Playing Up Your Strengths In An Interview

A man is sitting in an interview, and everything is going fantastically:

  • Interviewer: "So Bob, tell me about your biggest weakness?"

  • Interviewee (Bob): "I am too honest."

  • Interviewer: "I don't think that is a weakness."

  • Interviewee (Bob): "I don't give a damn what you think!"

I get to interview a fair number of people, and while I have had some memorable responses, never one quite this interesting. There is a reason for the question though ­ I am looking for your level of self awareness.

When I look at successful people I come into contact with, they seem to have two key attributes that has led to their success:

  1. They understand their strengths and weaknesses.
  2. They believe they will continue to develop.

Neither you nor I will ever be completely rounded individuals. There isn't enough time to become universally good at everything. The best you could hope for would be universally average at everything. Universally average is boring for both you and your next employer. The trick lies in playing to your strengths and mitigating your weaknesses.

So how do you mitigate your weaknesses?

Realize some weaknesses are not always related to your work ethic.

Employee hygiene, for example, is something that can be easily fixed (and yes, I have had to suggest deodorant to an employee in the past). If you have an inability to arrive on time for meetings, then set your watch fast. These are issues that need fixing now, before you ask anyone for a job. If you have a hot­head, get help from a peer or mentor because I, and my fellow employers, have no tolerance for jerks.

Understand that your biggest strengths are also, probably, your greatest weaknesses.

Are you an ideas person? Then chances are you are not a finisher. There is a little bit of reprogramming that can help, both in terms of defining success (repeat after me – success = ideas implemented) and also in terms of making sure that you have finishers who you can draft off of. This is especially true if you are a manager. A note of caution though ­ if you are always looking for something new and are applying for a job where you are following a script, you will be miserable and you will do a lousy job.

Are you detail orientated? I would bet dollars for donuts that you can be inflexible and hyper­focused. Again there is some development in terms of being open to change and getting feedback from others (look for the people who tend to glower at you in meetings). But there is also the realization that you will get frustrated if you are in a job where everything changes all the time. Here is the magic though ­ you need the ideas person, and they need you. Both of you can round out each other and help each other to be wildly successful. The smart employer will realize that.

Understand that none of us is done developing.

I was speaking to a web designer at a random happy­hour and we had an interaction much like this:

  • Me: "So you are a web designer. How interesting."

  • Him: "I love what I do. Let me show you my stuff!"

  • Shows me portfolio on iPad.

  • Me: "I may have some project work for you."

  • Him: "Just don't give me deadlines. I hate those!"

  • Me: :-/

What he was doing was ensuring that, firstly, I would never give him work and, secondly, telling me that he had done developing as a person. I understand that creative people want the finished project to be perfect and that this can take time, but to tell me that your minimum standards mean that I will never know when I am going to get something, makes me inclined to run for the hills.

Show interviewers that you are still growing. Answers that would work are:

  • I sometimes battle with conflict, but I am working with a mentor on both assertiveness and role­playing conflict situation.

  • I love working in teams and believe I make a team more cohesive, but I am becoming more aware of how important my core values are, and the need to stand up for what I believe, even if the team may not be yet with me.

Final Thoughts

If you want to be a success, then you need to be aware that there is always room for improvement. Tell potential employers how you're continually striving to be a 'better you' and mean what you say – show them evidence of your commitment to self-improvement.

Stewart Belsham

Stewart Belsham is an IT entrepreneur with over 20 years experience consulting for both large and small corporations. He is the founder of Symbiosys, a 20 person consulting practice which has been offering technology services since 2002. More recently, he is a founder of Ramessys which is a digital rights management firm helping corporations protect proprietary data. He is passionate about building thriving, productive and inclusive teams of professionals.

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