Project Strength Instead of Weakness During An Interview

Recently, I was interviewing a strong candidate who lost his position when his company went under. The candidate had a solid educational pedigree and work experience. He was bright and articulate and was just about 5 minutes away from receiving an offer. Then the following exchange occurred.
As the interviewer I said: “Tell me what areas each of your last 2 managers would say you can improve on.”
Candidate: “2 jobs ago my manager said that I was not completely engaged because the job was not what I was looking for, and at my last job my manager would probably say that the role was not the right fit for me and because of it I was bored at times. That said, I am passionate about this job and think it is going to be the right fit for me.”
I interpreted the candidate as effectively telling me that his past managers were unhappy with his effort, focus and commitment and that unless he found the perfect fit he would not give his best and total effort to a position. The candidate was professional, impressive and close to an offer, but I could not take the risk that he would be unhappy.
In this hypercompetitive, buyer’s job market you must not offer interviewers reasons not to hire you and that is exactly what the candidate did. Instead of offering to go above and beyond, he presented himself as unpredictable. No matter how nuanced, exhibiting or intimating a bad attitude, laziness, lack of commitment, focus or teamwork can kill your opportunity.
Employers know that past performance is predictive of future performance and will ask interview questions to find out about past behavior. But how can you show positive past behaviors that predict the future successes while addressing a negative or offering examples of weaknesses?
There is a simple 3 step process that will allow you to construct negatives into positives. The 3 steps are:
1. identify a non-core area for improvement
2. position it so it can be seen as a positive
3. show how you are working on improving the area.
First, only identify weaknesses that will not devalue you as a candidate. So identify the 4 or 5 core roles for the position you are interviewing for and be sure to not address any of them in the weaknesses area. For example, if you are interviewing for an engineering management position that uses specific software you should not identify basic engineering, the software or management skills as areas for improvement. In addition, you should not show weaknesses in the area of work ethic, learning, commitment and getting along with others. These are core traits that are necessary in all jobs.
In the example from above, the candidate stated his last 2 managers did not think he worked “that hard.” Some people put in a minimal effort while others work hard, but in this economy no one needs to take a risk on a “lazy” or “unmotivated” candidate.
Second, look for an area that is a negative, but can be perceived as a positive. For example, you can say “I try to take on too much work” or “I try to balance multiple projects” and have missed some deadlines because of it. This statement can position you as a hard worker. Since managers can help employees manage workflow or time, but cannot put the fire in an employee’s belly this subtle approach can have a powerful impact. Either of these answers can present you as a candidate who will work hard and who can flourish with a little guidance.
The third and final step is addressing the weakness. For example, “because I recognize the importance of meeting deadlines I have begun to manage my projects on a timeline so that I do not bite off more than I can chew and can meet my deadlines. But this is an ongoing process for me.” All of us can improve in different areas but here is a candidate actually endeavoring to do it!
These’s tips will help you turn your weaknesses into positives and help you land your next job!

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