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Weakness to strength

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  • 10/08/2001
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Identifying your strengths and weaknesses is a crucial part of career development

Imagine you are in a job interview, you are keen and it is going well. You have demonstrated your technical competence and have the appropriate experience. The interviewer turns to personal qualities. The advertisement calls for leadership qualities and communication skills and you have thought about responses to demonstrate those, but unfortunately this is the final interview with a potential boss and he is running out of questions. He seizes on a traditional area. ‘What would you say are your strengths and weaknesses?’ What do you say?

Clearly none of us are perfect and we all have strengths and weaknesses, but which ones will it be appropriate to confess to in this arena?

If you had been coached for the interview, you would have been shown how to demonstrate that while you had weaknesses you both knew them and knew how to turn them into strengths:

I can be a bit impatient with detail so I always ask a team member who is pedantic to do the checking.

I feel my English could be better so I am studying for an A level.

This, of course, raises the question: how do you get to know your strengths and weaknesses?

Do you have a system of appraisals in your company, or do you take your ongoing professional development sufficiently seriously that you have ‘invested in yourself?’ There are tools to help you do this.

Within the menu of career development tools offered by the Institute of Financial Services (IFS) are formal testing instruments that can help you determine your own strengths and weaknesses and hopefully work on them. This clearly has personal benefits over and above doing well at interviews.

Within the vast range of instruments developed by psychologists there are two major themes ‘ the testing of ability; and the determination of models of personality. Both can be useful in a personal development plan.

Abilities that interest us in a work context may be:

How do my numeracy and ability with words compare with my peer group?

Even though I did not go to university, do I have the same ability levels as graduates?

Are my skills good enough for the next level of promotion?

In some of these areas, study or training could improve your ability and raise your scores.

In the personality or interpersonal skills area, the following issues could be resolved:

Am I really suited to my role, or should I consider another area in which I might be more successful?

What part do I play in a team and how could I improve that?

As to the instruments available there are many, often based on carefully constructed and verified questionnaires.

An internet-based exercise known as ‘Thomas PPA’ is available to members of the institute and has the real merit of using personality traits that are easily recognised, understandable and memorable. This may lead to an understanding of your strengths and weaknesses which you can carry in your head and use every day. Some tests, however, are profound and interesting, but require in-depth training to understand them.

On career or role decisions, there are good vocational guidance tools that take into account not only ability, but also the degree of interest on the part of the subject. This is a consideration that could lead to much better decisions on further education choices.

Investing in more information can be likened to having a better map, but not necessarily more ‘know how’ on making an appropriate move. Here a professional careers counsellor can be helpful by interpreting the jargon and formulating practical plans for managing strengths and weaknesses.

Analysis tools are increasingly being used in the recruitment process. It could therefore pay us all to make personal use of diagnostic tools to understand our strengths and weaknesses before submitting job applications. We will then welcome, rather than fear, the question: What would you say are your strengths and weaknesses?

As a starting point, have a look at the attached suggestion list and pick some strengths and weaknesses you can quote for yourself, ensuring that the weakness can be turned into strength.

Neil Young is head of business and market development at the IFS

For more information about the IFS and the services it offers, please call 01227 818 609, or email customerservices@ifslearning.com quoting reference SS004A

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