Know Thy Weaknesses... and Keep Moving Forward

Handling your shortcomings so they aren't detrimental to your career.

So you’re in a job interview and you are asked: “What is Your Biggest Weakness?” After you get over the initial surprise (even though you DID know that this question was coming,) you take a deep breath, and you respond. You share one weakness that you hope presents you in the best light, and that it does not hurt you in receiving the job offer – because you really do want the job!

Why is this question often asked in interviews? One could say it is not a fair question. Regardless, it is a favorite and understanding ‘why’ could help with your response and ultimately the end result:

  1. Employers want to see that you are self-aware. Nobody is perfect and employers know that. We are all made up of strengths and weaknesses. Employers understand this. By asking this question, they want to see whether you can acknowledge this to yourself as it is a sign of good emotional intelligence.
  2. Employers want to see how you address short comings. Do you cower and accept a weakness as a victim? Do you acknowledge your weakness and put a plan in place so as not to negatively impact performance? Were you able to present the shortfall as a motivator that will propel you to work hard, grow and contribute within the role you are after?
  3. Employers want to see if there is anything about you that just won’t fit! That’s correct, they legitimately will not take you to the next stage or make the offer if the weakness you present is a key requirement of the position. For example, if the job posting does state that you will be working within tight timeframes and you mention that you find it difficult to work within an environment where the deadlines may suddenly change, that could be a deal breaker. But that’s ok! You would not have enjoyed the position and eventually it would wear on you.
  4. Employers want to see how you react. Don’t kid yourself. They did see you take the big breath, and how you paused before answering! Gauging how you answer a somewhat uncomfortable question, allows the employer to determine how you may handle other difficult questions or situations that may arise from fellow employees, managers, and of course customers!

So we all have weaknesses. Should we do anything about them? Should we care? After all, most of us do not find ourselves within interviews on a regular basis and why should it matter “as long as I am doing a good job?” There are several approaches that can be used that are helpful not only for your own self-development, but also for your professional development. Depending on what the shortfall is, will depend on how you best address it. The following are 6 approaches you may want to consider:

  1. Acknowledge your weaknesses. Do some self-reflection and assess where these shortcomings are. Seek out feedback where necessary. In most cases, people will want to help and will be honest with you, if you ask them. Take a look at any of your past assignments and take a “Lessons Learned Approach” with yourself. What worked? What didn’t work? What was missing? Be critical and unemotional – remember you are assessing yourself, you can be brutally honest as you want to learn about yourself. The lessons you have learned, if remembered and actioned can be the building blocks for your future success.
  2. Create an action plan. Determine how you will embrace and address the weakness so that it does not impact your performance. For example, if you are not very good at remembering details ensure you take lots of notes at every meeting and with every conversation you have. Return to your desk and read them over immediately, while everything is still fresh in your mind. Fill in the blanks. If there are still blanks, don’t be afraid to ask questions of others who attended the same meeting or of the person you had the conversation with. Then when needed, your meeting notes will be complete and you will have all the details and this shortcoming has been minimized!
  3. Ask for Help. Look around at your fellow team mates and colleagues. Who does best what you do not do well? Why are they good at it? Perhaps, they too have learned to improve in this area and have developed some useful tactics that have helped them. Share with them that you are looking to improve yourself, you noticed that they do this very well, and ask them what suggestions they may have for you. Most people will be flattered and will gladly provide you with insight. These same people may also encourage you along the way, as they see progress and can provide you with timely feedback into the future.
  4. Take a course or a program. Ask your HR department if there is a course, online program or material you can read so that you can improve yourself in this area. Putting some concentrated effort towards your shortcoming should provide results overtime. Your employer may even provide a group session on the topic, as you are not the only one who has made this request. This approach serves you well on two fronts. You are providing insight into your needs and it presents you as being a proactive, committed individual who cares about your work.
  5. Make a Move. Consider the relevancy of the shortfall to the role you play within the project, the assignments you are involved in or the one you are planning to take on. Is it such a critical skillset that you should remove yourself from the endeavor? After all, you do not want to enter an assignment where you can’t succeed - that is not helpful to the company nor to your own reputation.
  6. Reflect and Do Nothing! It’s alright to understand that one of your abilities does not receive an A grade. You find yourself working within a team environment where the sum of all of its parts is what makes you all a great team! You do get things done and you do them well! You are on this team because of your strengths and expertise. Perhaps the time spent on self-development is better spent on improving and building upon your strengths. You have a role to play on your team and in your organization. The expectation is that you will perform in an exemplary fashion within your area of expertise. So do that! Excel in your expertise!

Excelling is an objective that most individuals and organizations want to accomplish and it is understood that it can’t all be done by one person. The business world creates team environments and project teams for a reason, however, don’t kid yourself, you are required to be the best member possible on that team – strengths in hand! This is very well demonstrated in the world of sports. Take the game of basketball as an example. Often touted as one of the more difficult games to play due to the extensive skillset that each player must have. A basketball team on a court is made up of 5 players in a combination of roles; one such combination being 2 Guards/Points, 1 Centre/Post and 2 Forwards. Each position has a very specific role. Yes, all players must be able to run, pass, dribble, shoot, and do a layup. However, when we look at the individual positions, it is very clear that each position has its own specific strengths, it must possess. Guards must be the most exceptional ball handlers (dribblers.) In most cases, this position is not the one expected to score the greatest amount of points. The player must be quick on his/her feet, able to bring up the ball, capable of handling pressure, able to read the court, and pass the ball to make the play. The Centre/ Post is usually the tallest player on the court, not necessarily the best dribbler and must be ready to accept the pass, drive to the basket, and finally shoot and score – often.

The coach will know the players’ strengths and weaknesses. To have the Centre/ Post spend most of his/her time dribbling the ball to improve upon one of his/her secondary skills, is probably not the best use of time. However to have the player build upon the skill of crashing the boards, rebounding the ball and making the shot with opponents hanging all over, will most likely help the team to a greater extent! Alternatively, the Point Guard could spend his/ her time crashing the boards, but why? The reality is in most competitive play, the Point Guard will either have a breakaway and will use his/her speed, agility and ball handling skills to dribble the ball in and make a layup or will pass it to the Centre or Forward. Rarely will the Point Guard get close enough to score under the basket without getting stuffed by an opponent – and that is not effective nor fun!

The team that excels is that which knows its own weaknesses and capitalizes on its strengths. The workplace is no different. Understand your short comings. Understand where you excel and what you can contribute. Choose those assignments where your strengths can be exemplified. After all, whether in sports or in the workplace, we are not interested in mediocre teams. We aren’t looking for teams where everyone does a little of everything, fairly well. We are looking for teams of employees who excel and that perform, exceptionally well!

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