The great UCLA basketball coach John Wooden said, “Do not let what you cannot do interfere with what you can do.”
I agree with Wooden 100%. Many clients come to me almost paralyzed with areas of weakness and career obstacles. In almost every case, these people have been successful in their careers or just completed a new degree. My job, one I greatly enjoy, is helping them see what they have to offer. Most people have made great contributions to their employers. Their problem is telling the story. They think too much about what “they cannot do.” Instead, as Wooden recommended, the secret to know is what you do best. Play your strengths.
I recently met someone who spent ten years managing a small organization. He had to leave the position after suffering a stroke. Now, after two years of rehab, he's ready to go back to work full time. During his recovery, he was able to work part time as a consultant. The gap in his resume is short, not significant. Still, his first question to me was, "How do I deal with my deficit, my health condition?"
My advice was to flip the coin: Demonstrate your strengths. I definitely think we all need to be able to answer questions about our weaknesses, but we should spend twice or three times as much time thinking about our strengths. I told the man who was worried about his health issues to start with these two questions:
1. Why are you good at what you do?
2. How will you bring value to the employer who is interviewing you?
No one will ever be hired because of their deficits. We need to be able to put potential employers at ease about them, but it's more important to know and promote your assets. Practice interviewing by focusing on your assets and strengths, not your deficits and weaknesses.
I recently met a prospective client who had significant managerial experience. He was frustrated because he had applied to several jobs and never received a call back. I asked to see a sample of the type of jobs he was applying to. In almost every case, they were entry level or had nothing to do with the managerial experience that was presented on his resume.
This client’s experience is typical of one of the biggest mistakes a job seeker can make. If you aim low in the kind of job you apply to, but keep your resume focused on higher level experience or skill, don’t expect a call back. Most employers will consider you to be overqualified and will expect you to jump to a new job at the higher level as soon as one becomes available. Applying in this way will become frustrating, and soon you will think no one will want to hire you.
What’s the answer? Apply at the level that fits your skills. Show employers why you can fill the role that is open. If you decide to “down shift” and attempt to get a lower position, write your resume so the employer can see how you can fill the role that is open. I would still expect most employers to see you as overqualified, but at least you will be showing them your qualifications to fill the open role. My advice in most cases is to play to your strengths. Don’t look down.
I frequently help clients prepare for interviews. Almost everyone begins with a worry about gaps in work history, lack of experience, or weak computer skills. What’s wrong with this kind of thinking? It ignores a very important fact: The employer likes something about the client that she will invest time on an interview. That means they see strengths that should be emphasized during the interview.
I’m not saying that we should not worry about preparing for any possible obstacle before an interview. Be ready to speak to any possible weaknesses. However, you should spend twice as much time thinking about your strengths and how to present them. Start with the job post. What do you have that the employer is looking for? Then go to the website and other sources to learn about the company. Again, think about how you can make a contribution. Practice telling stories about your achievements. The employer needs to see why you’re the best candidate for the job. You won’t be at your best if you’re only working about weak points. Play your strongest hand. Show why you’re the best.
A client called today to go over some points before a job interview. He was worried about a small gap in his resume and the level of his Excel skills. I reassured him that a small gap was not a problem. I also pointed out that his Excel skills may not be a problem. He would learn more about that during the interview.
While it is important to think about any weak points before an interview, it is more important to know and be able to present your strengths. Here’s a simple way to evaluate your strengths: Why are you good at what you do? Make an inventory of your achievements and success stories. Be sure these points are highlighted on your resume and that you are able to present them during a job interview.
We tend to focus too much on the question: What can go wrong? That leads us to think about our weaknesses. A good interview must convey competence and confidence, not weakness. Know your strengths and be able to sell them. That’s the key to a good interview.
When I first meet clients, they often present themselves in terms of what they lack: “I don’t have a college degree.” “I just graduated, so I don’t really have experience.” “I don’t know how to use Excel.”
My answer is simple: Sell what you have. Market your strengths. When we think in positive terms, we are able to present ourselves with confidence. The language we use is stronger and more convincing. Most importantly, we are giving employers good reasons to make a job offer. I’m not saying that we should ignore gaps in our resumes and careers. If an employer needs something we don’t have, we need to be able to offer some alternative selling point. Be ready when an employer brings up what you don’t have. Show why what you have is more important than what you lack.
I met a client today who kept finding reasons why no company will want to hire him. He had an 8 month gap between his two most recent jobs. One of his former employer has a “do not rehire” policy, which might make some employers think he did something wrong. These are legitimate concerns, but they do not help my client find a job. I asked him to think about the other side of the coin: Why would an employer want to hire you?
From this perspective, my client has a lot to offer. First, he has a proven record of reliability and performance. His duties have included management and training, which are required skills in the positions he is seeking. Finally, he is a fluent Spanish speaker in an industry where that language is vital. All in all, this client’s strengths strongly outweigh his weaknesses.
My advice to any job seeker is to put your strengths before your weaknesses. I’m not saying that every job seeker needs to be prepared to answer tough questions at a job interview. It is more important to know and sell positive reasons why you should be hired. Know your strengths, and be able to sell them.