One of the most predictable interview questions is “What are your strengths and weaknesses?” I hate that question because it’s lazy and does little beyond testing a candidate’s capacity for verbal gymnastics.
The result is fairly predictable – a strength everyone wants combined with a downside of that characteristic. Case in point: I was on an interview panel and one of my colleagues asked the dreaded question. The young woman responded…”Well, I’m proud of the fact that I’ve got a killer work ethic. Unfortunately, that’s also a weakness because I sometimes take on too much,”and closed with a smile. Charming. But really, what does that tell us?
Whether you get the typical strength/weaknesses question, or a similar one in a different guise, put some power into your strengths by painting a picture. As Peter Drucker said,
“The task … is to create an alignment of strengths so strong that it makes the system’s weaknesses irrelevant.”
In context he was speaking about leadership and organizations, but isn’t the same true of us as individuals?
Do You Know Your Strengths?
If you know how to handle the strengths/weaknesses question, it can actually be a gift because you can anticipate it and prepare for it.
One of the tools we use here at Avarah Careers is called the Birkman Assessment. I’ve been using the Birkman Method for years – first with my own staff, and more recently with my coaching clients as well. In fact, I invested in their certification program and now I’m truly a raving fan.
I’ve seen how my clients can leverage their strengths in an interview so much more powerfully and with confidence.
And they can reference their weaknesses in a context that makes them, in Peter Drucker’s words “irrelevant.” It’s nearly magical, but in fact there’s a process and if you know your strengths you can replicate it.
How to Leverage Your Strengths In An Interview
Here’s the process I recommend to highlight your strengths and diminish your weaknesses:
- Make a list of your strengths
- For each strength, identify a time when you exhibited that strength in the workplace.
- Write a brief story that describes how you demonstrated each strength. (You can incorporate more than one strength into a story, just make sure you have a few stories).
- The story should paint a picture of what you accomplished from beginning to end, including any obstacles you overcame to achieve a desired result (such as time management, conflict, the unexpected, etc), despite a weakness you mastered.
“I’ve been told that my communications skills are strong. For example, last year I had an idea for a process improvement on my team. There were five of us, and everyone had to buy in to making the change. I could see it would be much more efficient, but I had to persuade the whole group and our supervisor. I put together my case, and presented it to the group and at first I got some push back. Despite the conflict, which made me uncomfortable, I really believed in my proposal, so I persisted. I held my own, used my communications skills and solid facts to address the objections and get consensus. And, ultimately, I prevailed and I learned a lot. As a result of my suggestion, our efficiency year over year increased by 20%.”
Strengths here? Communication obviously, but she also wove in team work, risk-taking, analysis, persistence and efficiency. And if the follow up is “What about a weakness?” the answer is in the story – handling conflict. She’s presented it in a successful context where she overcame the weakness and of course “it’s something I’m continuing to work on.”
If you are unsure and would like to know more about the Birkman or would like to learn more about how you can highlight your strengths, schedule a complimentary consultation with me here.