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Monday, 4 October 2010

Discussing Your Strengths and Weaknesses With An Employer

Author: Melanie Szlucha

In the last installment of the description of the TODAY Acronym to prepare for job interviews, we'll focus on the last letter—Y which stands for Your Strengths and Weaknesses.

The previous letters were: T-Teamwork; O-Overcoming Obstacles; D-Duties of your past positions; and A-Achievements.

The strengths and weaknesses topic is universally the one that most interviewees are afraid of being asked, and the question that most interviewers are most likely to ask. Therefore there is no reason not to have an excellent answer to this question.

Let's start with the more difficult question first—your weaknesses. No one likes to admit that they have a weakness, whether it be for chocolate chip cookies and hot chocolate, or procrastinating until the very last minute before an important project is due.

The key to answering this question correctly is to provide a weakness, and discuss how you have overcome it, or are working to overcome it. An example I always use is that unless I'm constantly vigilant, my desk can turn into an absolute hovel of papers. I have a tendency to let things pile up even after I've completed a project, thinking that I'll still need to refer to my notes in the future. It's only after a few weeks have snuck by and I make a desperate attempt to find the desktop again, that I realize that I didn't need to save as much paperwork as I did. I now make sure that I set aside time when I come into the office on Friday morning to clear off my desk and prioritize my projects for the day. I have found that it makes me feel much more sane, and keeps me productive.

Note in the above example how I discussed my weakness: that it's always been a problem, and how I work to overcome it on a weekly basis. Also note that admitting this specific weakness probably won't keep me from getting the job—unless the hiring manager is a compulsive neat freak (in which case it's probably best that I not work for them). Avoid weaknesses that could seriously cast doubt on your work ethic or personality. Never discuss coming into work late, personality conflicts, or the quintessential "I work too hard" as a weakness. First, nobody wants to take a chance on you if you have the first two weaknesses, and nobody actually believes the third one. Acceptable weaknesses are a fear of public speaking, drinking too much coffee in the morning, or the constant battle to stop smoking, and others that are not typically job-threatening. Don't forget to show how you are working to overcome these weaknesses.

In discussing your strengths—your best bet is to identify a strength that you know is a quality they are looking for in a job applicant. If it's a customer service position, emphasize how much you like to help people, and although they can be challenging at times, you enjoy being able to make someone else's life easier. Just don't get too sappy here or it will seem fake, but if possible take this opportunity to further show them that you are the perfect applicant for the job.
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