We all have weaknesses. And most of the time we do everything we can to hide them, work around them, and turn them into strengths. But what if we did the opposite? What if we started putting our weaknesses front and center, especially when we’re looking for a new job?
A few years back, I did just this. Working for a women’s organization in St. Paul, I was interviewing for a job in a Minneapolis-based social service agency. I loved the work the agency was doing, I already had great relationships with some of their Board and donors, and it was a great move for me to learn more about parts of nonprofit marketing and fundraising I hadn’t yet explored. But I found myself hesitant, and ultimately I realized I was scared. What was I scared of? The company I was considering working for worked heavily in communities of immigrants and communities for whom English was a second language. I grew up in rural North Dakota and went to a small Catholic college in Minnesota. I had absolutely zero experience working with these communities and I was notoriously bad at understanding accents.
This kind of weakness is one I was deeply ashamed of. I was afraid it made me dumb. I was more afraid it made me come off as disrespectful — I often politely nodded whenever I didn’t understand what someone with an accent was saying to me.
Instead of running from my weakness, however, I realized that the job I was interviewing for was exactly what I needed to turn my weakness into a strength.
How, then, did I navigate turning this weakness into a strength?
- I admitted my weakness. In my interview process, I was up front with my would-be boss and the President of the organization that I was nervous about this component of the job.
- I asked for help. When admitting my weakness to my superiors, I asked for their help in navigating the learning process.
- I jumped in head first. Most people who have a weakness like I did would avoid that weakness at all costs. Instead, I confronted it head on. In my first weeks at my job, I met with the leaders in many of the communities we served and struggled heavily through understanding my counterparts in these communities at first. But the main thing was giving it my all.
- I was honest about my faults. Authenticity can help you tame any weakness. So in my conversations with those I didn’t understand well, I was honest with them about my problem. I became comfortable saying, “I’m so sorry. I have a difficult time with accents. Could you speak a little more slowly to help me understand you better?” This wasn’t easy, as it felt strange. But I soon realized that the groups and people I was interacting with appreciated that I asked for help and clarification because it meant I was really trying to get to know them.
So go ahead, interview for that job that scares the hell out of you, and don’t be afraid to admit you’re weak in some areas you might need to learn to be successful in that job. Your candor may impress your superiors and show them how willing you are to learn and ultimately, to succeed.