A twist to two commonly asked questions to get a truthful answer.

Posted on January 08, 2016

A twist to two commonly asked questions to get a truthful answer.

by Mark Barnard – President, SnapDragon Associates

Most interview candidates come prepared to answer interview questions such as “Tell me about yourself” and “What are your weaknesses?”

“Tell me about yourself” usually elicits answers like “I’m a motivated self-starter that loves individual accountability; but don’t worry, I also love working collaboratively.”

And answers to “what are your weaknesses?” get even worse.  How many times have you heard candidates tell you that their biggest failings are they “work too hard” or “care too much” or they “have a perfectionist streak”?

One of the most fundamental tests of the effectiveness of an interview question is the extent to which it differentiates high and low performers. If everyone gives the same exact answer, the question is pretty much useless.  And if you’re not testing the effectiveness of your interview questions, it’s akin to implementing a new technology without going back to see if it actually worked.

Now, there is a way to fix a question like “what are your weaknesses?”  Instead of asking the candidate what they think of their weaknesses, ask them to describe what their last boss considered their weaknesses.  Also, ask how the boss would describe them to you when you called to ask him. That makes people less scripted and assesses their emotional intelligence and self-awareness.  But even that twist isn’t enough by itself.

To ensure you get really honest answers, before you ask this question, you have to ask them to spell the name of that last boss.  “Your last boss’s name was Pat Smith?  How do you spell that?  S-M-I-T-H?”  That one tweak puts a psychological edge on this question that guarantees much more honest answers.  There’s no way the candidate is going to chance you asking his boss the same question.

Good luck interviewing.


In 2004, Mark Barnard opened the doors to the offices of SnapDragon Associates. The company is his passion and he loves the team that he has located, identified, and mentored to be a truly “Best in Class” team.