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Tell me your strengths.

That is the question every candidate enjoys answering, more so than the typical tell me about yourself opening question that amazingly makes so many people uncomfortable.

questionsWell, I hate to the bearer of bad news, but this nice tell me about your strengths question in today’s market actually requires careful thought, not just some off-the-top-of-your-head response. Here is an example:

Tell me about your strengths and give me an example (evidence) of why you think this is a strength.  If you respond “I’m a good communicator” or “I build strong teams” then be prepared to offer one or two carefully selected examples that seem to match with the hiring company’s selection criteria or  even their characteristics of the ideal candidate.

And, of course, when they ask about your weaknesses, be equally prepared.  On this one, I want to add a special note for clarity.  Candidates know this question is coming so why do so many seem to freeze when it is asked?  They stare blankly ahead, they wiggle, they fidget, then they fumble and stumble.  Not being ready with an example or two and a well thought out positive explanation of how you mitigate your weakness or weaknesses, hurts many candidates in the face-to-face interview process.  I know most outplacement consultants caution their candidates to stay away from anything negative but such avoidance, or lobbing a response that can only be described as “too cute by half” can actually damage the credibility and the authenticity of the candidate.

Here are some other questions that candidates should be on the alert for:

  • What was your biggest mistake in your last job?  Being a leader is tough.  Mistakes are made.  It strains reality to insist you have not made any mistakes.  Have some examples and, more important, an explanation of lessons learned.
  • How will your references describe your leadership style? Provide an example that will explain their answer.  Note: Not knowing what your references are going to say, not briefing on the position they are being called about, or not reminding them of your accomplishments when you worked together, is almost as big a recruiting sin as giving the search consultant or employer their wrong contact information.
  • Explain your value proposition.  Why should we hire you? Make the case and give us some examples of why you think you will be valuable.  You had better be prepared for this one!  We produce a detailed Position Prospectus for each search we conduct.  This document contains a list of requirements, including academic, general knowledge and specific experience.  In our searches, candidates know the culture and the performance expectations as well as the hurdles that must be overcome.  In explaining their value proposition, a candidate must be very specific and connect their experience and their accomplishments to those performance expectations.

In other words, as market conditions become more demanding, especially in healthcare, and as industry consolidation continues, the competition for the best jobs will only intensify.  You have to be super prepared for each interview. You can’t just wing it.