Why Do Interviewers Ask Me to Disqualify Myself?

Asperger’s & NLD Career Letter, February 2020

A reader of this newsletter wrote with questions and concerns about the common interview question, “What is your greatest weakness?”

“It’s so very hard not to hear, in this question, a potential employer asking me to disqualify myself from a position I’m trying to get,” Matt wrote.

An interviewer asks this question to see whether a job seeker has insight into limitations (which every human being has!) and can learn from mistakes. The core strategy for responding is to choose a weakness that will not raise questions about your ability to perform the job.

Matt wanted to know how off-putting the following answers would be to an interviewer:

  1. Decline to answer the question
  2. Ask for clarification or examples
  3. Tell the truth even though it “won’t tell them what they want to hear”

It is expected during interviews that candidates will respond to questions, so option number one is not a good choice. Refusing to answer implies that the job seeker has something to hide, as in a serious limitation that would interfere with his or her ability to perform the job.

Asking for clarification or examples communicates that the job seeker has not carefully prepared for the interview. This is a very common question and one can easily find advice and examples online or in books.

Matt’s third option was to be honest, while presuming that the answer would not be strong. However, with the right strategy it is possible to be truthful and informative. Matt gave two examples of his weaknesses: taking things literally and presenting a blank facial expression when he is with people he doesn’t know.

Matt considers literalness to be a disposition, but in certain situations it can also be considered a weakness. A strategy for responding is to explain how the limitation can be mitigated. He could say, “I tend to be very literal, and ask others to be very direct in explaining what they want me to do.”

Regarding the lack of facial expression, he could say, “I may not show much expression on my face when I am in new situations, but once I relax people see my enthusiasm.” This answer provides a reasonable explanation for what would otherwise be interpreted as lack of interest in the job.

Matt mentioned that he has been researching interview questions and strategies for responding. I recommend making interview practice part of a job search plan. As with any skill, the more you practice, the more confident you become.

Copyright 2020, Barbara Bissonnette, Forward Motion Coaching