don't worry, I won't get partisan here!). Senator Biden first joked "only one?", then answered fairly straightforwardly. Governor Palin answered by talking about stances she and her presidential candidate take on a couple of issues.

First, why do interviewers ask this seemingly dumb question? I mean, who wants to admit what their weaknesses are? Except, "they" do ask it. They ask it for a few reasons. They want to know how well you know yourself. And they want to know, frankly, what you will say and how you handle it. At times, interviewees answer as if they are in confession, giving a list of things they just aren't good at. Or they bring up something that is so central to the job that they suddenly destroy their chances for the job. And a snarky "Oh, I am a workaholic!" just doesn't answer it and is viewed as so much BS.

Second: So how do you answer it? You do need to be prepared, and your answer can't be about your tennis game but about your work. So think about those things that you're really not strong at. We each have a list; no one is above being human. Now choose one weakness that is NOT central to the main functions of your job. For example, a Project Manager would not choose "time management" -- and if you're a PM with this problem, uh oh -- instead, you could choose "public speaking to huge groups". THEN, talk about how you have that problem under control or are working on it, if you are: "But I'm getting more experience at that and am getting more and more comfortable as time goes on." Anyone serious about their career is always sharpening their saw.

If you blank, or need more time to think before you answer, you can start your answer by talking about something else, but you must bring it back to an answer to that question. Otherwise, you risk being seen as evasive. While politicians might be able to get away with an answer that doesn't really answer the question, and it's a method that political leaders of all stripes use, it's tough to get away with it in a normal, real-life interview.

On November 4th, it will be interesting to see who the American people decide to hire.


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