Weaknesses of an WFMer

Weaknesses of an WFMer
Illustration by David Grey

Interviewer: What are your greatest strengths?
Answer: I will work hard for you and I know what I’m doing. Go ahead, ask me anything!
Interviewer: Okay, what are your greatest weaknesses?

This is not the interview part I prefer (does anyone?), but it’s a fair question we should all expect at some point. I’m humbled by the things I see on my own list:

PERSONALITY: Soft skills don’t come naturally. The nature of the WFM job attracts a very detail-oriented, analytically minded individual. Even when we are the ones who know the most about what’s going on, we’re usually not the best communicators. It takes extra work for us to build trust and relationships and sometimes we must be taught how to properly collaborate with others.

FOCUS: I cannot multitask in the way your agents can. The complex type of problem-solving solutions I work on need a start-to-finish approach. If I have constant interruptions and must stop halfway through to work on something else, I find I have to start over from scratch when I pick it back up again, and that’s not a good use of time.

AMBITION: For me, it stops with WFM. That’s a big world, and even in a small center the disciplines of forecasting, scheduling, staffing models, real-time adherence, exception management, vacation administration, and data collection are enough to keep me happy. Don’t try to pile on more and combine my WFM responsibility with the roles of Supervisor, Agent, IT, Quality, Receptionist, or Back Office, because these things are not where I shine. I don’t want to run the world. I want to forecast every day, 5 days a week, and the harder the forecast, the better!

ENVIRONMENT: It’s difficult to do my job sitting in an open cubicle right in the middle of a busy call center. This job requires strict attention to detail, and if I have to split my attention between the external noise of activities going on around me and the silent call of my computer, the loudest one will win. Stick me in a corner with some peace and quiet.

GIVING ETAs: Sometimes it’s difficult to predict how long something might take to complete a project with unknown variables, like using new software or introducing new externalities. I don’t like feeling rushed but I certainly want to meet deadlines, even if they’re self-imposed. The thing about WFM work is that it needs to be done until we get it right. The way I know I’ve got it right is through simulation. It’s common for assumptions in the contact center to change mid-project, making it take longer to reproduce, so I may ask for an extension.

The interview is a good setting to learn more about the scope of the job and the environment you would be working in. Your answers to this question might even help facilitate a discussion around expectations, both theirs and yours, and hopefully give some clarity on the culture.

All of us have had trouble in the past. When a person can identify their weaknesses, it means they are self-aware. The best weaknesses to share are the ones that come with an extra action plan of how you are dealing with it. My example of that is:

MEMORY: There are too many things to remember and keep track of in this job and I don’t have an eidetic memory. Some days my head feels like it has been stretched so thin I can barely remember my multiplication tables. My poor brain would explode if it had to handle all of that by itself. So I learned long ago that I need reliable, high-end organizational tools to stay effective. I am a documentation hound and I keep notes on everything. My To-Do list has a to-do list, and everything in there has a prioritization level. I am also a tagging maniac because it helps me find things easier.

Facebook uses an interesting question in their interview: Given the numbers 1 to 1,000, what is the minimum number of guesses needed to find a specific number if you are given the hint “higher” or “lower” for each guess you make?

I saw that question, got really excited about numbers and instantly set off to solve it by navigating to 500 and counting the times I would cut it in half to reach an optimum solution: 500, 250, 125, 63, 32, 16, 8, etc. Fun to solve, but this isn’t really a math question, it’s a listening question. (The real answer is “1” because at the minimum level, it only takes one guess to be correct.)

Many times the WFM interview is about listening well, too. These questions about weaknesses are there to determine what they would be getting themselves into if they hired you. It’s not an interrogation, so skip the answers about the number of traffic tickets you’ve collected. This is the time where you can still use this dialog to your advantage. Unless your weakness is “No Experience,” this question can lead you into an honest exchange about who you are, what you can do, and also what you can’t do, which is just as important.

For example, if the interview is with a team who is unfamiliar with WFM, your answer can help prepare the shape of things to come:

FTE (Full-Time Equivalent): WFM may not solve the big problem here. I can excel at forecast accuracy, schedule optimization, and create scheduling solutions to achieve adherence. I can definitely perfect a WFM staffing model, isolate the Human Factors, produce meaningful reports, and show you exactly when to allow attrition to occur naturally without having to rehire right away. I can even analyze your call center metrics and demonstrate what your service goals, occupancy, and abandonment rate thresholds should (or could) be according to your customer patience levels, budgets, and long term plans. But the bottom line is, workload is workload, and you are going to have to provide the people necessary to handle it. When a team is legitimately understaffed, no amount of workforce management will solve the need for headcount. But these tools will help make the best of a bad situation.

What NOT to say:

  • I’m bad at math.
  • I get bored easily.
  • I’m a workaholic.
  • I don’t have any weaknesses.

Ultimately, they’re most interested in how you deal with life when things don’t come easily. Professional growth is something we continually work towards—it never goes away completely.

Editor’s note: This post is an excerpt from Tiffany LaReau’s Diary of a Workforce Manager, a comprehensive WFM guide told through LaReau’s experiences, trials and errors during her 30+ years as a WFM consultant. Reserve your copy today!

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