Know your strengths and weaknesses before you search
It's the dreaded interview question. "So, what would you say are your weaknesses?" You don't want to ignore the question all together, but you also don't want to reply back with, "Well, I tend to miss deadlines a lot." Instead, you try to come up with an answer that sounds like a weakness but is really a strength, such as, "Sometimes I just work too hard -- I'm always coming in early and staying late."
While you may wish you wouldn't get asked such a question during an interview, it actually would benefit you to think about your weaknesses -- and strengths -- before talking to a hiring manager. In fact, if you really want to get a leg up, you should be assessing your skills and limitations even earlier than that -- before you begin your job search.
"Knowing your strengths and weaknesses before the job search helps you hone in on the types of jobs that best match your qualities and abilities," says Neil Kokemuller, college marketing professor and former retail manager. "If you apply for jobs that don't match your abilities, you set yourself up for failure and waste time. As you get into the interview process, knowing your strengths and weaknesses is a huge factor in effectively selling yourself to a hiring manager."
How to identify your strengths and weaknesses
The idea of sitting down and coming up with the things you're good -- and not so good -- at can seem daunting, but there are a few methods to try that can make the process a little easier.
Lea McLeod, who provides corporate coaching and career consulting services, suggests that you take assessments to help narrow in on your skills and strengths. "I personally like StrengthsFinder 2.0 as a very basic assessment of strengths," McLeod says. "There are numerous other assessments that can measure everything from how you manage conflict, to your learning style, to your team orientation."
Another way to evaluate your strengths and weaknesses is to ask others who you think will give you an honest, objective opinion. "Ask people you know personally to share what they see as your strong sides and your weak side," McLeod says. "Often others see perspectives we don't see in ourselves. Get feedback from your peers and/or managers about what your strengths and weaknesses are in the workplace."
It's also helpful to think about what type of feedback you've received from managers during formal reviews. "Think back on past performance reviews," says Patricia Vargas, manager of Marketing Production at Halogen Software, a provider of talent management solutions. "What kind of feedback have you gotten from your managers and peers? Look for trends -- for example, repeat feedback that you're a great team player or very proactive. Take note of feedback you've received around both job-specific skills and soft skills."
Consider both hard and soft skills
When assessing your skills, don't just think about those technical skills you've acquired; also consider your soft skills -- abilities related to communication, leadership, collaboration, creative problem-solving, etc. -- which can be just as important to employers.
"In general, you should have a sense for what your strengths are around dealing with tasks, processes, relationships and communication," McLeod says. "Those are the core components of getting work done in any workplace. On the technical side, if you are looking for a job with specific technical -- or hard -- skills, you should absolutely know where you stand on those. Many hard skills will be tested by employers in environments like engineering, software and public relations."
Why this will help your job search
"Once you've identified your strengths, it will help you evaluate what kind of jobs you're best suited for," Vargas says. "It will also help you sell yourself in a job interview. You want to be able to clearly articulate how you will bring value in a particular role."
Vargas notes that finding the right job fit is important, because you want to feel both comfortable and confident in the role. You don't want to start a new job, only to find that your skills aren't really up to par or that you don't consider the company to be the right cultural fit.
But if you know going into the new job that your strengths align with your new position and you'll have the opportunity to grow in the areas where you need improvement, it'll be a win-win situation for both you and the employer. "You'll be engaged in your work and a valued contributor to the organization's success," Vargas says.
Debra Auerbach is a writer and blogger for CareerBuilder.com and its job blog, The Work Buzz. She researches and writes about job search strategy, career management, hiring trends and workplace issues.
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