Interviews: Strengths, Weaknesses and Preparation…

I was recently asked by a Candidate I am currently working with, for some help with Interview Questions and how best to prepare and research ahead of the event.

The question that seems to get everyone in the biggest tizz tends to be anything to do with strengths and weaknesses. Anything that has us talking about ourselves. Anything really to do with our own personal qualities and suitability for the job… Which is a bit tricky really, seeing as this is an Interview and that’s kind of what it’s based upon…

“Tell us about yourself…?”
“What makes you right for the job…?”
“Why should we take you on…?”

Dress it up however you like Mr Interviewer, we know what you’re after. You want us to talk about US. Blood runs cold, palms start to sweat… This can now go one of two ways:

Freeze, clam up entirely and stare vacantly into space. The voices in our head getting louder and louder, taunting us… “you can’t think of anything can you… you’ve gone quiet, you’ve gone silent, you’ve… totally ballsed this up, get your coat.”

Or we lose the plot totally, a massive bout of verbal diarrhoea has us spewing out word after word of complete and utter crap. Random words that vaguely resemble something we THINK the Employer wants to hear, loosely based on some dodgy advice we got from a geeky careers advisor we were forced to talk to in Year 10 who fobbed us off with all kinds of rubbish. Cast your mind back, you remember, they’d say things like: “A good answer to the question of ‘what are your strengths’ is…”

“I’m hardworking, reliable, honest and a good timekeeper” 

“Brilliant, thanks for that, I needed a kip”, thinks your interviewer (as he tries desperately to stop his nostrils from flaring thus giving the ‘stifled yawn’ game away).

Seriously, why does this question get us in such a tizz? Surely no-one knows us better than we know ourselves, why are we not sitting there just HOPING we are going to be asked this question, waiting for our chance to give it large about ourselves thinking ‘Bring it on – Shine that Goddamn light in my eyes, I’m READY’.

All too often, I speak to people who genuinely believe they have done all the preparation they can for their interview. I never doubt that they have put the time and effort in – but is this time and effort put in the right direction? Not always.

They will be able to recite details on when the company was founded, by whom, what the MD’s pet dog is called… etc. etc. etc. But what do they know about what the Employer actually WANTS from someone. On a day to day basis? Sometimes, very little.

The Preparation – Here’s What you do:

When you have an interview arranged, you should have some information on the following:

  • The company itself; their website, social media links etc.
  • The Job content; the duties and responsibilities involved
  • A bit about the personal qualities they are looking for in someone

This is the order in which I believe you should focus your efforts, preparation-wise:

  1. Personal Qualities
  2. Job Content
  3. Company Information

First of all, PRINT out all the information you have to hand and categorise it according to the priority list above.

Take the Personal Qualities section, get a highlighter pen and work through the information you have, really READ what they are asking for and highlight accordingly. At this stage you’re just getting to grips with what they are calling out for – not what you match up to. Now, on another piece of paper, right down each quality that you feel applies to you and for each point, jot down an example of why it applies to you, or something you can back it up with; a case study, an achievement, a compliment, a reference…

For the Job Content / Duties / Responsibilities section, you’ll carry out the same exercise. With your highlighter pen, work through the duties you’d be expected to take on. Again, don’t try to match this with what you’ve done previously, just focus on understanding the tasks they are telling you are involved in the role. Get another piece of paper and now write down each task/duty/responsibility that you have experience of. Under each point, say WHERE you gained this experience. Make extra notes under each point to further validate your experience and to marry it up with their wish-list.

Lastly, you’ll start to take a more in-depth look at the Company InformationYou should have a brief understanding of what the Company do already but it’s always good to dig a bit deeper – Just not crazy-stalkerish digging. Look at their website. DO NOT try to learn their website. Just use the time looking through the information to get a feel for the language they use, how they describe their product/services, read the ‘about us’ section (although please don’t look too much into this. No employer is going to be impressed by how much you know about them on a personal level; they’ll just be downright freaked out and it will be game over.). If they have a ‘news’ section it’s good to check this out as there could be some decent reading here. Most Companies will have an online presence in the form of Social Media, whether Facebook, Twitter, Linked In or Instagram. Have a look over these, again – familiarise yourself with their style of writing and the content they put out. This is more to give you a ‘behind the scenes’ peek at the organisation, not for you to report back to them on.

As you work through these exercises, you should start to find yourself thinking in a much more practical, focused way. You’ll have broken the Job down into such small detail that you’ll have an excellent understanding of what it’s all about. You might even have started to think about strengths that you didn’t even realise you have, or it could have got you thinking about better ways to back up the strengths you knew you did. There is nothing but good stuff that can come from doing this type of preparation.

With the right research, preparation and a decent CV to use as your prop – you can give the right information in the right way that will satisfy the interviewer and lead them on to the next question.

Which will hopefully be ‘When can you start?’

If you need advice tailored to your job search / interview dilemmas – please do drop me a line. I love a challenge and I just might be able to shine some light for you.


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