3 Critical Weaknesses that Often Disguise as Strengths

3 critical weaknesses that often disguise as strengths

Interviewing is hard. I think I’ve said that a few times before.

Just when you think you’ve got it figured out, you realize – often painfully – you don’t. Sometimes, everything is what it seems to be. Candidates are strong, or they’re weak. Their answers to questions make sense, or they don’t. They seem like a good cultural fit, or they don’t. Sometimes, everything is what it seems to be. And then, it isn’t.

Today we’re going to explore three attributes, weaknesses really, that, in my opinion are absolute red flags. At least they would be, if they were easier to spot. These weaknesses often appear to be strengths. They can trick you into thinking they are qualities to embrace vs. traits to avoid. These tricky little buggers are hard to spot.

In today’s blog, I’ll explain what they are, why I think they’re so dangerous, and most importantly, how to adjust your interview approach to identify them.

If you’re a regular reader, you already know how seriously I take interviewing. How much respect I have for the art and science of it. I will never proclaim to be a great interviewer, because as soon as I do, I’ll be proven wrong. But I do care about interviewing. I want to be a better interviewer, as I’m sure you do. And so, I try, with every interview, to get a little better.

I have noticed recently, some interviewers getting fooled by weaknesses that disguise themselves as strengths. On the surface, they seem to indicate confidence, experience, reliability, when in actual fact, they are red flags. I’m going to share them with you and give some advice on how to adjust your interview style to discover them sooner. I hope this is helpful to you.

Absolute Certainty

One thing I am 100% sure about is that you should never hire someone who operates with absolute certainty. (See what I did there 😊) Ok, this is a tricky one and possibly a little controversial, so let’s give it a go. With the benefit of 20 years’ experience, I have come to appreciate that we are never really certain about anything. We execute with best practices. We build models. We test solutions. We do research. We do these things to maximize our chances of success, but we never really know for certain. Sometimes, you think you know, but then you realize, you don’t. It happens over and over and over again. That’s just the nature of the game.

The world is changing. Rapidly. What worked yesterday, may not work tomorrow. The path you took to reach the level of success you have today, will not lead you to the successes you long for in the future.

I get worried, whenever I work with people who are overly certain about things. People who speak in absolutes.

There is only one way to do this.

We MUST choose this option.

I’m 100% sure this is the right course of action.

When I hear people talk like this, I get nervous. It looks like confidence, but it’s actually naivety. Or hubris. Or a lack of experience. It sounds great in an interview. Decisive. Clear. Enthusiastic. But is it real? Can you trust this level of certainty? In my experience, people who operate with absolute certainty can be dangerous to your team. They can very confidently lead you over a cliff.

My advice to hiring managers is to look for candidates who possess an appreciation for how uncertain business is. Look for candidates who have built decision making processes and models that allow for variance. Look for candidates who think in terms of probabilities instead of absolutes. They may not seem as confident in the interview, but their value will show through when tested in the uncertain realties of work life. I recommend adding questions to your interview repertoire designed to probe into how the candidate thinks about decision making.

Tell me about a tough decision you had to make recently?

How did you know it was the right one?

What would have had to happen for you to change your perspective?

What would you have done if you were wrong?

Process Possessing Intrinsic Value

All of us want to improve our processes. Our companies and teams are growing so quickly we feel starved for process. Our teams often operate in what seems like chaos, to produce and deliver amidst so much change and uncertainty. We are so desperate for a little control that we can be wooed by weaknesses masquerading as strengths during the interview process.

I’m going to overly simplify for a moment to illustrate a point – I realize the world is not quite this simple. Nevertheless, in my experience, there are two kinds of process oriented people in business. The first, are people who believe process is a valuable means to an end. They identify a valuable business outcome to pursue, and they build a process for attaining it. They can be excellent additions to your team as it grows. The second, are people who believe business process has its own intrinsic value. They believe the process itself, is the valuable outcome to pursue. They conflate process outcomes and business outcomes. They can be very determinantal to your team. Discerning between these two types of candidates can be trickier than it appears.

My advice to hiring managers is to ask questions designed to probe more deeply into a candidate’s view of process.

How much process is too much?

How do you measure the value of a process?

How do you know when a process is no longer effective?

How do you create alignment around a process?

By going one level deeper in your questioning, you’ll have more information to be able to determine whether or not you’re hiring someone who will help or hurt your team.

Binary Thinking

When I look back on the teams I have managed, the most valuable contributors were those who possessed the ability to perform integrative thinking. They were creative. They could look at two seemingly fixed options, and imagine a third possibility. Integrative thinkers can be game changers for your team and company. Finding them is the tricky part.

While there is value in being able to perform rigorous, logical analysis to make a well-judged decision between to options, you can run into problems when you build a team of people who can only think in black and white. A group of people whose thinking is constrained and rigid. Hiring a team of binary thinkers can limit the potential of your team to be creative.

My advice to hiring managers is to seek out integrative thinkers and be wary of hiring too many binary thinkers. You can have a mix of both on your team, but integrative thinkers are certainly scarcer. With that in mind, I recommend crafting interview questions designed to discern between the integrative thinkers and the more constrained, binary thinkers.

How do you decide between two seemingly equal choices?

Who would you assign to manage your highest performing product? Your best person or your weakest? (note – you are looking for the candidate to pose a third alternative)

Craft questions that force candidates to reveal how they think about problems. It will provide another data point you can use to make a solid hiring decision for your team.

Interviewing is hard – did I say that already? Sometimes, candidates who seem decisive are actually naïve. Sometimes, candidates who appear to be strong process oriented leaders are not focused enough on driving real business outcomes. Sometimes, logical decision makers are unable to be conceive of creative alternatives. It’s hard to tell the difference. I hope this blog will help make it a little easier.

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