Saturday, June 23, 2007

Overcome a weakness to achieve a personal or professional goal

Tell me about a time that you had to overcome a weakness to achieve a
personal or professional goal.
This is either an easier or more difficult adaptation of the standard “What is your greatest
weakness?” question, depending on your perspective. It’s a more difficult question for candidates
who are determined to whip out the overused “I’m a perfectionist” answer, thinking that
it’s the only weakness that investment bankers are willing to accept. Why is the question more
difficult for these candidates? Because this question almost forces honesty out of you. Even if
your greatest weakness really is your insistence on perfection, it would be pretty difficult to cite
an example of a situation in which this personality trait seriously threatened your ability to
achieve a goal. Why do we actually think this version of the question is a little bit more
candidate-friendly? Because you can be relatively honest about your vulnerabilities while
demonstrating that you’ve successfully overcome them in the past. When it comes down to it,
that’s the issue that self-awareness questions are intended to address. Investment banking
recruiters aren’t looking for perfect people, but they are looking for people who intend to work
hard and learn from their mistakes.
Bad Answers
Take your pick.
• I can’t function on fewer than 8 hours of sleep a night.
• I’m easily intimidated and I tend to take things too personally.
• I tend to resent it when people tell me what to do.
Finding Your Way
• I don’t look great in black, navy, or gray.
• Anything else that is fundamentally incompatible with a career in investment
• Mediocre (but clich├ęd) answers that your interviewer may not believe
(whether they’re honest or not):
- I’m a perfectionist.
- I have trouble saying “no.”
- I have a tendency to overcommit to projects at the expense of my
relationships with friends and family.
Good Answer
Candidate: To be honest, I’d say that one thing I’ve really had to work on has
been managing my time without external deadlines.
We know what you’re thinking: bad time management? Isn’t time management pretty important
to the analyst or associate role? Hold your horses—this candidate does a good job of
giving a candid answer without making her interviewer break out in hives. Believe us: It can
be done!
Candidate: I’ve never had a problem managing time when I had a lot of specific
things to get done: I never missed deadlines in college, for example. I
never turned in papers or assignments late, and I always knew the course material
by the time I had to take an exam. I’ve actually always preferred working in
deadline-intensive environments. Particularly in college, though, I wasn’t very
disciplined about managing my time in advance of the deadline. I did a lot of
things at the last minute—always to a high standard, but always at the 11th
hour. Maybe I liked the adrenaline rush; I always did better under tight time
frames, so I became really bad about putting this off until the last minute.
Okay, so she’s basically saying that she’s a chronic procrastinator. She puts things off and
puts things off until she can’t put them off anymore, and then she panics at the end but get
things done to a high standard (which her 3.7 GPA substantiates). Could procrastination be
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a problem in investment banking? Absolutely! But here’s the truth of the matter: Any
weakness that you name could be a problem in banking, or in any job that you’ll have over
the course of your career. That’s not the point. The point is, do you know yourself well
enough to know what your weaknesses are, and have you thought about how they may affect
your ability to succeed in a given role?
Candidate: These bad time-management habits presented an interesting challenge
during my senior year in college when I decided I wanted to do a thesis
project. You don’t have to do a thesis at my university to earn your degree, but
you do have to write one if you want to participate in the department’s Distinguished
Majors Program. I really felt strongly about writing a thesis; I wanted to
develop a very specific area of expertise, and it was important to me to have a
tangible product at the end of my 4 years that I could have a real sense of
ownership over.
Lovely! A perfectly legitimate, well-defined goal with solid, credible motivations behind it.
Plus, she’s mentioned that the thesis project wasn’t a degree requirement, so she’s probably
scored extra points for choosing to do more work than she has to.
Candidate: I knew it was going to be difficult for me to organize my time
without any sort of real deadlines. The thesis counted for three credits, but
there were no classes, no midterms—nothing other than a deadline looming at
the end. Plus, it was my last semester in college—so there were a lot of
distractions to keep putting off my thesis work.
Interviewer: So how did you overcome your tendency to procrastinate?
Candidate: I know it sounds obvious, but the first thing I did was choose a
topic that really fascinated me. That definitely made time management a little
bit easier—I could choose the subject that I was researching and writing about,
so I usually looked forward to working on it. If it had been a project that I
didn’t feel so strongly about, it definitely would have been harder.
Finding Your Way
Aside from that, I basically created deadlines for myself, even though no one
else was creating them for me. At the beginning, I set a schedule that laid out
exactly what I had to accomplish each week. That was an accomplishment in
and of itself. I had never taken the time to organize a work schedule for myself
before—I’m generally too impatient to take that much time planning in advance,
so I usually just dive right in without always having a clear idea of where I’m
going. I gave a copy of the schedule to my thesis advisor, and I requested
biweekly meetings with him. Even though these meetings weren’t required, I
knew that they would keep me on track. My thesis advisor was a professor that
I really respected, and I would have never wanted to waste his time by coming
to a meeting with him unprepared.
This candidate proves that you don’t have to defer to the hackneyed “I’m a perfectionist”
response to create and sustain a favorable picture of yourself. She’s candid about her biggest
weaknesses, but her answer demonstrates that it’s a surmountable one; she anticipated that she
might have a problem managing her time from the outset, so she took active steps to ensure
that she stayed on track.
Candidate: Finally, I set myself up for success by removing distractions wherever
I could. I always used to write papers and study at home, but I knew I’d
have a harder time being disciplined if I had to deal with all of the distractions
at home. I worked at the law school library instead, where I wasn’t as likely to
run into people that I’d want to sit and catch up with. I worked on the thesis at
the same time every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday—just as though it were a
class—so that I’d treat it like any other commitment that I couldn’t just skip or
put off. I’ll admit it was a difficult transition to make. There were definitely
weeks that I started to get behind on the schedule, but creating a detailed,
written schedule for myself really helped. It was so much easier for me than it
was for classmates who ended up cramming all of the work into those last 5 or
6 weeks. Now, I’m considerably better about time management because I’ve
Finding Your Way
learned what a huge difference it makes. It’s worth the extra time it takes in the
beginning to know you’re not going to have a heart attack at the end.


deon said...


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Junli said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Kix Mr said...

Tks very much for your post.

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