Many candidates miss a valuable opportunity during job interviews to make themselves stand out. A common question job interviewers ask candidates is, "What are your strengths and weaknesses?" Career counselors offer candidates many different strategies to skillfully navigate this question. Some interviewing experts recommend masking a weakness as a covert strength, such as, "I've been told I work too hard." Others suggest sharing more strengths than weaknesses. The problem is that candidates end up focusing on applying the correct strategy rather than on the substance of their answer.
The National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) surveys employers every year on what they want to see in candidates. Beyond the specific technical knowledge needed for a role, the wish list is mostly comprised of "soft skills." An open-ended question referencing strengths is an opportunity for a candidate to highlight the connections between his or her personal uniqueness and successful outcomes.
Here is an exercise on how to link your strengths -- the ability to consistently provide near-perfect performance in a specific activity -- to a "soft skill." Let's say the job you are interested in requires the ability to collaborate. Take each of your Top 5 CliftonStrengths and create a one-sentence statement illustrating how that strength makes you a great collaborator. It's OK that the statement might limit you to specific situations in which you are a great collaborator. For instance, I possess the strength of Activator. I love taking immediate action and seeing quick progress. My best collaboration occurs when I'm working with a team on something new that has a short deadline. Once you have your one sentence, be prepared to follow that with a specific story illustrating your strength.
Make yourself memorable to a potential employer by telling a story of when your unique strengths prepared you for an excellent performance. Your energy and excitement as you tell the story will prove your authenticity and make an impression, which brings us back to addressing our weaknesses.
Unfortunately, most of us don't benefit from a burst of energy when we are working from a weakness or non-strength. It's not that we can't do it, but the activity is probably not something we are best at, and we probably don't find much satisfaction or energy in the act. Personally, I struggle with staying organized. It's not energizing for me to be disciplined and regimented. But I'm still responsible for staying organized and meeting deadlines. I am, however, very energized in the commitments I make to others. I use the Responsibility theme as a proxy for Discipline when I know someone is counting on me to meet a deadline.
The power of strengths-based development is that it contributes in an immediate and satisfying way to help people reach their goals, things like developing better, more effective study strategies, managing relationships on a project team, or being effective in a leadership role. These are all potential stories that employers want to hear from their candidates.
The same approach applies to personal strengths development and your career.
I've worked with a lot of career coaches that effectively use strengths to help their clients' ongoing career development. These coaches recognize that the value of strengths development goes far beyond any specific job role. They help their clients see strengths development as a tool for continually assessing and evaluating roles and opportunities as they arise. Strengths development is a foundation for understanding yourself in the work environment and being able to navigate the world of work through your strengths lens.
Mark Pogue's Top 5 CliftonStrengths: Self-Assurance, Activator, Ideation, Intellection and Command.
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