Strengths and Weaknesses

I’m not a psychic but I predict that at least one time in your job search some interviewer will ask you “What are your strengths and weaknesses?” While I don’t particularly like these questions (more on that later) you do need to be prepared to answer them. Usually the strengths are easier for people. Odds are you can say that you are honest, hardworking, dependable, loyal (remind you of the Boy Scout oath?). If you can, this is a chance to work in your previous related experience – you know the industry, know the job, etc. You understand the drill. You tell them whatever you think they need for this job is what you have – in spades. (More on that later too.)

Where people often struggle are with the weaknesses. Who wants to tell someone they just met what is wrong with them? Nobody! You were going for a good first impression. You don’t want to tell them that you’re a bear in the morning before your coffee or that you can get really cranky if you’re forced to work with people who are not as smart as you are. That just sounds like a bad idea – and to a large degree it is.

You know what issues you have, so try to find a “weakness” or two that you can put to the company’s advantage. For instance, can you turn impatience into a sense of urgency? How about perfectionism in to attention to detail? Can you turn conflict avoidance into being a good mediator, or disorganization into free thinking? The idea here is to be honest, but to also be clear that a) you do recognize that you have this “weakness” and b) you can use or compensate for that weakness in a productive way. A good friend once pointed out the difference between disabled and differently-abled. Just because you have a weakness, doesn’t mean you wouldn’t be great for this job – so tell them about it.

Now back to the second aside – “tell them what you think they want to hear”. I am not suggesting that you should be dishonest. You should pick the strengths that you have that are required for this job and sell those. For instance, you might be an incredible typist and speller but those may not be skills required of a manager or a machine operator. Focus on the job you’re applying for. Above all, be honest. With both strengths and weaknesses there is no expectation to reveal everything, but whatever you say you can do well – or you need to work on – needs to be true. Be honest with yourself and others all the time.

As for first aside, if you are an interviewer, these are lousy questions to ask because you will get the answers they think you want to hear. Instead, work those ideas inside of behaviorally based questions like “tell me about a time when you used your greatest work-related strength to help solve a critical problem” or “tell me a time about when one of your personal weaknesses caused you an issue at work.” These questions require that the strength or weakness be given some context and color. I can again make a prediction – you’ll get more useful information.

According to Wikipedia, no fewer than sixteen ancient Greek sages have been credited with the phrase “Know thyself” and it is still applicable today. As you dive into your job search, spend some time reflecting on what you do well and what you need to work on. Write down instances where you’ve done both, and think about how you can use your weaknesses to your future employers advantage.

One Comment on “Strengths and Weaknesses”

  1. […] Know who you are and what you want – spend some time (before the interview) really thinking about what you want out of your next job and what you can give. This will drive your elevator speech (last week) but it will also let you answer those questions about your strengths and weaknesses. […]

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