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Authenticity in interviews: how to own your strengths and weaknesses
By: Kevin R. O’Neill
Perfecting your interviewing technique is essential for cinching your dream executive role. The interview is undoubtedly the most pivotal step in the hiring process – a telling moment of your character, qualifications, and potential. And one thing is almost always certain: you will be asked to address your strengths and weaknesses.
The interview is a chance for you to remind your interviewer of where you excel and how your competencies “fit” their critical role. But don’t forget that owning your weaknesses is just as important, if not more so, as illustrating your strengths.
Put your strengths to work
1. Give examples of your skill set. During an executive interview, being able to identify your strengths is only one step in the right direction. You also need to demonstrate your skills through examples – this is your proof. Why should the interviewer believe you? This thinking is grounded in a mainstream form of interviewing, particularly popular at the executive level, called behavioral-based interviewing. It is based on the theory that past performance is the best predictor of future performance. So, if one of your key strengths is your ability to lead, be prepared to talk about a specific experience in which your leadership skills made a difference.
2. Think of yourself as a resource. If you think of yourself as a unique solution to the company’s business problems, rather than an applicant for their role, you’ll be in the right mindset to articulate a compelling value proposition. When interviewing, inquire about the challenges that the company is facing and then illustrate how your strengths put you in a position to solve them effectively. This is a great way to highlight your skill set and demonstrate your interest in the opportunity.
3. State your biggest achievement. Think back on the roles you’ve held in the past and ask yourself, “What have I done that has made a difference?” We call the answer to that question your “footprints in the sand.” We have heard a range of good answers – what they all have in common is a sense of self-awareness and humility. Be real. When asked about your strengths, talk about how you’ve changed the course of others’ lives or your own, or impacted the future of a product or your business. These are things people will remember about you.
Memorable achievements are not always tales of glory. Your achievement could be the darkest day of your career if it was the turning point for reflection and personal growth. In that case, respond with how you reassessed the situation, what you did about it, and how you are now different as a result. Boiling down your experience to your single biggest achievement is difficult, but very powerful when laid out clearly. Stories are your most powerful tool in an executive interview, and sharing the story of your “footprints in the sand” will stay with your interviewer long after the interview is over.
Work your weaknesses
1. Give authentic responses. When talking about your weaknesses, it is also important to be authentic and confident in your responses. Authenticity helps your interviewer get to know you as a person, as opposed to only knowing you by your resume. Keep in mind, your interviewer accepts and believes the old adage “no one is perfect.” Be truthful, and consider speaking of conditions where you weren’t able to produce your best work, or a time in your career where you didn’t handle a situation as best as you could have. An interviewer will appreciate your candor and your ability to reflect on your past work experiences.
2. Demonstrate self-awareness. While it is important for you to be honest about your weaknesses, you should also be self-aware. Always discuss how you’re working on your personal opportunities for improvement. For example, if you find it difficult to delegate work, how are you taking steps to address this problem? Interviewers want to hear that you don’t have it all buttoned up. At the same time, listing weaknesses without showing the interviewer that you are taking steps to improve may be harmful in the long run.
3. Remember the power of storytelling. While everyone loves a good success story, often the most powerful stories are those steeped in adversity or failure. These are the stories that make us human, and these are the stories that the interviewer is looking for in probing about your weaknesses. Remember, it is your reaction to adversity, not the adversity itself that is most telling. Having a story to tell your interviewer about a time that you stepped up to bat and struck out will resonate, especially if you can tell them how you took the time to perfect your technique and eventually, hit that home run.
Like every business plan, going into an interview with a strategy for accentuating your strengths and disclosing your weaknesses will cultivate better results, and help you land your dream job – a feat that is increasingly difficult as you top the corporate career ladder.