How to Talk About Weaknesses in an Interview

“What’s your greatest weakness?”

If you have interviewed for a job or internship, chances are you have been asked this question. In a brief video posted to Forbes’ website, Kathryn Dill provides sage advice on how to handle this question.

Some important themes in her message to take note of include:

Be authentic: It is important to both be aware of your weaknesses and avoid clichés, especially those that are not actually weaknesses (e.g. perfectionism) and can make you seem arrogant.

Be professional: Stick to examples from the workplace. Other formal settings like the classroom, student organizations, or volunteer experiences are OK too.

Be proactive: Select something you have been successful in addressing and share the tactics you have adopted. This approach will allow you to both communicate your problem solving abilities and assure the employer that the weakness will not lead to problems in the workplace.

In my work with advisees, I often share these very same tips. Being able to talk about your weaknesses and how you have addressed them shows that you have a self-awareness that allows for growth. Besides, no one wants to hire someone who cannot recognize their own growing edges, rendering them unteachable and often unpleasant to work alongside.

Being able to talk about your weaknesses and how you have addressed them shows that you have a self-awareness that allows for growth.

In preparation for your interview, take time to reflect on where you have struggled. Select weaknesses that are not vital to the type of position you are applying for as not to raise red flags, and be prepared to talk about how you have succeeded in addressing these weaknesses. I also recommend being prepared to talk about at least 2 or 3 separate weaknesses. Some employers, knowing that you have likely prepared at least one response, may push you to provide additional examples to see how you respond under pressure.

Of course, weaknesses are just one topic you should be prepared to negotiate in an interview. Learn more by meeting with your career advisor or conducting a practice interview with an ASK alumni mentor!

Reframing the Idea of Networking

So, are you networking?

This is a question that almost every student I advise will hear. The importance of making connections in the world of work cannot be underscored enough. More than once, a student on the receiving end of my inquiry has squirmed a bit in their chair before expressing a deep-seated discomfort with the whole idea of networking. This often stems from the commonly cited phrase, “It’s not what you know, but who you know!” Rightfully so, these students feel uncomfortable with the idea that a job might be undeservingly secured by way of a back room handshake rising out of nepotism. In over 12 years at the Career Center, I have found DePaul students to be firm in their desire to earn a position based on their knowledge and skills.

With this in mind, I challenge students to reframe their concept of networking by putting my own spin on the “It’s not what you know…” claim. I ask them to consider that it is indeed WHO you know that allows you to PRESENT what you know. I find this to be a far more accurate way of describing the importance of networking.

The simple fact is that for every available position, employers receive far more applicants than they can accommodate. As such, referrals and past interactions can be welcomed channels for sourcing candidates. Building relationships by way of networking can help you get your application noticed. Being a known candidate or having a trusted colleague speak on your behalf can go a long way when it comes to being on a hiring manager’s “must interview” list.

With all of this in mind, here are a few quick tips for successful networking:

Start with warm connections: It can be more comfortable and fruitful to first approach those with whom you have an existing relationship – faculty, classmates, former supervisors, family friends, and neighbors, for example. As part of your conversations, ask who else they might recommend you talk to. Personal introductions are among the best ways to grow your network!

Build rapport: Don’t start by asking for a referral. Instead, take time to build a relationship with the contact first. They’ll need to get to know you as a professional before they feel comfortable recommending you to others.

Frame it as an opportunity to learn: As you build rapport, relish in the opportunity to gain insight into the profession, field, and industry that your contact has established him or herself in. Conducting an “informational interview” is a great way to get insider information about your contact’s career and organization, and gather recommendations for those who wish to follow a similar path.

Follow up the right way: Following your initial conversation, send an email to thank your contact and connect with them on LinkedIn. Should you come across an article or other resource that might be of interest based on your previous conversations, share it by email.

Finally, when an opportunity presents itself that the contact may be able to help you with, reach out. Thank them for their previous help, mention the connection you believe they may have to the opportunity (e.g. they work with the organization or may know the hiring manager), and ask if they might be open to helping you think through your approach. At this point, they may offer you advice on how to best frame your materials or, if they’re able and comfortable, offer to recommend you.


So, are you ready to network? Consider utilizing the Alumni Sharing Knowledge (ASK) Program to connect with DePaul alumni who have volunteered to be networking contacts for students, just like you. By jumping on Handshake, you can explore the many alumni who are willing to connect today, as well as search for upcoming networking events and workshops.

 

Communicating the Right Skills to Employers

As a student you are learning a lot in the classroom. From technical knowledge related to your major, to transferable skills like problem solving and collaboration, your degree program is preparing you to enter the workforce. As you engage in internships, volunteering, and student leadership roles, you put these skills and knowledge to use in ways that are of interest to potential future employers. Being able to effectively communicate what you are able to offer will be key to your successful job search.

In a recent article series published in Eye on Psi Chi, an online magazine for members of the national honor society for psychology students, I wrote about the importance of being able to identify and put language around your skills. The Career Center offers a card sort activity, called SkillScan, in both one-on-one advising and workshop formats that focuses on transferable skills.

SkillScan, described at length in the first article, helps you prioritize the skills you would like to use in the future, separating them from those of less interest and those that you are certain you would not like to use. An activity like this is valuable as you work to identify the industry and career path you wish to target for yourself. From there, your career counselor or workshop facilitator will guide you in identifying strong examples of times when you have successfully employed the skills you wish to use in the future. He or she will also help you to think critically about those skills you need to develop further and/or exemplify through future coursework, volunteer activities, internships, and part-time work. To complete a SkillScan assessment, attend the “Identify Your Skills and Accomplishments” workshop on May 2, 2016 or contact the Career Center to schedule an appointment with your advisor.

Once you have identified the skills you wish to perform in the workplace, you must hone your ability to convey these to potential employers. The second article in the Eye on Psi Chi series addresses the art of communicating your skills through strategic resume writing. Crafting bulleted accomplishment statements that strike the right balance between offering sufficient detail and being concise enough to allow your reader to quickly grasp the skills you offer, can be a challenge. The Career Center’s Peer Career Advisor program offers walk-in resume development and critique sessions to help you ensure your resume will grab employers’ attention, and land you the interview you are after.

My advice to you when it comes to communicating your skills:

Emphasize the skills you wish to use and further develop in your next position when crafting your resume. Also, be concrete by offering examples of times when you’ve used those skills and be sure to note the positive outcomes that resulted from your efforts.

 


 

A future article in Eye on Psi Chi will feature tips for continuing your efforts to communicate skills to employers by providing tips and best practices for helping you to succeed in the interview process. Stay tuned for more details!