Ok team, Listen here. There is something really important we need to chat about. The Foundation for Young Australians (that’s us) released a new report that analysed 4.2 million job ads from the past 3 years and have sussed out what skills are most wanted by employers.
The great news is, you probably already have a lot of them, you just might not realise it.
The report, titled New Basics, is the latest in our New Work Order series that looks at the critical skills we all need to succeed in the changing world of work.
We can all agree that this kind of BIG DATA is a BIG DEAL so we’re going to break it down for you so you can make your next job application really stand out.
Here’s the skinny on which skills had the biggest increase in demand over the past 3 years:
Digital literacy is up by 212%
Creativity is up by 65%
Critical thinking is up by 158%
Presentation skills are up by 23%
Not only is the demand for these skills increasing, but jobs that want people with these skills are offering more cash as well. So if you want fat stacks, you’re going to need to know how to do these things.
When compared with similar jobs that don’t request these specific skills
Jobs that ask for presentation skills will score you an extra $8,853 / year
Jobs that ask for digital literacy will hand over an extra $8,648 / year
Jobs that request problem solving will cough up an extra $7,745 / year
Long story short, it’s pretty clear that learning these skills is well worth your time.
What this means in reality is that young people can no longer only rely on technical skills they might have studied for (think engineering, architecture, accounting, medicine) but they also need to be armed with a toolkit of what we call ‘enterprise skills’ to get the best jobs.
The great news for you is that you have most likely already developed and demonstrated these enterprise skills, you just need to be able to package them up in a way that makes it clear to future employers that you’ve got what it takes to get the job done.
When you’re working on your next job application or in an interview, here are some hot tips for selling your enterprise skill set:
Digital Literacy – demand up by 212%
The great news about this one is that a lot of young people already know a lot about this.
We know what’s #trending and have sussed out that virus is bad and viral is good. We have first hand experience of what might make one app great and another really clunky.
To talk about this skill in your resume you might want to mention if you run your own Instagram account, if you’ve ever promoted an event online, built a website or if you’ve used excel to input data about any given thing (best hot chips in your city, how much homework you need to do, budgeting etc).
Creativity – demand up by 65%
Lots of people are probably reading this one and thinking ‘But I’m not creative’. Dear friends, that is simply not true. We have all done creative things, trust me.
If you’ve ever had to present an assignment in a visual way? That’s creative. Ever built a Power Point presentation or video? That’s creative. Ever faceswapped on Snapchat with a couch cushion? That’s v creative (you weirdo).
You might present yourself creatively in the way you dress, the music you listen to or your Tumblr layout.
Critical thinking – up by 158%
This one sounds way fancier than it is. It is probably something you do all the time without realising.
If you’ve ever thought about how something could function better or more efficiently in your workplace or school, that’s critical thinking.
If you’ve ever been able to look at an issue in the media and see a different side of the story, that’s critical thinking.
If you’ve ever been able to reflect on a party you’ve thrown and realised that you definitely didn’t nail the good cheese to cracker ratio, then you’re a critical thinker.
Presentation skills – up by 23%
This one is kind of obvious. By nature of attending school at some stage you’ve probably had to present in front of groups.
If you can’t think of something formal you might think of a time you trained someone new at your casual job or when you inspired your sports team with a killer half-time rev up speech. It could even be when you addressed a group while planning a school assignment. Any time you’ve communicated clearly, you’ve presented!
Wouldn’t it be nice to learn about these employable skills in school?
Now, while we think it’s super important that you know how to sell yourself and your enterprise skills, we don’t think it’s only up you.
We think that the results of this report speak pretty loud and clear and that enterprise skills like digital literacy, critical thinking and project management need to be taught in schools. From primary school, and all the way through to uni.
We’re also keen to see young people properly exposed to the job skills they’ll need; so we’re talking great work experience placements and immersive on job learning.
If you’re thinking that it would have been nice to learn a little more about these skills in the classroom, maybe show your teacher this article? ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
If your resume is missing just one keyword, it could be the difference between getting an interview or not. How do you know what the keyword is? Keep reading.
We know looking for a job is hard. Getting a job is even harder. There’s eight people out of work for every job that’s advertised. Depending on the job, there’s often 25-200 people applying for the same job as you.
When you apply for a job, your resume ends up in a stack of other resumes on the desk of the person looking to hire you.
How to spot keywords in a job ad
It’s hard to impress your future boss with a piece of paper. But, there is a way to get the edge over the other people in the stack. The secret is finding out what the boss is looking for – the keywords – and make sure you put those in the resume. Take a look at this job ad:
At first glance, you may think the business is looking for someone with experience with truck tyres. Keep reading and you’ll see they want someone who can work in a fast paced environment. They need you to be physically fit and to be able to confidently use hand tools. They also want you to have a reliable vehicle and to live locally.
How to use keywords in your resume
The words I have put in bold are your keywords. As simple as it sounds, put these exact words in your resume, exactly as they are in the job ad and your resume will stand out. It ticks all the boxes the business is looking for and you are more likely to get an interview – and more likely to get the job.
Why are keywords more important than ever?
More and more, a computer will read your resume first. Its name is Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS). A computer program will scan your resume for keywords. If you have the right keywords in your resume, you’re more likely to get to the top of the pile.
The only way to impress a robot is to do exactly what it wants you to do. You could have all the right experience. You could have all the right skills. Unless you write them in the same way the robot is looking for, it could shunt you to the bottom of the pack.
All the more reason to scan job ads for keywords and customise your resume with those exact keywords. The more you do it, the better you get. You need to do this for every job you apply for.
Practice right now! Go to jobactive.gov.au, search for a job that’s right for you and highlight the key words. It’s easy once you know how.
Long gone are the days where you’d stay in one job for life: it’s now the norm to jump between jobs and even careers every few years.
LinkedIn research shows 70 per cent of Australians would consider a career change, while two in five Aussies have worked in two different industries over the last five years.
And if you’re looking for that job change, a clean, up-to-date LinkedIn profile could be the difference between being shortlisted or being overlooked entirely.
Speaking to Yahoo Finance, LinkedIn Australia’s career expert Shiva Kumar revealed the top tips to take your profile to the next level and make the most of the professional networking website.
“First and foremost, you have to get the basics right,” he said. Make sure your profile has these two non-negotiable must-haves ticked:
A professional photo of yourself; and
Your current job title and industry.
“These are all simple but important aspects that help to tell a compelling story about who you are as a potential job candidate.”
And before you even begin your hunt, ensure that the ‘Open to opportunity’ setting of your LinkedIn profile is switched on to ensure recruiters get the message you’re open to opportunities, Kumar advised.
LinkedIn Australia career expert’s top tips for a killer profile
1. Say where you’re based
“Recruiters rely on location information to find candidates,” Kumar said. “You’ll stand out by as much as 23 times more if you include the city you’re based in in your profile.
“Often times recruiters will use advanced search based on location, so the more details you have the more likely you will be found and connected to your next opportunity.”
2. Have your elevator pitch ready
If you’re wanting to attract and capture the attention of recruiters or potential bosses, say a few words about yourself and what you do to make yourself memorable.
“Adding a summary of 40 words or more, makes your profile more likely to turn up in a future employer’s search,” Kumar said.
“A good tip is to ensure your summary includes keywords featured in desirable job descriptions for your field.”
3. Let your skills do the talking
Job titles will vary from organisation to organisation, so it’s a little tough to know what to search for when you’re job hunting.
“By listing all of your skills on your profile you are more likely to attract recruiters and show up in the right talent searches,” said Kumar.
4. Avoid buzzwords such as ‘motivated’
How much have you stumbled across the profile of someone who claimed to be an “influencer” or an “entrepreneur” or “enthusiastic” or a “team player”?
Avoid overused yet less valued words like the plague if they’re not actually adding anything to your profile – recruiters see the same descriptors in every profile day in day out.
“What they really want is to understand your capability for a certain role,” said Kumar.
“Let your experience do the talking; show who you are, don’t tell. Add visual examples of the work that you did.”
5. Showcase your interests
An active LinkedIn profile can speak volumes for you: share content that you enjoy like an interesting video or a thoughtful news story, or even a particularly impressive presentation through regular updates, said Kumar.
“With as little as a sentence, updates help get you noticed, and they are a great way to interact with and engage your professional network in conversations.”
Tick all these boxes – and don’t forget to set up job alerts – and you’ll be in good stead to catch the recruiter’s attention, Kumar said.
We’re all looking for ways to improve ourselves—at least that’s what the thriving $10 billion self-help industry seems to imply.
But as popular and alluring as the principles of personal development may be, many of us still have only a fuzzy understanding of it. Even fuzzier: How to turn personal growth into professional gains.
At the same time, there’s an undeniable overlap between the two—after all, our personal strengths and weaknesses affect us at work, too. And there are ways in which growing personally and working on ourselves can make us more effective at work.
If that still feels a little murky, we get it. Read on to learn exactly what personal growth is and get concrete ways to leverage it in your career.
What Is Personal Growth Anyway?
Personal growth or development is difficult to define, in part because it’s, well, personal. Broadly speaking, personal development is an effort to improve yourself, the outcomes in your life, or how you experience life, explains Sumayya Essack, a career-change coach and founder and owner of Curate the Future.
“Personal growth is the process of growing stronger, more confident, and more effective as a person and an agent of change for your own life,” says Kathy Caprino, a career and personal growth coach. More specifically, it relates to “how you see and perceive yourself, interact with others, engage with the world, and envision your future and your possibilities.”
It affects you in both concrete and more abstract ways, including emotional regulation, communication abilities, well-defined boundaries, decision-making, and personal satisfaction and positivity.
Where Personal and Professional Development Meet
At first glance, personal growth can seem a little vague compared to professional development goals. “Career growth tends to focus on tangible performance-related goals, such as raises [and] promotions,” Essack explains. It may also emphasize hard skills, which depending on your field could include things like data analysis or proficiency in a certain language or type of software.
However, if you think of personal and professional growth as two circles of a Venn diagram, there’s a healthy overlap between them. “Your career success and enjoyment of your career aren’t just the result of domain-related skills and knowledge. It’s also a result of what you bring to the table as a person,” Essack says.
Things we think of as soft skills—such as communication style, self-motivation, and how you relate to other people—fall into the area of overlap. And these skills greatly impact our ability to get things done at work. Developing them can help you become more effective in your career, and maybe even nab a promotion.
4 Personal Development Goals That Can Help You Get Ahead at Work
Even if you’re sold on the benefits of personal growth for your career—where do you start? In large part, it’s up to you.
“At the root of all personal development is becoming aware of what’s happening in your own mind and becoming aware of how the thoughts you’re thinking affect your emotions, behaviors, and results,” Essack says. If you can identify a result you’re unhappy with or, conversely, one you want to achieve, you can work backwards from there to determine the underlying thoughts, emotions, and behaviors you should address to make the change you desire.
For example, are you constantly struggling to get tasks done? Maybe you need to work on focusing better on the task at hand in order to become more efficient. Eager for a promotion? Perhaps you need to build better relationships to get there. Whatever area you choose, work on it in small doses.
While there are many ways you might implement personal growth into your career development, here are four examples of areas to improve, as well as advice for tackling them:
1. Build Emotional Intelligence
Solid emotional intelligence can help you forge strong working relationships with colleagues and clients, which in turn promote productivity and strengthen your professional reputation.
The ability to deal with people and conflict is important in most any job, but perhaps especially so when you take on a management or leadership role. “Emotional intelligence means being able to understand where someone else is coming from,” Essack says. “People want to work for someone who understands them.”
How to tackle it: Focus on becoming a better active listener, which helps others feel heard and understood. “We get caught up in saying what we want to say, but communicating effectively is also about being a great listener,” Essack says.
First, show the speaker that you’re paying attention. “Put away your devices, make eye contact, and fully concentrate on them rather than mentally preparing what you will say next,” Essack says. “Then, show that you’re listening with verbal cues such as ‘uh huh’ and body language, such as nodding, smiling, and leaning forward.” Finally, ask clarifying questions or reflect back with paraphrasing. Try starting with: “So what you’re saying is…,” or “What do you mean by…?”
2. Feel Confident in Your Talents
Building confidence is a common goal of personal development, and one that has a clear line to career gains. Developing your confidence can help you land a better job, negotiate for a raise or promotion, earn credit for your contributions, and be seen as a leader, Caprino says. But confidence isn’t something that’s easy to just switch on.
Instead, look for a path to confidence by working on recognizing your talents. If you don’t fully grasp what you’re amazing at and aren’t able to speak confidently about these talents, you won’t be able to fully leverage your unique abilities, Caprino adds.
How to tackle it: Many people struggle to look inward to discover where they shine—especially if they grew up hearing that they shouldn’t brag. So instead, look outward to colleagues and mentors for help identifying your unique talents. Ask them to name any contributions that have stood out to them as well as elements of your approach to work they consider particularly effective.
3. Grow Your Motivation
Wouldn’t it be great if we could bottle up motivation and consume it like we do our morning coffee? Imagine the benefits! At work, being more motivated can of course make you more productive, but it can also help you be seen as more driven and ambitious.
How to tackle it: Until motivation is sold by the bottle, you can work on building it little by little, Essack says. Think of motivation not as a mindset or mood that randomly descends on you outside of your control, but as a behavior. We tend to assume that when we’re motivated, we’ll take action—but the reverse can be true. “First you do the behavior and have a mini success, and that’s what makes you feel motivated again. Success builds on itself,” Essack explains.
For example, if you’re intimidated by holding performance conversations with employees, you might be tempted to avoid them until the last minute. But when you successfully commit to a small action, such as holding shorter, less formal performance check-ins, you may find more motivation to improve your skills and take on longer talks.
So instead of waiting for motivation to strike, try structuring your big goals into small achievable tasks to build momentum. This way you’ll help yourself experience each one you complete as an invigorating success and feel motivated to take the next step toward where you want to be.
4. Become More Mindful
Mindfulness is a term that’s thrown around a lot today, and its meaning can be as blurry as the concept of personal growth as a whole. Essentially, mindfulness is the act of training your brain to focus on the present moment, rather than racing ahead to the future, or drifting to the past.
Research has linked mindfulness to reduced stress, improved focus, and better working memory. At work it could help you zero in on the task at hand and filter out some of the surrounding noise, allowing you to become more efficient.
Mindfulness has emotional benefits too. Mindfulness can help you respond more thoughtfully to someone instead of having a knee-jerk reaction or snapping, Essack says. “You become more aware of what’s happening in the moment, so you choose a conscious response.” Building this skill can help keep you from burning bridges with clients or colleagues when tension rises or tempers flare.
Let’s say you receive some criticism that you don’t agree with or that injures your ego. “The tendency is often to react automatically because we feel defensive, but when we cultivate mindfulness, we’re able to take a step back in the moment and respond intentionally,” Essack explains. In this instance, a more mindful approach could help to de-escalate conflict and make feedback discussions more productive.
How to tackle it: Develop a daily mindfulness meditation practice, which over time, can help you become more mindful throughout the day. Set aside five or 10 minutes a day to do a guided meditation, with help from an app like Calm or Headspace that will talk you through the process.
As difficult as personal development may be to define, investing in it can help lay the groundwork for professional success. As Caprino says, “If we don’t do the work to strengthen ourselves as people first, our careers will be a dismal disappointment.”
So you just landed a leadership role at a new company. Congratulations! Going in, you know there’ll be a learning curve when it comes to handling your new responsibilities. But there’s also the people factor to consider.
Being the boss of a completely new team also means influencing a group of employees you don’t know very well to work together (and with you) toward a common goal. Nerve-racking, yes. But not impossible!
Even seasoned leaders make mistakes when managing a new team. Here are four common ones to avoid if you want to make your transition as smooth as possible for both you and your direct reports.
Mistake #1: Acting Before Understanding
If you think the first thing you need to do when joining a new team is to start making changes—slow down. Yes, part of your role is to help things run better, and you were most likely hired to bring in some new perspectives and fix some outdated or dysfunctional strategies. But ignoring input from experienced team members—particularly those who have been at the company for a while—won’t win you any fans.
Instead, you’ll signal to your team that you’re only interested in running a one-person show. And it will leave you vulnerable to making bad decisions that could’ve been avoided had you gotten some context.
This isn’t to say that you need to form a whole committee to make decisions on every little thing. You’re the boss, after all, and sometimes it’s your duty to make the final call. But strive to implement changes (especially big ones) in baby steps and over time. Be receptive to (and ask for!) feedback from your team before moving forward, and communicate your intentions clearly and proactively when you do.
Mistake #2: Constantly Talking About the “Old Job”
Do you find yourself saying all too frequently, “At my old job, we…”? Maybe you’re trying to prove yourself by bringing up your old wins. Or you may just feel comfortable referring back to a time when everything didn’t feel so foreign. (Being the new kid on the block isn’t easy.)
Here’s the thing: Your current team will quickly tune you out if you’re constantly talking about how things were done at your previous company. They want to see that you’re able (and willing!) to adapt to a new environment, and that you can competently lead and work with their unique skill sets.
Yes, you achieved great things in your last role. But don’t get caught living in the past—it’s time to focus on creating new wins with what your new team has to offer.
Mistake #3: Hiding in Your Office
Closing your office door or hiding behind your monitor can give off the appearance that you’re not interested in being there for your employees.
You may think, “I’ve told my team they can come to me any time with questions.” But as the saying goes, actions speak louder than words, and it can be intimidating for employees to knock on a new boss’ door. There’ll be times when you’ll need (or want) to close the door, and that’s OK—but make sure this doesn’t create a barrier between you and your team.
Make a conscious effort to show your employees that they’re welcome to come seek guidance or share concerns. Literally keeping your door open helps, so does providing “office hours” or popping your head out every few hours or so to see how everyone’s doing.
If you work in an open office, try to avoid wearing headphones all day, and when you can, sit near your team. You can also schedule weekly touch-base meetings with your direct reports so you have dedicated face time with them on a regular basis—and so that they know they will always have the opportunity to discuss something with you.
Mistake #4: Believing You Don’t Need to Know the Details of Your Employees’ Work
Some people think that the role of a leader is to just tell others what to do and set expectations. But there’s more to it than that. You can’t hold employees, especially new direct reports, accountable if you don’t fully grasp what their roles entail and how they approach their work.
While you don’t need to know all of the nitty gritty details of their responsibilities, you want to do more than just care that tasks are getting done. Understanding the “how” of operations and the “whys” behind how your employees tackle them will make both you and your team function better. You’ll be able to better manage them knowing their strengths, weaknesses, and preferred forms of communication, and they’ll feel more comfortable around you and motivated to do great work with the knowledge that you’re invested in their success.
Take the time when you’re just starting out to talk to each employee individually to learn about what they do, what their current challenges are, and how their tasks fit into team or company goals. You can even ask the following questions in your next one-on-one:
What challenges are you facing that are making you less productive?
What’s missing from the team that will help make everyone’s life easier?
How do you like to receive constructive feedback?
What are you hoping to learn from me that will support you in your role?
What do you enjoy the most about your work?
Or you can have them fill out this user manual so you have all the information you need about their working style.
Mistakes are going to happen when you’re starting a new job, whether you’re a manager or not, so don’t be too hard on yourself if you don’t get things “right” the first time. Even just reading this article means you care deeply about being a good boss to your new team—and that’s a great place to be in!
Most importantly, make sure you enjoy this new beginning—because it’s one more phase in your career that will help you grow and become the kind of leader you want to be.
When you’re starting a job search, your goal is to make your credentials strong enough to get you selected for a job interview. Once you get to a job interview, you can sell yourself to the interviewer by confidently making the case that you’re an exceptional candidate. Before that though, what’s on your resume and cover letter is going to be the pitch that gets you picked for an interview.
One of the best ways to achieve that goal is to brand (or rebrand) yourself if necessary, so you’re a close match for the jobs you’re targeting. What does this mean? And how do you do it?
What’s in a Brand?
Branding (if you haven’t worked on creating a brand yet) or rebranding (if you’re considering a job or career shift), means deciding what professional path you’re on and tailoring your credentials, expertise, and what’s visible to network connections and prospective employees, to match that brand.
How to Get Started
The first step in creating or reinventing your brand is to determine what you want that brand to represent. What type of job would you love to have? Would you like a new job in a similar role or the same job in a different industry? If so, that’s a relatively easy brand update. If you’re looking for a career change, you’ll need to invest more time and energy into rebranding yourself.
Check yourself out. Google yourself and check the results before you start making any changes. You will want to see how the current information available about you reflects your professional persona, and ensure that it clearly reflects where you are in your career and where you want to go next. Look at it from the viewpoint of a hiring manager to see what narrative you are sharing about your achievements and aspirations.
Make a plan. It’s important to figure out how you’re going to get to where you want to be. Does your career need a makeover? Do you need new skills or certifications? Or can you tweak your brand and update it so it’s a fit for where you want to go next? Make a list of what you need to do before you get started. There are things you can do at your current job to position yourself for success in the next one. If your career needs a major overhaul, it will require more planning and a bigger investment of time.
Upgrade your credentials. Are you short on the skills you need to make a successful brand switch? If you can carve out some time, it can be easy to gain the skills you need to bolster your qualifications. There are many free and low-cost classes you can take to get the career skills you need. Once you’ve upgraded your skill set, take on some freelance projects to create a portfolio of skills related to your rebranding objective. You can add those skills to your resume and LinkedIn, and refer to them in your cover letters.
Be careful. As with a job search when you’re currently employed, be careful about the changes you make that are visible to your current employer. For example, if you’re working in sales, you don’t want your Twitter feed to be all about product development. Gradually mix in the new topics if you’re using social media for business purposes. Make sure “Share with network” is turned off while you’re updating your LinkedIn profile if you’re connected to current colleagues. If you make changes slowly and carefully, it’s easier to stay under the radar.
Create a Branding Statement
A branding statement is a short and catchy statement that encompasses what makes you a strong candidate for a job. Writing a branding statement can help you to capture the essence of what you want to accomplish in the next phase of your career. Taking time to write your own statement will help you to focus on what you want to accomplish with your branding or rebranding.
Add a Branding Statement to Your Resume
Adding a branding statement to your resume is a way to show employers how you can add value to the organization if you were to be hired. Don’t use the same branding statement every time you use your resume to apply for a job. If your branding statement isn’t a perfect match for the job, take the time to tweak it so it reflects the attributes the employer is seeking. As with all job search materials, it’s important to show the employer how you’re among the best-qualified candidates for the job.
Update Your LinkedIn Profile
Also, update your LinkedIn profile. It doesn’t have to match your resume exactly, but it should be close enough to pass scrutiny because employers will check it. Take time to write a summary that’s informative, reflects your career interests, and will grab hiring managers’ attention.
Check Your Other Social Accounts Too
Is the message you’re sending to recruiters and networking connections consistent? When they look at each of your various public social media accounts will they get the same impression? Consistency is important when you’re using social media for career development. Using the same professional photo across platforms will help to build your brand.
Rebrand Yourself (Carefully)
When you’re thinking about a major job shift or a career change, rebranding might be in order. Rebranding is something you should do slowly and carefully if you’re currently employed. You don’t want to advertise to your current manager, other employees of the company, or clients that you’re rebranding your credentials and seeking new opportunities. That way you won’t jeopardize the job you have, and you can move on when you’re ready.
GRADUALLY CHANGE YOUR LINKEDIN PAGE
Making small changes over time will be less noticeable. For example, you could gradually change your LinkedIn profile by reworking some of your job descriptions to fit better the brand you’re aiming for. They should still reflect what you did at each job, but the focus can shift.
UPDATE YOUR LINKEDIN HEADLINE
The headline section of LinkedIn is designed for short, descriptive text. Use that to highlight the skills you have that match your goals. Again, don’t get too far off-base from your current role if you’re employed. If you’re not currently working, you’ve got some more flexibility in how you write your headline.
REWORK YOUR RESUME
Another option is to keep your LinkedIn job descriptions brief and vague. Instead of changing LinkedIn, you can tweak your resume to match better with each position you’re applying for. There won’t be a noticeable difference to current or prospective employers. There are small and simple, but very powerful changes that you can make that can have a big positive impact.
Use Your Cover Letter to Explain
What’s in your cover letter is between you and the hiring manager reading it. Employ your cover letter to tell the story of your career pivot. Write a targeted cover letter that highlights your strongest accomplishments and assets that qualify you for the job, helping to convince the hiring manager that you’re well worth interviewing.
Start All Over Again
Rebranding your career isn’t a one-time deal. Technology changes, the economy goes up – or down, in-demand skills change over time, and most people’s career aspirations change along the way. The average person changes jobs 10 -15 times over their career. Your career will most likely shift over time too.
As you gain additional work experience, take a course, or otherwise learn new skills, add them to your resume and LinkedIn profile. Tweak your job descriptions as you move forward so they reflect where you are going, as well as where you’ve been.
By making some slow and steady changes your rebranding will be a work in progress, and you’ll be able to use your brand successfully to boost your career.
There’s a whole lot of talking about yourself that goes on in an interview. One of the most stressful parts might be when a recruiter or prospective boss asks you to tell them about your strengths and weaknesses.
You’re bound to hear, “What would you say is one of your weaknesses?” or “What’s your greatest strength?” or both in virtually every hiring process you’ll ever go through. While that might be frustrating—really, every time?!—it also means that you can anticipate the questions and craft thoughtful answers that will impress the interviewer.
In other words, with just a little bit of preparation, you can master the art of selling your strengths without sounding conceited and talking about your weaknesses without undermining your candidacy.
Why Do Interviewers Ask These Questions?
Before you get started planning your responses, it’s helpful to understand why interviewers are asking these questions in the first place and what they hope to get out of them.
“All interviews are about getting to know somebody,” says Muse career coach Angela Smith, founder of Loft Consulting. “I know some people feel like the interview is trying to trip them up or put them in an awkward position, but at the end of the day it’s really about getting to know the person so that you can make the best decision that you can,” she adds. “When I ask those questions, that’s where I’m coming from.”
In this case, the actual strengths and weaknesses you bring up probably matter less than how you talk about them. “I’ve done a ton of interviews over the years and when pressed for it, I can’t really remember the answers,” Smith says. That doesn’t mean the questions aren’t important at all, it’s just that what an interviewer is evaluating likely goes deeper than which specific strength or weakness you cite. They’re trying to understand what kind of employee you’d be and how you’d carry yourself in the role.
“For me it’s: Are they honest? Do they have self-awareness? Can they own their stuff in a professional and mature way? Is this someone that we can have growth and development conversations with? Are they going to hit a wall [when] it comes to giving them feedback?” Smith says. “How they answer that question really tells me the answer to all of those other things—and those are the things that matter.”
5 Tips for Talking About Strengths and Weaknesses in an Interview
Okay, that’s all great in theory, but what do you actually need to do to discuss your strengths and weaknesses successfully?
1. Be Honest
One of the most important things to get right when talking about your strengths and weaknesses in an interview setting is honesty. It might sound trite, but it’s also true. An answer that sounds genuine and authentic will impress, while one that sounds generic, calculated, exaggerated, or humblebraggy will do the opposite.
A boss doesn’t want to hire someone who can’t recognize and own what they bring to the table as well as what they need to work on. You’ll be a better employee if you can understand and leverage your strengths and acknowledge and learn from your weaknesses. So you want to show in the interview that you’re capable of that kind of self-reflection.
2. Tell a Story
Here’s another cliche you shouldn’t discount: “Show, don’t tell.” Anyone who’s ever taken a writing class—whether in seventh grade or graduate school—has heard it. You should keep it in mind when answering just about any interview question, and it’s certainly helpful here.
“Anytime you can have a real-life example or a concrete example, it’s a good idea. It just helps to contextualize the response a little bit,” Smith says. “We just understand concepts and situations better with a story. So if you can tell a story that supports your thesis, then it’s always helpful.”
Talk about a time your strength helped you achieve something in a professional setting or when your weakness impeded you. For example, if you’re talking about how you’re calm under pressure in a fast-paced environment, you might tell the interviewer about that time you delivered a revamped client proposal after a last-minute change of plans. If you’re admitting that your weakness is presenting in front of high-level executives, you might start by briefly describing the time you got so nervous presenting your plan for a new marketing strategy that you weren’t able to effectively convey your (thorough and pretty brilliant) approach and your boss had to step in and help get the plan approved.
Not only will sharing a real example make your answer stand out, but it’ll also make it sound thoughtful and honest and highlight all those other characteristics interviewers are actually looking for.
3. Remember to Get to the Insight
An answer that’s genuine and includes an illustrative anecdote is a great start, but it’s not complete until you add some insight. This goes for both strengths and weaknesses but looks a little different in each case.
When you’re talking about a strength, the last beat of your answer should tie whatever skill or trait you’ve been discussing to the role and company you’re applying for. Tell the interviewer how that strength would be useful in this particular position at this particular company.
So going back to the revamped client proposal example, you might add, “Since things move quickly at [Company], this would allow me to come in and earn a new team’s confidence and foster a trusting team culture while also ensuring we’re all hitting our goals and delivering high-quality work.”
In the case of a weakness, “tell me how they’ve grown from it or what they’ve done to accommodate that or what they’ve learned from it,” Smith says. “Really showcase your growth trajectory, your learning curve, what you’ve done as a result of the awareness of that weakness,” she adds. “It gives you an idea like if I hire this person and they’re here, this is the kind of problem solving or growth that I can expect to see from them.”
So if you were the candidate with the presentation snafu, you might talk about how you sat down with your boss to make a plan to improve your public speaking skills, and how the next time you had to present to the execs you knocked it out of the park.
4. Keep It Short
You don’t have to devote half the interview to these answers. You can keep your response relatively brief and focused on one or two strengths or weaknesses, depending on how the question was phrased. To add to our list of overused-but-handy phrases: Think quality, not quantity. Don’t dive in and rattle off a litany of things you think you’re good or bad at without explaining anything. Instead, narrow it down and go into detail.
5. Don’t Sweat It So Much
While you definitely want to prepare and do your best to nail your answers, try not to stress too much. “Don’t panic,” Smith says. “I have never known an employment decision to come down to how someone answers those questions,” she adds. “It’s just one data point connected with a whole bunch of other ones. So don’t give it too much weight.”
How to Answer “What Are Your Strengths?” in an Interview
The key to talking about your strengths in an interview is to use the opportunity to demonstrate that you’re the best fit for the role, the team, and the company.
Smith recommends reading carefully through the job description and learning as much as you can about what the company is up to and what the culture is like. Read various pages on the organization’s website, take a look at its social media accounts, and catch up on some recent announcements and news coverage if applicable. Use what you’ve learned to identify which of your strengths is most relevant and how it will allow you to contribute. Then make the connection inescapable. “Every answer should position you to help them see how you can solve a problem” and help the company achieve its goals, Smith says.
At the same time, you don’t want to go overboard. “It’s such a fine line. I always tell people not to worry about bragging, but you also don’t want to come across as cocky or too full of yourself,” Smith says. Give a confident and honest assessment that does your skills justice, but don’t let yourself veer into hyperbole.
What It Might Sound Like
If you’re applying for an operations role at a startup, you might say:
“I’d say one of my greatest strengths is bringing organization to hectic environments and implementing processes to make everyone’s lives easier. In my current role as an executive assistant to a CEO, I created new processes for pretty much everything, from scheduling meetings to planning monthly all hands agendas to selecting and preparing for event appearances. Everyone in the company knew how things worked and how long they would take, and the structures helped alleviate stress and set expectations on all sides. I’d be excited to bring that same approach to an operations manager role at a startup, where everything is new and constantly growing and could use just the right amount of structure to keep things running smoothly.”
How to Answer “What Is Your Greatest Weakness?” in an Interview
While you’ll definitely want to tie your strengths to the role and company you’re applying for, you should avoid that approach when talking about your weaknesses. “You don’t necessarily want them associating a weakness with their company or with what they’re looking for,” Smith says. For example, if the job description for a sales role lists excellent verbal communication skills, you shouldn’t say one of your weaknesses is thinking on your feet during phone calls, even if you’ve worked hard to improve and feel more than competent now.
It’s the same advice she’d give someone writing a cover letter when applying for a job for which they have most, but not all, of the qualifications. Focus on the requirements you do bring to the table, not on the ones you don’t.
Instead, prepare a couple of standard options to choose from and in each interview, talk about a weakness that doesn’t obviously impair your ability to perform the core functions of the role. Make sure you admit the weakness, pivot to the insight, and end on a strong note. “If someone can be honest and have the self-awareness to answer that question, I think that says a lot about their emotional intelligence and their professional maturity,” Smith says.
Her last piece of advice? Don’t pick a “weakness” like “I’m such a hard worker” or “I’m too much of a perfectionist.” Going down that route will backfire, because it comes off as disingenuous, oblivious, or immature—and none of those are qualities that’ll get you the job.
What It Might Sound Like
If you’re applying for an engineering job, you might say:
“My greatest weakness would probably be waiting too long to ask questions to clarify the goals of a project and to make sure I’m on the right path. I noticed in one of my first coding jobs out of college that I would get an assignment and, because I assumed I should be able to work independently, I’d waste time going down a particular road that didn’t 100% align with the ultimate goal and then would have to spend additional time making changes. After it happened once or twice, I started asking my manager more questions about why we were adding a particular feature, who it was intended for, what about the previous functionality had made for a poor experience, etc. And especially for bigger projects, I would reach out when I needed a gut check to ask follow-up questions as well as to share the work I’d done so far and what I was planning to do next. In the long run, it meant I could finish projects faster and do better work.”
When you’re getting ready for a job interview, it’s always good to try to predict which questions an interviewer might ask. If you’re like most people, you’re fully prepped to field queries about what you know and the experience you have, like “Tell us about your responsibilities in your current job” or “Explain the strategy you used for [project on your resume].”
But don’t stop there! Recruiters and hiring managers also often ask behavioral questions, which can help them get a better idea of your personality and your soft skills. This could include questions like, “What type of work really excites you?” or “Tell us about a time you were frustrated by your colleagues.”
An even more sophisticated example that may not initially seem like a behavioral question is “What do you like least about your job?” Because it can be a bit of a “gotcha” question, you’ll want to craft your response with care. We talked to a few career experts and got their insights to help you avoid the pitfalls and answer it the right way.
Resist the Temptation to Vent
Even for those of us who genuinely love our careers, “What do you like least about your job?” is a question that we could easily wax poetic about over a few rounds of drinks with friends. But an interview is not the time to dish about, for example, how your boss is not nearly as smart as you.
That’s because this question isn’t really about discovering what you dislike, points out Conrad Woody, a partner at Odgers Berndston, an executive search and recruitment firm. More likely, it’s a test of how you would respond to an invitation to vent. “The interviewer wants to know if you’re the type of person who will go negative when given the opportunity,” says Woody.
Your answer should not leave the interviewer believing they could be your next gossip victim if things don’t go well. Speaking negatively of your current employer ends up reflecting poorly on you, not the company. If you must vent, save that for your friends—ideally not ones you work with.
Focus on New Opportunities
A great way to answer this question is to talk about a responsibility or duty you’d get to have at your new job that your current role doesn’t offer. For example, if the job you’re interviewing for requires that you deliver presentations to large groups, you could share that you wish your current job gave you the opportunity to flex the public speaking skills you’ve honed at your local Toastmasters club.
Alternatively, you can speak about a responsibility at your current job that simply isn’t challenging you any longer because you’ve mastered it. Just make sure that whatever it is, it isn’t a duty that’s integral to the job you’re interviewing for!
Frame the Answer in a Positive Way
No matter what you talk about, always take the opportunity to turn the negative into a potential positive with your new employer. “You don’t want to focus too much time on something you hate or don’t like,” says Tamara Rasberry, an HR Manager in Washington, DC. “Even when you briefly mention something you don’t like, highlight that you are well-versed in it but that it simply doesn’t challenge you anymore or utilize all of your strengths.”
By quickly pivoting to how your current role was a necessary and informative building block for your next career move, you show your ability to find the silver lining and do what needs to get done.
What This Looks Like
Need some inspiration? Consider these sample answers:
The “It Was Fun While It Lasted” Answer
By concentrating on the positives of the new employer, you can avoid mentioning anything explicitly negative about your current job:
“While I enjoyed working for a large law firm because I was able to gain experience across several subject matters, I’d prefer to bring all those learnings to your firm because I believe that your singular focus on the entertainment industry would allow me to have deeper impact.”
The “I’d Rather Be Doing Something Else” Answer
This answer briefly mentions a current responsibility, but focuses on the opportunity the new job would provide:
“In my current role, I’m responsible for drafting media lists to pitch. While I’ve developed a knack for this and can do it when it is necessary, I’m looking forward to a job that allows me to have a more hands-on role in working with media partners. That is one of the things that most excited me about your Account Supervisor position.”
The “You Asked, So Here Goes” Answer
There is of course, always the bold option, which is to speak more bluntly and directly about something not-so-great about your current role or company. But again, you’ll want to end on a positive note that spotlights your enthusiasm for the new job:
“My current company acquires new business through traditional methods like cold calling and direct mail. I’m impressed with the digital, email, and social acquisition campaigns you have implemented and how they reflect a more modern, innovative approach. While I am flexible enough to succeed in a diversity of work environments, I’m eager to work for a company that embraces change.”
When your job search seems to be stuck and you’re not getting the contacts from employers you were expecting, it’s even more important than usual to make sure that you stand out from the job searching crowd.
You will need to show the hiring manager—at a glance—that you are a candidate who definitely should be selected for an interview.
What can you do to get noticed? It’s not as hard as you might think. Your application materials have to be perfect, of course, and you will need to use your connections to help get an “in” at the company. You’ll also need to actively market your candidacy and yourself, rather than waiting for a new job to find you.
Write a Targeted Resume
Taking the time to edit or rewrite your resume so it matches the qualifications for the job you’re applying for will show the hiring manager that you have the credentials for the job and should be considered for an interview.
Write a Targeted Cover Letter
Write a cover letter that shows, at a glance, why you are a strong match for the job. Don’t repeat your resume, rather link (list or use bullets) your relevant skills to the skills the employer is seeking. Highlight your professional qualifications that match the hiring requirements. You only have seconds to catch the hiring manager’s attention, so use them wisely.
Build Your Professional Brand
Sometimes, recruiters Google candidates even before they schedule an interview so be sure to build your professional brand. You will want to make sure that everything they find when they search and everything related to you on the professional and networking sites (like LinkedIn and Facebook) is information that is presentable to the public. Also, be sure to edit your profile on LinkedIn so your connections know you are available for career and/or job opportunities.
Use Your Connections
Do you have connections at the company you just sent your resume to? If so, use them. They may be able to give your resume a boost and help you get an interview. You can also use your connections to find out more about the company. I know one job seeker, for example, who was able to connect with an employee at the company he was interviewing and get the inside scoop on the job and the company — before he set foot in the door.
Remember that old saying “He who hesitates is lost” — it’s true. Employers don’t wait forever for applicants to submit their resume (I know more than a few people who have waited too long to apply and lost out on what could have been a good job), so when you find a job listing that’s a good match, apply immediately. Set up job search agents on the job search engines and/or job banks so you get new positions via email as soon as they are posted online. Again, don’t wait to apply.
Unstick Your Job Search
If your job search seems to be stuck, try some new initiatives to get it started, so you can get back on track to find a new job, sooner rather than later.
Practice Makes Perfect
Practice before you go for an interview. Review typical interview questions and research the company so you are well-prepared to interview. Have interview clothes ready (dry cleaned, shoes polished, etc.) so you’re ready to interview professionally at a moment’s notice. That way, your first impression will be positive and that’s the impression you want to make on everyone you meet when you’re job searching.
Send a Thank You Note
Don’t forget to follow up with a thank you note reiterating your interest in the job. Most candidates don’t bother, but those that do are more likely to get hired.