Strengths and weaknesses

Selection panels are fond of asking questions about strengths and weaknesses. Questions may take the form of:

  • What strengths do you bring to this position?
  • Why are you a strong candidate for this positions?
  • What are your strengths and weaknesses?
  • Tell us about a weakness and what you have done about it?

These questions raise some questions.

  • Why are they being asked?
  • What will they tell a person about an applicant’s suitability for the job?
  • How will the answer be judged?
  • Are some strengths deemed to be ‘better’ than others?
  • Are some weaknesses deemed to be more damaging, nastier, more unpalatable than others?
  • How much weight will be placed on the responses?
  • And what are strengths and weaknesses anyway? Are they job-dependent, person-related?

Marcus Buckingham, author of several books on the subject of strengths – First Break all the Rules, Now discover your strengths, Go Put your strengths to work – provides a perspective on strengths and weaknesses that selection panels would do well to note. Here are his basic assertions, that underpin the strengths movement:

  • Excellence is not the opposite of failure
  • You will learn little about excellence from studying failure.
  • Failure and success are not opposites, they are merely different, and so they must be studied separately.
  • All we learn from mistakes are the characteristics of mistakes. If we want to learn about our successes, we must study successes.

A person or an organisation will excel only by amplifying strengths, never by simply fixing weaknesses.

What is a strength according to Buckingham?

  • Strengths are those activities that make you feel strong
  • Strengths are made up of talents, skills, knowledge
  • When you do it , you feel effective
  • Before you do it you actively look forward to it
  • While you are doing it you feel inquisitive and focused
  • After you’ve done it you feel fulfilled and authentic

In Go put your strengths to work Buckingham explores several myths linked to strengths and weaknesses:

Myth: As you grow, your personality changes

Truth: As you grow, you become more of who you already are

“As you grow, your goal should not be to transform yourself, to somehow conjure new forces from within you. Instead your goal should be to free up and focus the forces already there.”

This doesn’t mean you cannot grow.

Myth: You will grow the most in your areas of weakness.

You will learn and grow the least in your areas of weakness, and what learning and growth you do achieve will be hard won.

Truth: You will grow the most in your areas of greatest strength.

Myth: A good team member does whatever it takes to help the team.

You’re told to be flexible, adaptable, well rounded, always ready and willing to step in and play whatever role the team may need you to play.

Truth: A good team member deliberately volunteers his strengths to the team most of the time.

True teamwork occurs only when a complementary set of strengths comes together in a coordinated whole.

So, when a selection panel asks about strengths and weaknesses, are they fully informed on the subject or are they operating according to myths?

Dr Ann Villiers, career coach, writer and author, is Australia’s only Mental Nutritionist specialising in mind and language practices that help people build flexible thinking, confident speaking and quality connections with people.