Part 2: What are your strengths and weaknesses?

If you’ve been interviewed more than once, chances are, you’ve been asked this common interview question every single time: “What are your strengths and weaknesses?” Trust me; you’ll hear it again. Recruiters, talent acquisition leaders, human resources professionals, and hiring managers will keep asking this common interview question during interviews.

Why? It works. It allows employers to see whether you know yourself well (or not), and it demonstrates your ability to respond to tough personal questions without including a lot of clichés which drive employers crazy. In Part 1 of this two-part series, I explained how to provide great examples of your strengths. Now let’s talk about how to provide examples of your weaknesses. This is often the part job seekers feel more nervous and uncomfortable about during mock interviews and interview prep sessions. A little preparation goes a long way; this article should help you work out the kinks and avoid stumbling over your words and thoughts during your next job interview.


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Before I share three primary tips with you for responding to this question, let me share one additional freebie. Do not, for the love of recruiters everywhere, attempt to spin a strength as a weakness. Don’t say something like, “Well, I’m such a perfectionist that it really ends up making it tough for me to stop working sometimes, and that can keep me from moving on to the next project.” No. That is a very 2007 way to respond to this question. I say this because a) I responded to this question in this exact manner in 2007, and b) I advised college students when I worked in career services at that time to respond in that manner. It was okay then. We know better now. So don’t do it.

Here are some general guidelines you can follow when preparing to respond to interviewers about your weaknesses.

  1. Share fewer weaknesses than strengths.

Unless the interviewer specifically asks you to list a certain number of strengths and weaknesses, list fewer weaknesses than strengths. A 3:2 ratio is fine. Don’t be self-deprecating by going on and on about areas of weakness, defects of character, or faults you’ve discovered about yourself. It’s not a sign of great self-awareness. It’s a flaming red flag to employers reading, “Do NOT hire this person.”

  1. Focus on weaknesses you can work on.

List hard skills/technical skills which can be trained or taught. Do not mention soft skills.

Soft skills are, by definition, a combination of talent and ability. If you share that you’re lacking a soft skill, employers start wondering how much you can possibly grow in the talent portion of that soft skill. Even though you can certainly take courses in communication skills, leadership, and problem-solving, employers understand that there will always be that zone of “talent” with every soft skill, and that some candidates will shine and bring more to the table in those areas than others. If public speaking simply isn’t your thing, do not—ever—point that out to an employer during a job interview.

Instead, before your interview think about three hard skills/technical skills in your career field you could share as weaknesses or areas of potential growth/improvement opportunities. Software programs, courses you’d like to take to improve your knowledge in a certain area, and joining professional organizations in order to connect with mentors are all areas of improvement for many of us. We could all do more to become better connected, more knowledgeable, etc.

When you share weaknesses like these, you’re expressing a desire to grow, and you’re admitting that you are not the end-all, be-all SME (subject matter expert). That’s refreshing to employers because no one wants to hire an egomaniac.

  1. Explain your plan for improvement.

Express your desire to take action to improve yourself and to grow. What’s your plan to improve in this areas of weakness? Share it as you wrap up your response to this common interview question.

“I am not the best at editing photos and just haven’t had much experience in previous positions with this task. Even though it’s not a primary task in this position, I’d like to take a course online in PhotoShop to improve my photo editing skills. Then I feel I’d be better suited to help edit photos when needed and be a better contributor to the design team.”

Providing interviewers with your plan for improvement eases their minds. It lets them know that if they hire you, you’ll be a proactive, self-motivated employee. Who wouldn’t want to hire someone like that?

Need more help with interview preparation? Reach out to me to schedule a mock interview/interview prep session.

Part 1: What are your strengths and weaknesses?

Have you been asked this common interview question repeatedly—“What are your greatest strengths and weaknesses?” Chances are, you’ll hear it again. Recruiters, talent acquisition leaders, human resources professionals, and hiring managers will likely continue to include this common interview question in their repertoire.

Why? It works for them. It lets employers know whether you know yourself well (or not), and it demonstrates your ability to respond to tough personal questions without including a lot of clichés which drive employers crazy. In Part 1 of this two-part series, we’ll discuss how to respond to the first part of this common interview question—“What are your strengths?”


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Be careful when responding to this common interview question and discussing your strengths. There’s a fine line between bragging or stroking your own ego and simply sharing genuine, realistic strengths you possess. The difference comes down to the work you put into preparing your responses ahead of time (practice, practice, practice) and your communication skills.

  1. List more strengths than weaknesses (3:2 ratio is a safe bet).

This is common sense. Unless the recruiter specifically asks you to list the same number of strengths and weaknesses, why wouldn’t you list more strengths than weaknesses? Why would you rant on and on about your shortcomings? Play up your strengths. If you list two weaknesses, list three strengths. Even if you’re not the most confident person in the world, you want recruiters to believe you are. Spend a little more time talking about your strengths than you spend talking about your weaknesses, too.

  1. Highlight your soft skills.

Soft skills, by definition, are skills which combine talent and ability. By listing soft skills as your strengths, you’re setting yourself apart from candidates who may not have similar talents and abilities. There’s a little bit of intangible magic to soft skills, and employers know that. What makes a great leader? Can leadership be taught? Sure, to an extent. But there’s that talent component to every soft skill that is certainly a gift, and if you’ve got it, you certainly want to share about it during interviews.

Be sure to qualify and quantify your strengths when you share them. Don’t just respond by saying, “My strengths are communication skills, leadership ability, and great customer service skills.” Offer real-life examples to back up these claims just as you would on your resume. “One of my strengths is communication skills. I’m comfortable speaking to large groups. I have spoken to groups of up to 75 people at once and have done impromptu presentations. I talk to clients on the phone or face-to-face to solve problems and have often been called upon by my manager to resolve conflicts when my coworkers are having difficulty with difficult customers.”

  1. Tailor your strengths to the specific employment situation.

If you research the position, company culture, organization/employer, mission statement, etc., in advance, you’ll be well-positioned to tailor your strengths to the specific employment situation during the interview. Are you interviewing for a position requiring you to analyze data but which does not require you to interact with clients at all? Then it doesn’t make sense for you to highlight your communication skills as one of your strengths. It would make more sense for you to discuss your critical thinking skills and problem-solving skills.

Are you interviewing with a company that values work-life balance and encourages employees to volunteer in the community, offering incentives to those who do? You might want to mention community involvement as one of your strengths and discuss your participation in a non-profit organization or your contribution and service on a board of directors.

Stay tuned for Part 2 of this two-part series because this common interview question involves strengths and weaknesses, and you need to prepare  to respond to the entire question.

If you’re searching for jobs, your best bet for a successful interview is plenty of preparation. Reach out to me if you’d like to schedule an interview prep session.

About to graduate? 3 networking tips for college seniors

It’s spring semester, and graduation is two months away. Congratulations! If you’ve been consistently branding yourself, networking your tail off, applying for grad school or jobs, and have your resume and other materials in order, you’re probably feeling ready to launch into the next stage of your life: transitioning from college student to entry-level careerist. If you’ve been procrastinating visiting with career services professionals on campus and never read articles like these (and your mom just forwarded this article to you, or you stumbled across it as part of some divine intervention), you may feel a little nervous about what’s coming in May.

It’s great to get an early start on preparing for your future career and job search, but better late than never. Networking is a huge piece of the career preparation puzzle; remember, experts estimate (based on research) that up to 85% of jobs are landed via networking. Don’t spend all your time researching companies online and applying for jobs without ever attending career fairs or networking events. Don’t fail to connect with real people.

“Don’t be afraid to put in work on the front end to connect with people who can help you in your career or job search,” says Becky Warren, Career & Disability Services Coordinator.

Here are several great networking tips for seniors in college ready to launch their careers.


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  • Talk.

Sounds simple, right? But it’s so easy to focus on everything else… your appearance, the food at the networking event, the overwhelming number of employers or attendees, the number of job candidates or students, the noise in the room, the pit in your stomach or butterflies dancing in your belly.

Focus!

If you don’t have genuine conversations with people at networking events, career fairs, alumni events hosted on campus, and in other situations designed to give you opportunities to engage with real, live people, you’re missing the point. And guess what? You need to branch out and avoid talking to the people you already know.

Give yourself an assignment to talk to at least three new people when you attend an event. Obtain business cards if possible because this gives you an easy reminder for following up later (and contact information, too). It’s great to talk to people in your career field, but if you can’t identify people in your field, that’s okay. The point is to practice overcoming your fear of communicating with new people and to make new connections. You might enjoy yourself, and you might build great new connections.

  • Update your brand.

Before you step out the door to attend a face-to-face networking event or prior to logging on to a virtual event, check your online brand. Log into every social media site. Google yourself. You should do this regularly, but definitely do it prior to events.

Recently, I attended an event on a college campus. I interacted with a really cool, engaging, savvy student. Immediately following the event, I searched for the student on social media. Her profile picture gave me pause and seemed inappropriate. I chose not to connect after all. The bummer for that student is that I’m connected to some really awesome employers, recruiters, talent acquisition leaders, and entrepreneurs. These are all people who may have benefited this young woman in her future job search. But I have to look out for my own brand. I don’t connect (or remain connected) with people who don’t portray themselves in a positive light.

Don’t let this happen to you. Put your best self out there online, particularly when you’re job searching and prior to graduation. Remember, you cannot disconnect your brand from your networking efforts.

  • Don’t overlook the little people.

When you’re networking, don’t make the classic mistake of walking into a room and glancing at name badges or honing in on the most important looking people in the room and ignoring the rest of the minions. It’s egotistical and rude to focus on a few “big names” in the room, and honestly, it might be a waste of your time because—news flash—many other candidates will be playing the same game.

You’re better off to network with everyone. Just as in life, mix it up and try to engage with a very diverse group of people from all socioeconomic backgrounds, all levels of experience in the workplace, etc. You’ll have interesting conversations, and you may be surprised that those “little people” often have some hidden connections which can help you later in your job search.

The same goes for building and maintaining relationships in the workplace (not just at networking events).

“Don’t sell any co-worker short. Someday that person may be a leader, in a hiring role, or know of a hidden job they could tell you about because you have a professional relationship with them. Be nice to everyone you work with. It will pay off,” encourages Matt Krumrie, freelance writer and career expert.

Remember, networking is a web of relationships you’ve worked to build; you have to maintain them, too.

“As with any relationship, what you put in is what you get out,” shares Warren.

Networking is a two-way street; what are you giving back to the people who have given so much to you?

“Be a resource for others in your network. Be willing to connect them with people you know; help them if they have a question. Always be willing to help them solve a problem. It may not pay off immediately, but it will someday, guaranteed. And that is much more rewarding,” promises Krumrie.

About today’s contributors:

Becky Warren works in career services at a community college. With five years of experience in higher education, she has a passion for serving students and helping others plan for their futures. 

Matt Krumrie writes about careers, jobs and workplace topics and issues. Learn more at resumesbymatt.com

For help building your network, branding yourself well, or writing your own entry-level resume, reach out to me for a free consultation. 

Resume templates: Just say no (and why)

I recently read an article explaining why using resume templates is a bad idea. At the end of the article, the expert quoted in the article admits that most resume writers use templates themselves and that “they’re not starting with a blank sheet of paper every time.”

This depends on the resume writer, I suppose, but I must protest!

resume blog for career coach bethany
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Let me explain my own resume writing process and the rationale behind the old school approach I take to resume writing.

First of all, I believe in helping people write resumes. I do not write resumes for people—I write resumes with clients. As a career coach and as a former faculty member and career development director, I believe in helping clients create documents they can send to employers as honest representations of themselves. If I do all the work and 100% of the writing myself, I don’t believe the end products (resumes and cover letters) are honest representations of my clients. For this reason, I work closely with clients to create well-written documents (that’s where my expertise as a professional writer comes in). The end products reflect my clients, featuring their own unique voice and tone. I probably spend more time with clients than the average resume writer or career coach during the resume writing process, and that’s okay with me.

When you need help with your resume, you contact me. Most of you already have a draft of a resume or an existing resume on hand. You send it to me to review, and we begin working to create something much better together. In this case we’re not starting with a blank page, but we’re not starting with a template either.

Let’s say you have absolutely nothing created and that you’ve never drafted a resume in your life. We would literally start with a blank page, but I’d ask you to gather documentation to help me understand your work history, your educational background, and other key components to help us create a killer resume.

I want to be clear that when I say “killer resume,” I’m referring to the CONTENT of your resume, not to any fancy design elements. Resumes are not meant to be pretty or graphically impressive. They should be streamlined and easy for recruiters and hiring managers to read. After all, the average recruiter spends about six seconds reviewing your resume. Your resume layout should be ATS (applicant tracking system) compatible. If it’s not, you will not likely receive many interview offers.

At no point in time would I suggest that any job seeker—whether a college student, entry-level candidate, or executive-level candidate—use a resume template. Not only will templates reduce the likelihood of ATS compatibility, but they will also reduce the odds of your resume standing out from the stack of resumes on the recruiter’s desk. How many candidates do you think used the same template, including the same suggestions for wording? In addition, editing resumes created in templates is almost always clunky and time-consuming.

Your resume is the key which opens the door to potential job opportunities. If you’re using the wrong key, you can try as many doors as you like, but you won’t make it into the lobby for the next phase of the process—job interviews—if recruiters don’t respond well to your resume.

Let’s get to work on your first step toward success.

Need help editing or creating your own resume or cover letter? Reach out to Bethany for assistance or to ask questions about how career coaching might help you.