My least favorite part of any job interview is the dreaded “what are your strengths and weaknesses?” question. I’ve practiced and am confident with the interview process as a whole, but there’s something about analyzing myself that is difficult. I suspect that may be the case for many of you as well. Shifting how you perceive your strengths transforms introspection from an awkward necessity to an invaluable part of your growth.
Part of what makes discussing your strengths and weaknesses so difficult is that it is easy to give the answers you think people want to hear. Interviews always involve speaking to your audience, but going too far robs you of the opportunity to know yourself better and thrive.
Your strengths are more than simply what you’re good at. And weaknesses aren’t just what you’re bad at. To identify your competitive advantage, find out what you enjoy.
You’re probably not bad at math.
Throughout my academic career, I always told myself that I was “bad” at math. Everyone has a least favorite subject. I avoided it at all costs and told myself that I simply was not as mathematically skilled as my peers. Looking back, I see that my math skills were never truly lacking. But in the moment, it became a self-fulfilling prophecy. What I perceived as a lack of skill was actually just a feeling of being drained. Because I didn’t enjoy math, I was convinced I couldn’t do it. Notice the distinction?
My old way of understanding my weaknesses just exacerbated the draining feeling. What’s more, because I was anticipating an inherently negative outcome, I was discouraged, did not put in the work to succeed, and as a result confirmed my belief.
Even if you’re great at math, that doesn’t mean it’s a strength.
This concept is true the other way as well. Many of my peers picked up math quickly. Despite how it sounds, this does not mean they are strong at math. For one of my friends in particular, heavy calculations are draining. He is excellent and able to compute these problems quickly, but because it drains him it would be torture for them to work on these problems day after day. On paper, he’d make a great mathematician, but he’s glad he didn’t go down that path.
Imagine choosing a career entirely based on something that you’re good at, but that drains you. At first, you might be successful and skilled, but in the long term, you’ll build resentment and dread going into work each day.
I have a friend who recently met a work colleague who didn’t discern this difference until midway through her career. She had always been told she was great at planning training events for the company. She was so good that she continued to be promoted until she became an executive in the training and education division. Unfortunately, she never truly enjoyed it. She told herself that because she was so good, planning training is where she belonged. She’s now ready for a change and is excited to shift her responsibilities towards tasks that genuinely interest her. Her career is on track for a healthy reboot.
Do what energizes you.
When a recruiter asks you about your strengths, be honest! Let them know the kinds of things that energize you in addition to your skills. Set yourself up in a position where you can thrive, grow, and become energized by your work.
Do not treat your strengths and weaknesses as only objective qualifications, but rather use them to find opportunities that will have the best fit.