When Yahoo Chairman Maynard Webb interviews you, he doesn't just probe your past for things like extracurricular activities, teamwork skills, and ability to overcome difficult situations; he also wants to get a sense of your level of "self-awareness" and "openness." In fact, here's a two-part question Webb uses while probing prospective employees:
“Six months from now, we’re going to know each other very well. What will your team and what will I say that you do really, really well? And then what will they say that we all wish you did better?”
Which is a bit similar to asking, What are your strengths and weaknesses? But the twist Webb puts on that ubiquitous interview question allows for slightly different answers. Which I'll get to in a minute. But first let's hear what Webb is looking for in the way of a response.
You’d be surprised at the number of times I’ve heard people say: “Oh, nothing. You’ll just love everything about me." And I’ll say: “Dude, that’s not true. It’s not true for me. Let me give you some examples of the things you’ll wish that I did better.”
So what exactly are strong answers to Webb's "six months out" question?
As for the former part, about what your coworkers will say you do well, a good answer would highlight your most unique strengths—not necessarily your greatest strengths. Given that job interviews are auditions of sorts—never forget that you're competing against tens if not hundreds of other candidates—you want to highlight the things you can do that others perhaps can't and that aren't so easy to find.
To that end, a recent Bloomberg BusinessWeek survey of MBA recruiters found that the most difficult skills to find in candidates are (in order of difficulty): strategic thinking, creative problem-solving, and leadership skills. So, if you're particular strong in any of these areas, and you're given a question like Webb's above, it would be a great idea to mention them, as opposed to highlighting the strengths that are the easiest to find, such as (from the same survey): motivation, entrepreneurship, quantitative skills, and the ability to work collaboratively.
As for the latter part of Webb's question, about what your coworkers wish you would do better, a good place to start when answering would be these more common strengths. But, of course, make sure they're not integral to the position you're trying to land.
For example, if quantitative skills are a minor part of the job you're applying to, and you aren't particularly quantitatively-skilled, you might mention that. But, if you're interviewing for a position that requires strong quantitative skills, you'd certainly never want to mention that you're quantitatively-challenged (it perhaps goes without saying that, if this is the case, you probably wouldn't or shouldn't be in the interview in the first place).
Another thing to note when fielding questions like these, where you're asked to give positives/strengths as well as negatives/weaknesses, is to use this tactic: provide a few positives/strengths if you can but just a single negative/weakness.
Whatever you do answer, it's important to speak the truth. Along with "value systems," truth is another thing that Webb says he looks for in candidates. And don't be afraid to be vulnerable. Here's Webb in a recent blog post on his personal website:
I remember thinking that revealing any vulnerability would be a sign of weakness. I was so worried when I got hearing aids in my 40s, thinking my career was over. How wrong was I about that! ... It’s counterintuitive, but I found the more vulnerabilities I shared the more grace I received. As an executive you feel pressure to be perfect, but the more human you are, the more you are genuine and authentic, the more people relate to you and support you.
Follow me @VaultFinance.
Maynard Webb, Yahoo’s Chairman: Even the Best Teams Can Be Better (NYT)
These Are the Skills You Need if You Want to Be Headhunted (BW)
Yahoo’s Chairman of the Board on Keeping a Level Head (maynardwebb.com)
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