Monthly Archives: December 2014

Tough Question: What Are Your Strengths?

As a follow up to my earlier post addressing the question “What are your Weaknesses?” today I’m going to cover the other side of the coin: strengths. Although it may seem easier to discuss what you are good at, it can be daunting for a lot of people. Additionally, even if you can think of some strengths, this question is a great opportunity to highlight your personal brand and position yourself as the best fit for the job. Therefore, you want to make sure that your answer isn’t just good, i’s targeted and strategic. Here are some ways to think about crafting a response that will help you stand out.

1) Think about the things you love to do

Often when we are discussing this question my clients tell me they can’t think of any strengths. When I ask them to tell me what they love doing, the answers start to flow freely. Start by thinking about this question in terms of preferences and you may find that plenty of things come to mind. Most people excel at things they love, so strengths flow naturally from preferences. If you start here, you will probably find that you have quite a few to choose from. The next two tips will help you narrow down what you should share in your limited interview time.

2) Make it something Unique

In the interview process, you are basically selling a product — it just so happens that the product is you. So treat it the way you would approach selling anything else: focus on what makes you unique compared to the competition. For strengths, this means highlighting something that is both relevant to the role and something that is unique.

For example, if you’re an accountant who is also a strategic thinker, that is a really smart attribute to highlight. Most accounting candidates will be good with details, but most likely you will be the only one who highlights a strategic thinking ability. Use this as an opportunity to shine the light on strengths or combinations of skills that make you uniquely qualified for the job.

3) Explain the “HOW”

Consider these two examples:

1: “Project management is a strength of mine. I’ve been able to manage really complex inter-disciplinary projects effectively.”

2: “Project management is a strength of mine. I focus on making sure that all relevant stakeholders are communicated to frequently and that the information they get is most relevant for their responsibilities.  This has enabled me manage complex inter-disciplinary projects effectively.”

The second answer is only one sentence longer, but it does two critical things that the first one doesn’t. First, it gives it some legitimacy. Most candidates will claim they are good at the required skills for a role. When someone says, “I am good at X skill,” the interviewer has to trust their own self-assessment.  After most recruiters and hiring managers do a few hundred interviews, you start to question every stated strength a candidate presents. So while you may be telling the truth, just stating it likely won’t be enough to convince your interviewer. Secondly, explaining HOW you do something effectively gives the interviewer much greater insight into how you think. Since this is the goal of most interviews, you will leave a much stronger impression if you are able to explain what you do differently that allows you to excel at a certain skill.


Weekly Reading

A really interesting look at the differing psychological effects success has on men and women. 

This one is actually a video, but a good analysis of the costs and benefits of getting an MBA. I certainly think that there are benefits other than increased salary post-MBA, but certainly something to calculate before making the leap.

How to stand out when your boss is trying to block your career advancement. 

Weekly Reading

A roundup of my favorite articles from this week. Happy reading!

A great summary of questions to ask a potential employer about company culture. I especially agree with #4: ask what employees don’t like about the culture, and listen carefully for inauthentic answers and red flags.

This is a very timely follow up to yesterday’s blog post. Employees really do want constructive criticism (emphasis on constructive!)

We all know the importance of having a strong professional brand on social media, but how to master your LinkedIn profile? Here are 11 strategies to improve your profile and attract more opportunities. The “relationship” tab is a very under-utilized feature that can make life much easier.

How To: Deliver Critical Feedback Effectively

Whether you’re an employee who isn’t getting enough input from your boss, or a leader who is struggling with how to deliver a tough message, feedback is a universal and unavoidable challenge. As a leader, it is critically important to be able to deliver feedback well.  One of the reasons critical feedback is so dreaded is that many managers think they only need to give it to employees who are struggling.  In fact, feedback is equally, if not more important, as a tool to help your top performers improve and take on more responsibility.  Quality constructive criticism can help a great employee become a star, and enables your star performer to have an even bigger impact on your team.

Although it may be uncomfortable in the moment, your employees and teammates will certainly appreciate your honesty in the long run. Keep these things in mind to deliver feedback most effectively.

1) Put things in Context

I like to use a 2-part formula for giving constructive feedback and performance assessments: The state of things + What does that mean.

Consider the differences between these two statements:

a) “You have been struggling with how to approach projects that are ambiguous.”

b) “You have been struggling with how to approach projects that are more ambiguous, but overall your progress is in line with what we expected based on your seniority.”

See how powerful that second phrase is? The employee would likely walk away with a totally different view on how they were doing. Whether it’s good or bad (the “what does it mean” might be that someone is performing below expectations), it is vital to give employees a sense of where their behavior falls against your expectations for them. Don’t assume they know where you think they stand or that they will be able to extrapolate it from your observation — be explicit.

2) Beware the Compliment Sandwich

I often hear people say that that the compliment sandwich is the most effective way to give feedback. This makes me cringe. It’s not! Don’t just take my word for it, research supports that it’s not an effective way to convey areas for improvement. When you put constructive criticism between two positives, the person you’re talking to mainly only hears the positives. They definitely won’t walk away with a clear sense of how that piece of feedback fits in with their overall performance. They will most likely brush it off altogether. Alternatively, it often has the effect of devaluing the positives. If you want to deliver positive feedback, do it separately. It should not be used as a warm-up for areas for improvement.

3) Partner to Create Next Steps 

There are few things as un-motivating as getting a bunch of critical feedback and feeling like you have no idea how to approach making the necessary changes. An excellent leader will not only deliver the feedback, but they will end the conversation by outlining some concrete steps to improve. It is also most effective if you give examples of what could have gone better. An effective way to combine the two is to discuss how a past example situation could have been improved, and to strategize together about how to handle a similar situation in the future. Motivated people want to improve- help them shift into action as soon as possible by being direct and specific about what they can do differently.

I feel so passionately about the importance of delivering quality, actionable feedback that I could easily develop a list of 20 things to keep in mind. However, if you follow these three guidelines, you are much more likely to have a productive conversation with your employee and lay the foundation for personal growth and improvement.