I’ve noticed when conducting job interviews that candidates have particular trouble answering questions related to their strengths and weaknesses. One question I ask is extremely straightforward: What feedback has a supervisor recently provided to you (for example, at your last formal evaluation) about your strengths, as well as your areas for improvement? If a candidate has trouble answering this, I give him or her the benefit of the doubt – maybe the candidate has a poor supervisor who hasn’t provided good feedback. Then I revise the question, simply asking: In your opinion, what are your greatest strengths?

I can’t count the number of times I’ve been met with silence in response to this question. What is more concerning is that often I get a laundry list of areas for improvement but no description of the candidate’s strengths. There was even a time when I simply asked a candidate to share her strengths, and she responded with a list of weaknesses!

How is it possible that these job candidates are not able to articulate their strengths?

The reality is that most of us don’t spend time thinking about our strengths. Instead, we focus on trying to improve our weaknesses. Unfortunately, this is a recipe for mediocrity. By focusing on our flaws, we hide our strengths. We also waste a great deal of time and effort trying to become better, when if we simply focused on our strengths, we would become great at what we do best.

Here are three simple tips that will help you become more aware of your strengths

  • Buy the book, StrengthsFinder 2.0. It comes with an access code for an online assessment – take the assessment, which will identify your top five themes of strength, and then read the book.
  • Recognize what you do best in your job. What do you enjoy most? How do you solve problems? What leads to the greatest results? The 80/20 Principle states that 80% of our results come from 20% of our effort. What are you truly doing that creates results?
  • Ask other people what they see as your strengths. What do they notice you doing when you are the most energized? Happiest? Most productive? The responses to these questions will give you valuable information about what you do best.

Excellence comes from knowing not just what we are good at, but what we are GREAT at, and by applying those talents in our lives.

Jene Kapela, Ed.D.