Fact is, you can get the job offer even if you’re not a perfect match to what the job description is asking for. You can even beat others that are more qualified than you. It happens all the time.
But you need to know your weaknesses, how to talk about them in an interview, and turn them into strength statements.
Truthfully, I hate the word weakness. But for the purposes of this article, when I say weakness I mean any lack of skill, any lack of experience or gap in employment you might have. Generally, you need to know how to address any objection they may have towards your competency for the position.
We all have weaknesses. The question is, what is the best way to talk about them and turn them into strength statements when they come up in an interview?
First, back up a bit and think about what it means to already have an interview.
- Your resume made it through the ATS filters
- A person read your resume and liked it enough to consider you a candidate and call you
That’s awesome! Your job now is to sell them on your strengths and ease their fears about your weaknesses. By reading your resume, they may already see some holes in your qualifications. That’s OK! They’re always going to have some doubt about your competency unless you are very well networked.
So how do you turn fear or doubt into trust in an interview?
1) Prepare your Strength Statements before your Interview
Interviews aren’t just about answering the questions you get asked. More importantly, you need to come prepared with Strength Statements that can be stated alone or in almost every question you are asked.
Strength Statements are concise ways to communicate your top strengths, value-adds, qualifications, and benefits you will be bringing to the company.
Having a solid understanding of your top qualifications will let you easily redirect back to them if they bring up any objection toward you.
I’ll talk more about the Address and Redirect Method below with word-for-word examples, which is how you shift the focus off your weaknesses and onto your Strength Statements.
But I’m not talking about any random strengths you have. You could have skills and experience in several areas that don’t apply directly to the job. Therefore, the first step is:
Step 1) Determine Your Top 3 Strengths
Your top 3 strengths will be your best qualifications that apply directly to what the job is asking for. They can be direct or transferable skills/experience (and they should be on your resume as well).
You probably have more than 3, but in an interview you don’t always have the ability to say everything you want to. Therefore, it’s critical to know what to talk about first. Think:
What are the 3 most important things I MUST say in the interview to prove I am the best person for the job?
But beyond simply stating your top 3 qualifications (your strengths), consider relating them to how they will benefit the company. (your benefits)
A strength could be your skills, experience, network, etc. For example:
- knowledge of project management
- parallel programming or
- managing a team.
- already knowing your teammates or the hiring manager
Those are strengths.
But you need to take it one step further and tell them how your strengths will BENEFIT THEM. And that’s how you can make the connection in their minds between what you have and why you are a good fit for the job.
Ultimately they are trying to determine if you can do the job and if you can do it well. So just talking about your strengths doesn’t fully convey you know the problems the job is supposed to solve.
Therefore, the best Strength Statements mention how your qualifications will benefit the company in some way. Example benefits could be:
- Saving money or time
- Increased customer satisfaction
- Increased efficiency or outputs
Step 2) Create Your Top 3 Strength Statements
Once you’ve determined your top 3 qualifications and benefits, construct strength statements and write them down word-for-word.
There are several ways to communicate a strength statement in an interview. Here are a few examples:
- You can state them clearly – Strength, then Benefit
I have a lot of experience with OpenMP and if hired I can increase the efficiency of your existing code sets and therefore lower computing costs.
- You can wrap them in a behavioral-based story.
I once was working on this very old Fortran code and you wouldn’t believe how slow it was running until I…
- You can lead with the Benefit and then follow with the Strength.
I have a lot of experience with knowing how to lower computing costs by increasing the efficiency of existing OpenMP code sets.
You should also prepare to elaborate on your strength statements if asked to. Therefore, make sure you have examples or stories ready to support them.
Writing these down and practicing them out loud is one of the most important things you can do to prepare for your interview. Why? Because increased stress levels in your interview can botch your speech, articulation, and memory.
But having an arsenal of prepared strength statements will let you articulately convey your value and make you appear more competent to the hiring manager in the most stressful moments.
Example Strength Statements – Technical Support Engineer
Let’s say you are applying for a Technical Support Engineer position. Your Strength Statements might be:
- “I’m comfortable providing technical support under pressure, especially with new problems.”
- “I can handle a large support case load and still maximize customer satisfaction.”
- “I have experience with the technology and working relationships with the team which will allow me to start taking cases faster.”
2) Know your Weaknesses before your Interview
Again, a weakness is generally any lack of qualification you may have for the specific job you are applying to. A weakness could be:
- A lack of a hard or soft skill
- A lack of years of experience in the job or the industry
- A gap in employment
- A lack of education
- A lack of quality references
They will vary with each job you apply to.
You should generally already have a solid understanding of what your weaknesses are compared to the job description. But if you didn’t study the job description before submitting your resume, now is the time before your interview.
- Highlight all the hard and soft skills written in the job description.
- Determine which ones you don’t have or are weak at
Although the job description isn’t always the best way to determine what’s required of the job or what qualifications you’re expected to have. To get a better understanding of that, reach out to people at the company on LinkedIn and ask them questions to get a deeper understanding of the company culture, the team, and the job.
It’s better to be prepared with what’s coming. So think about what you may get asked about from your unique background.
3) The Address and Redirect Method
Now what do you do if you get asked about a weakness in your job interview? Whether you bring it up first or you wait for them to, the strategy is the same. That is:
You Address it quickly and then Redirect the conversation back to your strength statements.
Honestly, why dwell on the negative? What the hiring manager really wants you to do is erase their fears and convince him/her that you can solve the problems the job entails. Therefore, the more time you can talk about connecting the dots between your qualifications and the responsibilities/problems inherent in the position, the better.
And by having a solid understanding of your strengths and knowledge of your weaknesses, you will be better able to deflect and redirect back to what they NEED to hear before the interview is over.
The following are four examples of how to use the Address and Redirect Method with the following scenarios:
- Lack of a Skill
- Lack of Industry Experience
- Low GPA
- A Gap in Work Experience
Example: Lack of a Skill
Let’s say you’re applying to a Software Engineering job. You have a lot of skill with Java but not as much with C++, which is what the job asks for. So what do you say if you get asked in the interview about your knowledge of C++?
(Address) I have a little experience with C++…
(Redirect) but a few years ago when I needed to really learn Java, I read books, I took online courses, and I got help when needed from my coworkers. I was then ready to write production code in just 2 month and I know that I can do the same with C++ in this position.
Key Point: If you don’t have a skill they want, then talk about HOW you’re going to acquire that skill or gain that experience based on HOW you gained or accomplished some previous skill or experience in the past.
By default, always redirect back to the value and benefits you’re going to bring to the position.
Example: Lack of Industry Experience
Let’s say you’re applying to a Sales position in the Computer Data Storage business. You will be targeting the Financial Market, which you have no experience in. Although, you do have a lot of experience in the Oil and Gas Market. How would you respond to a question about your experience in the Financial market?
(Redirect) The Financial Market is interesting because <KNOWLEDGE 1> and < KNOWLEDGE 2>. I’ve been talking to successful sales executives in the Financial Market and what I’ve learned is that <SOLUTION TO COMMON PROBLEM>. I have a lot of experience in the Oil and Gas market where in my first couple years at my previous company, I was able to close $10 million in revenue by <RELATE TO SAME SOLUTION TO COMMON PROBLEM>. I’m confident that I can achieve the same revenue targets at COMPANY NAME. In fact, I think I can do better.
Key Point: Depending on how the question comes up, you don’t need to blatantly say you DON’T have a qualification. Instead, you can jump right into the Redirect and talk about what you know. You might not have the experience on your resume, but you should have done your homework and be able to talk intelligently about the qualifications you lack.
Example: Low GPA
Let’s say you’re applying for your second job out of college or grad school and your grades weren’t that great. You only have a year of job experience and you left out your GPA on your resume. You are asked in an interview what your GPA was. How would you respond?
(Address) My GPA in school could have been better,
(Redirect) but since then I’ve consistently added a lot of value in my past roles. For example, at my last job I increased customer conversions by 50% by rewriting the website’s sales copy.
Key Point: You don’t always have the chance to mention transferable skills/experience when redirecting away from a weakness like in the last two examples. In this example, you need to go right into one of your strength statements to ease the hiring manager’s underlying fear that your low GPA means you won’t be able to do the job.
Example: A Gap in Work Experience
Let’s say you have a sizable gap in your work history. For whatever reason, you needed to take a long leave of absence. How would you address this in an interview?
(Address) I had to take a leave of absence for a personal issue and now it is resolved.
Key Point: You don’t need to lie, but you don’t need to go into the details of a work-history gap either. You have no obligation to tell them what it was for, so don’t disqualify yourself by doing so. If they ask you for details, then you can just say:
“I’d prefer to leave it at that. It was a personal issue and now it is resolved.
Don’t redirect to anything. Just let them move on and ask you their next question. By handling this situation in this way, you are calmly redirecting the conversation back to questions where you can communicate your competencies.
Successfully addressing questions that expose your weaknesses starts with a solid understanding of your strengths. When you know how to connect the dots between your qualifications and the responsibilities/problems inherent in the position, you can better deflect or redirect any objection they may have against you.
The more you can redirect the conversation back to what you want them to hear with powerful strength statements, the easier it will be to ease any fears they may have towards your ability to do the job well.
Use the Address and Redirect Method and these four examples to craft your own Strength Statements and steer the interview ship away from their fears and objections. And when you do, you can better prove that you are the hire they’ve been looking for.
Your Turn: Tell me what is one of your weaknesses that you are planning to address in your next job interview? What Strength Statement are you going to redirect to?