Strengths and Weaknesses

Knowing your strengths and weaknesses not only helps you answer one of the most popular interview questions, but helps you understand yourself, build confidence, and recognize the skills you excel in and areas that offer an opportunity for growth. Even if you are not preparing for an interview you can benefit from recognizing your strengths and weaknesses.

Strengths are not only traits you feel you are good at…you have to feel comfortable and confident doing them. Just as weaknesses are not faults! Defining a weakness is not a bad thing, it’s not negative, and it certainly does not define you. Being aware of a weakness, or two or five, is opportunity for growth or help realizing what field or hobby you don’t want to explore. A weakness is simply a skill you lack experience or knowledge in or can be something you do not feel comfortable doing. You can strengthen a weakness if you choose to; practice, research, read about it, explore projects at work or through volunteering that allow you to gain experience or knowledge. You can also become more comfortable by practicing or reaching out to a mentor and learning more about that particular weakness.

Recognizing your strengths and weaknesses and knowing yourself is a must for interviewing as well as building self-confidence. Of course you know you better than anyone. Right? Actually, it’s not always that easy…is it? I recall during some of my first interviews being asked to describe my strengths and weaknesses and saying ‘ummm and well….’ a lot. Sometimes we need to remind ourselves we have talents, skills, experience and a lot to offer, whether to an employer or just as a reminder to one’s self.

So, how does one recognize these important traits? Ask yourself questions, use keywords to describe each trait/skill/experience, and write out your pitch.

What is a pitch? It is also called the ‘elevator pitch’ – typically a two to three minute explanation of why you are the right person for the position, project, or describing yourself, etc.  I have used a pitch for book ideas and article submissions as well as interviews.

Your pitch is a collection of information in a ‘short version’ quick response. When asked to describe your strengths and weaknesses your pitch is a perfect response. To create your pitch consider the following questions. I’ve focused on interviewing, but this can easily be used for personal growth (recognizing a goal to focus on).

  • Summarize your work history, volunteer efforts, or other experiences that have helped you gain skills along with an achievement. What have you been accomplishing the past year, five years, ten years? Have you stayed in the same field; sales, nonprofit, education, retail, construction, etc.? Have you had your own business?  For example you may say something like, “For the past five years I have worked in the non-profit field and coordinated several fund raising events including the largest event of an organization.” You can sum up your work field, history and an accomplishment quickly.
  • Recognize your strengths. What are you good at and what do you enjoy? Maybe you have a knack for researching and solving problems or being a team leader or support within a team, you can sell anything, you can organize files, plan an event without breaking a sweat, bake a cake using unique ingredients, speak to a group, teach others, etc. For a simple example you can add a sentence to your pitch that goes something like this, “As a team leader I developed a solution to lower costs on shipping while training the shipping department how to use this new system.” Again, use examples to show your strengths (show don’t tell), backed by actions and facts.
  • Recognize your weaknesses. What would you like to strengthen? What else would you like to learn? You may be the number one sales person or the assistant everyone else comes to with certain questions, but is there a skill you admire in others that you feel you aren’t quite as strong in? Could you learn more about a particular computer program, work ahead of deadlines, do you need to know when to delegate or how to set realistic deadlines and prioritize projects, do you want to dive deeper into a presentation program, or stop using post it notes for all your important reminders? For example you could add this to your pitch, “I can take on too many projects since I enjoy multitasking, but I have to set limits on myself to ensure each project is completed before the deadline.”
  • Where are you going? End your pitch with your expectations, future goals, or five year plan (or year or ten year plan). For example, “I plan to gain knowledge by completing an Adobe InDesign certification program while providing my skills in an education based environment.”

Practice saying your pitch out loud until you can repeat it confidently and without it sounding rehearsed. Accept your strengths and be proud of them. Recognize your weaknesses and find an excitement inside you that wants to strengthen them!

When you leave a position ask your supervisor and coworkers to describe your strengths and weaknesses. This will help with your future interviews and boost self-confidence. Update your pitch as often as needed!

Tips to share? Contact me or comment here. Questions? Please ask!

 

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To be trustworthy or not to be trustworthy

Of course it’s important to be trustworthy. BUT don’t use that term on a resume.

There are many personality traits we all value and obviously have, but you must choose your words wisely when writing your resume. Including the obvious can actually hinder your chances of a thorough review of your resume. Especially, more recently with numerous resumes being received for open positions employers can be more and more selective when handpicking their top choices. One way they narrow down the count is by ignoring ‘the obvious’. You have a short window (usually just a quick scan by the employer, of your resume in 30 seconds or less) to stand out and find yourself on the interview call list.

Don’t use that limited time frame with obvious generic words, instead define why you are unique…brag about actual accomplishments, be specific…use examples of how you are trustworthy (show don’t tell), instead of telling a prospective employer you are.  Let your resume reflect your actions…your accomplishments…by sharing results. For example instead of ‘team-player’ you could write a short blurb about how you led a team and solved a problem, finished a project before the due date, coordinated a committee, etc.

Below are a few words and phrases to avoid on your resume:

  • Go-to person
  • Results driven
  • Team player
  • Hard worker
  • Strategic thinker
  • Dynamic
  • Self-motivated
  • Self-starter
  • Detail-oriented
  • Highly qualified
  • Trustworthy
  • Results focused
  • Energetic
  • Think outside of the box
  • Confident
  • Professional
  • Successful
  • People Person
  • Familiar with
  • Reliable
  • Problem Solver

Keywords/phrases to include on your resume:

  • Achieved
  • Improved
  • Completed
  • Developed
  • Analyzed
  • Justified
  • Counseled
  • Facilitated
  • Implemented
  • Trained
  • Mentored
  • Managed
  • Created
  • Resolved
  • Volunteered
  • Increased/Decreased
  • Negotiated
  • Generated
  • Revenue/Profits
  • Under budget

Do you have any tips, past experience, keywords to use or avoid? Please share them!

Questions? Please ask them!!!

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How to gain work experience

I’ve been asked to share some options to gain experience and skills if you don’t have a lot of work history or educational degree seeking. If you are new to the work force, in between jobs, changing careers or simply looking for a job for whatever reason, gaining more experience is always a positive step!

My first option to share is volunteering. Volunteering allows you to learn new skills, explore different job types, make connections, add to your reference list – volunteer leaders/directors, etc. make great references! Volunteering can help you find the job you want in and out of the non-profit world. A lot of business owners, directors, bosses, managers, etc. volunteer their time and it can be a great way to make connections for future work opportunities.

There are many volunteer opportunities for practically every type of skill level, time availability and personality. You can volunteer hands on or even without leaving your home! Volunteer opportunities include; writing, organizing spaces or files, donation outreach, computer programming/web design, teaching, spending time with the elderly or those in care centers or hospitals, cleaning, developing mailing lists and/or mailings, research, event planning and setup, deliveries and personal drivers, fundraisers, thrift store or gift shop clerk, court appointed advocate, hospice care, handyman/woman, art projects coordination, animal care, project sewers, music lessons or playing, knitters, personal shopper, and so many more opportunities!

If you have more time and passion about a particular organization you can also look into being a board or committee member.

I volunteered for a non profit that was close to my heart for over five years, when the coordinator retired, they called me to offer me the job. I was shocked and excited. I accepted the offer and had almost three years in that position! During that time I made some great contacts and learned skills and gained experience that has helped me with obtain my current position.

You can search particular organizations for their volunteer opportunities or use such sites as volunteermatch.org to find your perfect match!

Another option is starting your own business and gain experience with the skills you already have; lawn-mowing, cleaning, administrative/office, handyman/woman, sewing, tutoring, travel guide, computer repair, freelance writer or web designer, cook, baker, or any other skill you enjoy. Advertise throughout your neighborhood, post your skills on social media, make business cards and leave them at libraries, laundromats, put a sign in your own yard and/or ask friends if you can advertise on their property, etc. Don’t let the thought overwhelm you. Most business can be started slowly with word of mouth advertising and/or free posts, etc. Depending on the business you may already have all of the tools / supplies you need or purchase at a low cost/investment. And each customer becomes a possible reference, repeat customer, and marketer for your business! Freelance work opportunities have allowed me to gain some valuable professional and personal work experience!

Online courses, community education classes, workshops, conference, etc. are also worth exploring. Some offer low cost or even free computer course, refresher classes, web design, accounting, etc. Some public libraries and public education institutes offer free basic courses. I have taken free online courses in the past to refresh some skills I had not used at a current position, but required at a new position I was applying for.

The experience you gain is resume worthy!

Do you have any other tips? Please share them!

Questions? Please ask them!

Thanks for reading!!!

Finding your resume balance

Too much or too little…finding that perfect balance for your resume.

It’s sometimes tough to balance necessary information with multiple jobs on a resume. You don’t want to lie or hide anything, but you don’t want to focus on irrelevant experience and skills when you have relevant material to cover that relates to the position you are applying for. So how do you find that balance?

I have discussed this with other hiring managers and employers. The answer is not a short one, but I hope to clarify a few general ‘rules’ in this post.

During positions I held that gave me an opportunity to be on a hiring committee or volunteer selection committee I focused on how applicants matched their skills and experience with the duties listed for the position. Confirming they actually read the entire post and identified their related skills. As a writer of open position duties, I tried to be specific, yet open to related skills; writing such statements as ‘office experience or equivalent education/training’, etc.

The committees typically focused on seeing a personality showing through on a written, typo-free, well-organized resume while scanning for keywords in the applicants employment history that matched the open position. We focused on achievement, paying close attention to those that stated an accomplishment in the highlight of each position they had held. Showing professionalism, even if their employment history was short or listed more than one job in a year. We asked ourselves if that position helped them gain experience, did they accomplish a goal or solve an issue and did they word it in a way that confirmed they were ready to make a commitment with our company. We would form questions we wanted to ask the applicant quickly, which was always a good sign.

Someone once wrote they had developed a team to focus on outreach with donors that had never contributed funds or volunteers for their fundraising. This was an interesting and confident statement. As the committee read that, we wanted to know the details, how did they reach out to them, what was the anticipated goal, did they achieve it, etc. We needed to meet this person!

With most employers giving a resume a 20 to 30 second look over, you want to highlight your skills and experience most relevant to the position you are applying for. Most managers say they understand not putting jobs that lasted less than six months onto a resume, unless it’s extremely relevant. If the short term employment provided an opportunity for you to solve a problem, learn a new process or skill, etc. then include it.

Remember, any employment lapse needs to be explained either in your cover letter or during the interview process. If you leave off a few short term jobs, you should be prepared to answer why. Were they unrelated to the job you’re applying for? Were you not given the tools to learn the job properly and you decided to find a better one? Were they longer than ten to 15 years ago?

Most of us have had jobs unrelated to current career choice or focus. Right out of high school I cleaned houses and offices for living. Although, I did not gain any writing or professional assistant type experience, I did gain customer service and a stronger work ethic. So I incorporated those skills onto my resume for my ‘early career’ job search. As time went on and as I gained more work experience in my related field I left that position off my resume.

I have also had a couple of jobs that I felt did not give me the right tools to succeed. The tools (computer, programs, etc.) were outdated, duties were not clearly defined and the working environment was unprofessional once I actually started working there. I decided to start looking for other opportunities and quit once I found the right one. I eventually left those off my resume too, but discussed them during any interviews I accepted. I simply stated the truth and found that the hiring manager and/or hiring committee actually commended my ability to recognize the mismatch with myself and the position. I explained the indifference in a professional way, never badmouthing the company or department, but simply stating the recognition of not being a good fit.

I’ve also had gaps in employment history. I was laid off from a job and it took me over six months to find a new one. Another time I had a stressful position I eventually quit after almost three years for a different job at a different company and that company decided to not fill the position after all…it took me almost five months to find another job. During the first gap I helped my husband grow a contracting business. I processed invoices, did some advertising, and helped answer phones, etc. That was relevant experience and I have included that as an explanation to the several month employment gap.

The second employment gap I was actually grateful for not feeling stressed to find ‘just any job’. My husband’s business was going ‘well’ (better than it had been) and I focused on a few small freelance projects and we got through the months with some budget cuts and without extreme debt or stress. I used that time to focus on what I wanted, research writing, I volunteered, wrote some business blog posts, and spent time with my ailing mother.  Once I started seriously applying for positions, I looked at my resume and knew a gap of several months might not look the greatest to potential employers. I reviewed how my time had been spent and actually realized the freelance opportunities and volunteering  provided added experience and skills that I included in my cover letter. In the near future I will share how volunteering can help you gain experience, and make great connections for future jobs and references!

Remember applying for a job is a ‘project’. Review the job and your experience/skills carefully to best match yourself with the right job. You want to be happy at what you do and succeed by meeting the goals of the position/company. I keep at least two forms of my resume updated; one business focused and one writing focused. Over the 20 plus years I have been working I have gained experience in both fields.

Key points when job searching and developing your resume’s employment history section:

  • Keep the resume content honest and relevant
  • Research the position requirements, skills needed and company; focusing your resume and cover letter content to highlight your experience and why you are the best match for the position!
  • If you have several positions lasting less than six months review them and highlight the most relevant and be prepared to discuss gaps in your cover letter and/or the interview
  • Review all of your experience and job titles (positions) before applying. Focus on what skills overlap with requirements (customer service skills can really expand into several requirements including receptionist, assistant, sales, public transport, almost any job where you will deal with the public or even other employees.)
  • Complete a self-evaluation; what type of job are you looking for, what benefits do you want/need, can you further your education or begin a degree while working (do they have tuition assistance, support, etc.), acknowledge some ‘deal breakers’ (yes, you can be picky and require certain request and decline other requests), etc.
  • Hone in on applicable positions that will help you accomplish long term goals while matching some skills and experience; not all positions have to be viewed as permanent…they can lead to larger, long term career goals
  • Utilize your cover letter as your own personal career and education history and mention at least one highlight from the company you are applying for

Finally, if you have had contract or employment through temporary services It’s best to list the services and highlight the positions that are relevant (yes that word again!). And remember education, training, workshops, certificate completions, etc. are worthwhile topics to include as experience and skills.

Questions or want to share your personal experience tips? Comment below or email me at dana@danabuchanan.com. Thank you so much for reading!