What area of your skills do you need to improve upon in the next year?

Why Ask This Question?

Self-critical insight is a necessary trait shared by all high-performance job candidates. Without self-admitted shortcomings, a candidate will most likely require a greater deal of feedback from you about his mistakes to make sure that he learns from them. He may also border on cockiness and abrasiveness because he may be the type who finds fault in others without objectively looking at himself to find solutions to problems. In short, you may need to cultivate a greater sense of objectivity in this individual by helping him focus on what is right rather than being unduly concerned about who is right.

In comparison, candidates who openly accept their shortcomings from an objective third-party point of view will put you and your management team in a good position for damage control once those admitted weaknesses surface. The issue then becomes monitoring the new hire's performance and then adding structure and support from a positive standpoint to enhance the individual's overall effectiveness.

Analyzing the Response

Short-term, tactical goals keep people balanced and focused on their present needs. Long-term, strategic goals, in contrast, make up a vision of achievement and a framework of purpose in one's life. A very acceptable answer to a short-term, tactical query can easily focus on technical skills, since most employees at any given time can bone up on some aspect of their technical abilities. Secretaries, for example, might address their shorthand having become rusty due to scant use. Programmers might address their not being totally familiar with client server applications. Controllers might address their concerns about having limited exposure to initial public offerings if that's one of the immediate issues ahead of you. These are indeed legitimate concerns, but they are "fixable" from the standpoint of simple exposure to new systems and activities.

Red Flags

On the strategic side, areas for improvement become more difficult for candidates to defend. Candidates who choose the strategic route in answering this question run the risk of painting themselves into a corner and damaging their candidacy. For example, candidates might point out poor career management skills as the strategic flaw they need to improve upon. Such individuals might not have developed the necessary discipline to harness their energies toward productive ends in a well-organized, consistent, and persistent manner. As a result, they are not as far along in their careers as they would like to be.

Therefore, there is a lot of job-hopping evidenced by premature ''reasons for leaving'' past positions. Such candidates will often address the obvious lack of career stability evident from their resumes and then emphasize their need to make a long-term commitment to the next company they join.

It's your call, and it's not an easy one when taking a leap of faith that the candidate will change past patterns of behavior once a part of your company. Still, you might optimistically view this recognition as a positive sign that the individual is volunteering such a critical concern so openly.

Caution

The important thing is that the candidate gets invited to address tactical or strategic weaknesses and present solutions for self-improvement. Again, this holistic interviewing question tests the individual's ability to recognize flaws in judgment, past performance, career management, and the like. Beware the candidate who fails to accept your invitation to criticize himself. A lack of openness will deny the possibility for self-improvement. And anyone who shies away from self-critical insight shows little ability to learn from past mistakes. That penchant will offer little to your company, which is in turn making its own mistakes and relying on its management team to steer new courses into uncharted waters.

 
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