Thoughtful Thursday: Weakness

November 11, 2010

Thoughtful ThursdayYou know during a job interview when they ask you about your strengths and weaknesses? I can’t tell them the truth.

Sure, I can tell them about my strengths, both innate and learned.

But the weaknesses? Not so easy.

The old standby not-really-a-weakness of perfectionism is true of me, for sure, as is the not-really-a-weakness of workaholism. Together, they lead to an odd combination of working lots yet not getting enough done — I’m not so quick to admit to that.

Then there’s my inability to delegate, which is related to the perfectionism and the workaholism. I don’t know how to let go and trust other people to do stuff; when I do, they usually disappoint me and I have to fix it, so I often end up doing everything myself, even things that are a poor use of my time. I mean, I’ve had people screw up the simplest possible tasks. Like photocopying. More times that I can count, someone has photocopied wrong, and it’s ruined my work from mildly to majorly. How do you mess up with photocopying? Leave pages out, mix double- with single-sided, cut off portions of each page, get pages out of order, photocopy the same page twice, do some upside down… How hard is it to push a big green button? Very hard, apparently. Not that I’ve never made an error at the photocopier, but here’s the difference — I discover the error before it’s replicated thousands of times. Anyway.

The inability to delegate is one weakness that I give in the job interviews. The other is that I am too helpful, so helpful that I spend time helping others at the expense of my own productivity. That is also a weakness that isn’t entirely a weakness, but it is absolutely true.

The weakness I don’t tell them about? My poor interpersonal skills.

In actuality, my interpersonal skills are fine. I’m wholly agreeable, and as mentioned above, extremely helpful as a colleague. I am kind and interesting and full of integrity. My problem is that I’m bad at pointless pleasantries and fake warmth.

At some jobs, I have been able to muster my sociable side and join everyone for water cooler talk by day and happy hour by night. At other jobs, I’ve just wanted to do my damn work. I’m typically matter-of-fact, pleasant but not chatty. By walking away after 5 minutes, I’ve befuddled colleagues who literally expected to spend hours a day standing in the hall, gabbing away.

My bigger problem isn’t the time spent talking; it’s the effusiveness that I lack. My smile isn’t big; that’s just the way my mouth is shaped. My voice isn’t usually loud, my gestures aren’t exaggerated, my emotions aren’t written all over my face; this is just how I’m wired. I’ve been described as “Mona Lisa,” “cards close to the chest,” and “someone I’d never want to play poker with.”

A few months ago, I was one of three final candidates for a job. I did not get that job. It’s a fairly small industry so I know of the person who did get the job– I’ve never worked with her or met her in person and have only emailed with her, but multiple people I know have worked closely with her in different jobs over the years. I tell you with all humility that I would be better at the job than she would. But, she is fake-warm, the kind of person who touches your shoulder while laughing uproariously at your jokes, then after half an hour of pretending to be your best friend, walks back to her office without having invited you to her birthday party. As for her ability, she is universally described as “fine.” Not spectacular, just fine. No surprises. No red flags but no gold stars.

Sometimes, I can muster my best interpersonal skills for an interview. Sometimes I am delightful. That particular interview was not one of those days. I’d stayed up most of the night preparing and slept only 3 hours. I focused too much on content and not enough on delivery. I forgot that some people want to hire the most talented person, but most people want to hire the person that they most want to work with (and hang out with) for the next 2 to 40 years. I would have been better off half-preparing and sleeping all night, so as to give myself enough energy to fake it.

To a natural introvert like myself, it is one of the bullshittiest principles of this world that pretending to be warm trumps actually being great at what you do.

DH rocks in interviews. He also has the skill to back it up, but he really wows them during interviews. My dad makes incredible first impressions. My mother is gregarious and charming. Hell, even my babies are friendlier than I am. For the record, I can deliver a kick-ass speech to 5 people or 500, and once we get started people love working with me. It’s just that interview room with 1 or 2 where I really get tripped up. It’s not that I’m nervous; I am too genuine to pretend to be warm to strangers.

I’m torn about whether to try to put on the show to win people over in the next interview to come along, or just be myself. Collegial and pleasant, but not anyone’s new best friend. As much as I value genuineness, I’m concerned that being myself is a ticket straight to the poorhouse. The highly educated, supremely capable poorhouse.

In the job interview sense, what’s your “weakness”? What is your actual weakness?

13 Responses to “Thoughtful Thursday: Weakness”

  1. Lavender Luz Says:

    Will come back tomorrow to answer.

    This is tough. I value genuineness now more than I did the last time I had to interview for a job.


  2. Cat Says:

    My weakness is interpersonal skills, too. Honestly though, it’s been so long since I had a performance review that I don’t remember the specifics. I do remember that I never really saw the problems others saw because I wasn’t interested in being BFF with my coworkers, but I did work on it and take a couple classes because it was affecting my reviews and hence my raises.

  3. WiseGuy Says:

    A good one!

    Even though I overcome my jitters as soon as I enter the chamber and take my seat, one of my worst internal struggles is that I may not know everything that the panel is about to ask me. Pretty lame, I must say. I have hardly ever fumbled in replying but there have been times when I have been quizzed on things I did not know much of.

    Plus sometimes interviewers pose questions where they have a specific answer pegged in their mind…what if I did not impress the other person enough.

    That also reflects in my dreams sometimes…I am writing exams where the time has either run out and I have not finished, or the questions are such that I don’t know what to write. The glad part is I often have such dreams after the actual thing is over, and so it is a relief to know that it was just a dream.

    What if I were labelled shallow?

  4. Two Kayaks Says:

    It seemed like you were writing about me. I wrote this post a couple of years ago and it is very true of who I am. Students and my colleagues have always told me that they can’t read me. They never know when I’m happy or sad because I don’t wear my heart on my sleeve. My expression day to day is not animated.
    So, my weaknesses are yours. I do not delegate well at all. I would much rather do everything on my own than to have it done incorrectly or see others waste time by not doing it efficiently. Of course, this leads to me being overtired, run down and impatient.

  5. Lavender Luz Says:

    First of all, I want to say that any organization would be sooooo lucky to have you and your set of talents and passions. I know you already know that, though.

    Second, I think that I would sellout and play the interview game. Sad to say.

    Third, my “weakness” is also perfectionism. My real weakness is that I love to delegate.

    Is it selfish of me to say that I wish you would interview close to where I live? Don’t Burrito and Tamale need some local “cousins?”

  6. Twinmamma Says:

    I bet you are an INTJ! It’s a pretty rare personality type, especially in women. I met my husband (we are both intj) thru online dating. We both despise small talk so normal dating scenes drove us batty. You have to find the right company/position to fit your personality. It is possible to fit into a different personality in the short term, but long term it will cause you more stress. 🙂

  7. My weakness was almost always that I didn’t want or need the job. I can’t tell you how many jobs I didn’t get probably because people saw through my faked enthusiasm. I love that I’m in an industry now, which is very dependent on one-on-one conversations, which I love. My big goal in life is to never have to formally interview for anything ever again.

  8. strongblonde Says:

    we are so similar. those are the weaknesses that i generally list. in my profession i think that you really have to be a perfectionist. people’s lives are at stake, right? i think that it is a good thing that i make lots of lists with check boxes and i research things to death. it’s part of what makes me good at what i do. the delegation thing though—i really, REALLY have a hard time doing it. take today for example. i found out today that the purchase order i gave to my office manager in AUGUST was never completed. i delegated, followed up even, and he always blew me off. come to find out those supplies won’t arrive now until December. just not acceptable.

    but i digress.

    my weaknesses? i really am a perfectionist. it does delay my work. i don’t want to put anything out until it is perfect. i don’t like to delegate. i would much rather do things myself. they get done right and (usually) faster.

    on a different note: those people will really regret the fake warmth that they took over skill in a month or so.


  9. a Says:

    My interview weakness (and probably an actual one too): I’ve been told that I am exceptionally honest. I tell it like it is, regardless. I might as well not hide that one – if you ask me the right questions, it will come out anyway.

    I hate the fake warmth thing (see above, honesty). Unfortunately, my workplace operates on the fake warmth “we’re all a big family” principle…which means that I spend a lot of time sitting in my corner trying to ignore people.

  10. Rebecca Says:

    In interviews, given what I do, I always say ‘Sales Ledger’, because it’s true, I am crap at chasing money.

  11. Elana Kahn Says:

    My weakness is I can get bored of doing certain activities, and I’m really bad about being interrupted during something. If I’m working on a project, it drives me wild when someone calls or wants me to do something else. I’m like “helloooo busy here”! lol

  12. Ana Says:

    Ha ha. Been busy interviewing recently (at my current job, with my colleagues) so I can KEEP the job I have (with a slight change in title) or be thrown out.
    Everyone unanimously felt that my work was strong, I was smart and capable, and I had an innovative research plan; but they all mentioned my lack of a certain kind of interpersonal skills. Not that I’m not friendly & helpful, but that I don’t “sell myself”; which is apparently the kiss of death in academia.
    I am shy. I have friends at work that I enjoy chatting with, but I hate “talking to people” in general. I have no idea how to “self-promote” or “network”. I thought a career in scientific research would be well-suited to someone with those flaws, but apparently not!
    the last few weeks have really opened my eyes to how I’m perceived by others and I’ve realized that I really do need to fake it, and push myself to be more talkative about what I’m doing in my work & what I’ve accomplished. If I do get to keep my job, I need to make an effort to sit down with the chief every couple of months to update him on my progress & keep myself on his radar. I need to attend more meetings or really just roam the halls of the office so that (important) people see my face & don’t forget about me. Ick. I hate that stuff. But I love what I do otherwise, and I love where we live, and I really really really don’t want to leave, so I’ll have to play the game.

  13. Wild Irish Roses Says:

    Hmmm … good one!

    I haven’t been on enough interviews to have really worked out what my “weakness” is, but I generally say something like, I am terrible at being delegated *to* or hovered over. I really hate it when I have my own job to do, and I’m doing it, and someone else tells me to do something else. Irritates me no end.

    My real weakness is also interpersonal skills, but in a much different — and very weird — way. I can do small talk and get on well with people, but I am terrible at initiating conversation with people I don’t know; I’m shy at first, nervous in interviews. My face can absolutely be read like a book, but I haven’t learned how to exploit that. It’s resulted in me being extremely honest — but people often don’t like that kind of honesty and I come off as arrogant and condescending all. the. time. — even if I genuinely didn’t feel that way and didn’t mean to come off like that. I’ve been told that think about the words I’m using and the phrasing of my sentences more than the effect they’re going to have on people.

    I am also a peculiar mix of the two countries I grew up in, and not enough of either for me to shine in one country over another. In Britain, you simply do not sell yourself. It’s unacceptable to say things that are immodest, even if they may be true. In America, you have to sell yourself — but by being open and friendly and charming and immodest, nobody’s feelings get hurt. I try to be modest, but since when someone praises me I withdraw into myself, I come off as falsely modest — which contributes to the arrogance/condescension thing. (This is definitely a cultural thing — I’ve known a couple people with the same background as me, and we all do this.)

    Yeah. People are not my strong suit. I just really need to become a writer and hole up by myself, lol. 🙂

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