Monday, March 9, 2009

No One Really Cares About Your Three Greatest Strengths

If you've ever attended a career services session, read a job search guide, or skimmed the articles on job search engine sites, you've seen them: the list of standard interview questions. Some of my favorites:

  1. What are your three greatest strengths?
  2. What is your greatest weakness? (NOTE: Find a way to make this into a strength)
  3. Describe how you overcame a difficult situation?
  4. Where do you see yourself in five years?
  5. What can you contribute to this company?

All of these sound like reasonable interview questions, and as much as I mock them, some incarnation of these questions is almost always asked at an interview. However, a word of advice: practicing your answers to the stock questions over and over is not a good way to prepare for an interview. But Sam, you just said that most interviewers ask these questions, didn't you? Yes, I did, but the key words are "some incarnation of these questions." Therefore, if you prepare your answers too much, you'll probably wind up stuck.

I'm a bit of a "Nervous Nellie." I do a great job of over thinking and making my stomach do somersaults in high pressure situations. (I should say, I did, as I've gotten much better). Interviews were one such situation. I went to numerous career center sessions, memorized lists of potential questions and went over and over the answers I would give to each one. Unfortunately, this didn't always work so well. If an interviewer asked me a question I hadn't prepared for, or took a different approach to asking one I had worked on, I was immediately flustered. I applied to over 80 jobs and had about half a dozen interviews, but never got the job.

Here's what I learned:
  • No one really cares about your three greatest strengths. They don't really want a list of one, two, three.
  • The best way to prepare is by knowing yourself and being confident in your abilities. Think back to experiences you've had and what you learned from them. Ask yourself, what am I good at, and what could I improve upon? Examples are key.
  • Don't worry about having the exact answer to every question, in fact, it's best if you don't.
  • If you're bringing a notepad, write down some key words that you could look at to jog your memory if need be, but don't write out full answers to questions.
  • Learn as much as you can about the organization and the person interviewing you. LinkedIn can be a great tool.
  • If an interview doesn't go well, don't beat yourself up about it, tempting though it may be. It's probably not the right place for you anyway.

When I interviewed at CPX Interactive last December, the experience was unlike any of the other interviews I'd had. As soon as I walked in the room, I felt a positive vibe. The interviewer (who is now my boss) and I had a great conversation. I didn't feel like I was being interrogated, which is thanks to his interviewing style, but I also didn't allow myself to over think my answers. They came from my heart.

When you go on college tours, you're always searching for the one place that feels like it could be home for the next four years. You can't force the feeling, it just comes to you when you're at the right place. Finding the place you're meant to work can be much the same. If you sit down in the interview room and your nerves instantly calm, you feel a connection with the interviewer, and your answers to questions are fueled by the excitement and passion you're feeling for the job you want, that's probably the place for you.

To sum all of this up: Be yourself. Be confident. Don't over think or over memorize. Show your greatest strengths through the work you've done. Don't give up, things will work out eventually.

For another great post on being yourself, check out Jamie Varon's Blog intersected.

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