Strengths & Weaknesses

One of the most important interview questions that we, MBA students, are asked in almost all the interviews are “Tell me about your strengths and weaknesses”.

I was trying to answer this question but am finding it very tough to answer. Before I identify my strength and weakness, I need to know what is strength/weakness and in what context do they ask me? If a question comes to me “What is your name?” I cannot say “Vijay Anand Raju”.Before I answer this question, I’ll see who is asking this question and in what context is he asking this question.Suppose if my father asks this question, I will say “vg”, which is how my family calls me.But if he is asking this question infront of a relative who I dont know, then I may say “Vijay”.The answer here is not for my father but for the relative. It also indirectly tells the new person that this is how I want to be called.If the same question is asked infront of my school teacher, I would have said “Vijay Anand Raju”. In this case, there is an element of obedience which stays above my personal preference. So, as context changes, the outcome changes.

I think the same holds true for strength/weakness questions also.Let’s discuss in detail.

What is a strength? There are many meanings given in dictionaries but two of the closest are “Quality or state of being strong” and ” the degree of intensity”.So what is a weakness? “Lack of strength or character flaw”.

So if weakness is lack of strength, then both strength and weakness are defined by the same scale. So naturally, the question goes one step further towards personal attributes ,which may be creativity, passion, enthusiasm, communication skills etc, for which it is a degree. Lets choose one attribute, for example, “enthusiasm”. On a scale of 1-10, if it is 8 -10, then it is overenthusiasm.If it is between 4-7, it is enthusiasm.If it is below, then it is “lack of enthusiasm or apathy”.

If someone says “My strength is enthusiasm”, it is really difficult to understand the person’s viewpoint. Lets say he likes chinese food, reading and problem solving. He dislikes uncleanliness, backstabbers etc. He is neutral on issues like war, poverty.If he sees a good book , he will show “over enthusiasm” to buy and read the book. If he sees someone who has “backstabbed” him before, he will show “lack of enthusiasm” to talk to him. If he is watching some news on poverty or war, he may show enthusiasm to the news but will not do anything beyond that.

So his strength takes many forms and it takes the form of a weakness also.Strength is not something that is fixed and cant be changed.It gets “iterated ” depending on the circumstances and the other external factors that are beyond his control.It is dynamic and varies over circumstances and time.

Imagine a “winamp” equalizer.We can use this as a metaphor to explain strength and weakness.There are various columns which dynamically move up and down resulting in music to our ears.Let us imagine that if the column is tall, then it is strength and if it is small, it is a weakness.

If all these columns are static and at full strength, then it is noise.If all these columns are polarized towards the bottom at the same level, then also it is noise.You will hear music only when these columns dynamically move up and down.Similarly, if we want music in our lives we need to adjust the scales according to the circumstances.It is the same for individuals, organizations and countries.

It is very clear that the same strength will be a weakness in some circumstances and a weakness will be a strength under certain circumstances. For example, “Influential talking” will be a strength in a sales job and will be a weakness if you are in a class full of hearing impaired students.

Also,the equalizeer has various presets and we can save custom presets. We can do such presets based on some of the dominant circumstances that we face in our lives. But it needs thorough reflection and identifying the true calling.Once we identify the calling, then we can broadly identify some of the potential interest areas based on that calling.We can build our own personality archetypes based on this broad contexts and ofcourse, there will be “n” number of circumstances for which these presets can be used as a benchmark to build the needed archetype for that particular circumstance.

It is very important to build a portfolio or an archetype of competencies that can be effectively used to manage the uncertainties of the future. If we get stuck in a few competencies, then we cannot have “music” when the circumstances change.

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