It’s fairly normal to get asked in a job interview about a time you failed and had to overcome a weakness.
The focus on weaknesses, however, isn’t always the best way to find a candidate for a job, according to the Oxegen Consulting team founded by early Facebook HR execs, Sara Sperling and Stuart Crabb.
Sperling says the better question to ask instead is “When do you get lost in what you’re doing?”
Instead of highlighting an individual’s weakness, asking what a person can get lost in for hours identifies their strengths — not only just what they’re good at, but what they’re emotionally invested in as well.
It’s a shift of mind, but a powerful one that’s been a secret to Facebook’s success, the pair said.
Building Facebook’s strength-based culture
In the early days of Facebook, when it was only a few hundred people, the company decided to center its culture around building its employee’s strengths and letting people’s skill shine to their advantage.
Employees don’t need to be masters of all disciplines. Instead, Facebook hires for positions knowing the strengths of those roles and looking for employees to fill them. If an interviewee says they get lost spending hours coding on a project they’re excited about, then they might be a coding machine. If they lose track of time while brainstorming new ideas on a whiteboard and feed off of others suggestions, then they might be a collaborative product manager.
Plenty of companies like to say they cater to their employees strengths, but the instinct to fix weak spots rather than capitalise on strengths is not easy to overcome.
“There’s a complete captivation with weaknesses,” Crabb told Business Insider.
Failing with straight As
Sperling think the mentality is hard-coded in people thanks to their days in school where everyone was encouraged to get straight A’s. A maths major in college, she knew she was never going to be a good writer, but she had to devote a lot of her time to improving her writing skills to get the grades.
“Why do we expect our employees to be A students?” Sperling said.
For employees, you might be able to coach someone on public speaking skills so they don’t throw up before every presentation, but it won’t make them a natural-born speaker who loves commanding the stage.
“You can remediate a weakness, but you can’t remediate it by turning it into a strength,” Crabb said.
Instead, a company’s resources are better spent on pushing people to improve what they already love doing. When Sperling was at Facebook, for example, it was Crabb who told her that if she loved getting up in front of people and leading crowds that she should take improv classes to further her public speaking skills.
The key is unlocking whatever it is that an employee has an emotional connection to and directing that energy towards their work.
“Strength has an emotional connection to it,” Sperling said. “Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could intersect that emotion with the needs of a business?”
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