Strengths, Weaknesses, and other lies

"Tell me about your greatest strength..."

Many interviewers asks this question without even knowing why it was originally asked. Experienced interviewers know that the answer is not important, what is important is how the interviewee handles the question. The question is useful in eliciting a reaction. Unfortunately, asking the question insinuates that there is a correct answer when, in truth, the question is based upon a false assumption: that strengths and weaknesses exist in people.

I used to know a guy, let's call him Freddie, who was pathologically incapable of arriving on time. He could leave his house ten minutes before an appointment, stop at the gas station to pick up a drink, and then strike up a conversation with someone that would last fifteen or twenty minutes. Everyone knew that when he promised to be somewhere you could count on him to show up at least half an hour late.

He would infuriate me because I am exactly the opposite. I will leave an hour before an appointment if I know it takes half an hour to get there. I go straight there and scope things out and then find a place to wait. All so I know I will be on time.

So which of us has the strength and which has a weakness? As it turns out, we both do. I work as a consultant. When I promise to be somewhere, my clients expect me to be there on time. Being focused on time management is a strength for a consultant.

On the other hand, Freddie was a minister and his strength was that he would always make the person he was talking to feel like they were the most important person in the world. He never seemed to be in a hurry and would always take time to talk to anyone. This was a strength for him.

I submit there are no such thing as strengths or weaknesses. People have attributes and whether those attributes are helpful or harmful depends on the situation.

See you next timeā€¦