“Strong people always have strong weaknesses too. Where there are peaks, there are valleys.”
- Peter Drucker
Would you take a drug that causes an uncontrollable gambling addiction? It doesn’t sound very tempting but thousands of people who suffer from restless leg syndrome take Requip because the benefits outweigh the side effects.
The concept of side effects has implications for the way we interview. Most interviewers ask candidates about their biggest weakness and job seekers have been taught that there are three good responses:
1. Admit a weakness that seems beneficial to the company.
“I work too hard.”
2. Discuss a weakness that you’ve almost fixed.
“I used to be unorganized but I’ve really improved.”
3. Pick a weakness that isn’t relevant to the job.
“I’ll be a good cross-country truck driver, but I’m not a good team player.”
These responses aren’t very helpful. So instead of asking candidates about their weaknesses, we should start asking them about their benefits and side effects.
1. What are your benefits? What problems can you help us to solve?
”If your company is struggling with innovation, I can help.”
2. What are your side effects?
“I often break the rules and reject the status quo.”
3. How are your side effects related to your benefits?
“Innovation cannot happen without making difficult changes to current organizational norms.”
4. In what areas are you average?
“I’m competent when making presentations but don’t really inspire people with my rhetorical skills.”
These questions require more from the candidate than do the current set of questions and offer better information to the interviewer.
How do you respond to the candidate’s side effects?
Some drugs are not for “women who are pregnant or might become pregnant.” Just like not every drug is right for you, not every candidate is right for you. If the candidate’s benefits don’t address a specific problem that your organization has, then there is no reason to deal with their side effects.
If we choose employees who seem to lack major side effects, we will get only mediocre work. Where there are no side effects, there are no benefits.
Similarly, the better the employee is, the bigger their side effects will be. Steve Jobs is widely recognized as a tremendously successful CEO and very influential figure in the business world but he is not without side effects. He is legendary for being conceited, critical and volatile.
What side effects are you willing to accept?
When Vioxx was taken off the market because of the risk of heart attacks and strokes, I discussed the case with my ethics class. One student had taken Vioxx for chronic pain and wanted the FDA to allow Merck to make it available again. She was aware of the side effects but was willing to take the risk if it would reduce the pain that she lived with each day.
A good way to determine what side effects you are comfortable with is to fill in the blanks for the following sentence. “ I don’t care if you ____ , as long as you _____.”
“I don’t care if you are unorganized, as long as you are creative.”
“I don’t care if you are explosive, as long as you are passionate.”
“I don’t care if you break the rules, as long as you get results.”
Cheryl was obsessive about germs. For example, she refused to sit on the chairs in our classroom without first putting down a blanket. But she was the perfect director of health/safety for her organization.
Dwayne lacked empathy and had constant conflicts with his co-workers and managers. But none of this was a problem when he worked in the repossession business.
Every employee has side effects. It is an illusion to believe that we will find candidates with all strengths and no weaknesses. The goal is to find someone with the right combination of benefits and side effects for the condition that your organization is suffering from.
For advice on how to respond to the weaknesses question as an interviewee, check out my interview freak post.