Throughout my career as a developer I’ve had a few opportunities where I had to determine what my weaknesses were and usually those opportunities had me at a disadvantage. I was always in a sequential path forward where every step forward was an opportunity to learn and improve, and luckily enough opportunities continuously made themselves available. I was always challenged and pushing forward learning from mistakes and missteps. And of course, I was lucky enough to be working at start-ups where nothing ever goes as its supposed to.
At some point in your career you reach a point where you’ve gone as far as you can on pure brute force and need to be more strategic about how you move forward and also be more conscious of your situation.
Recently, I was at an interview where the interviewer asked me for my top strength and weaknesses, but he was kind enough to let me think about it and reply to him the next day with that list. So I went home and did some research to help me determine what my weaknesses were. I already knew what my strengths were, but weaknesses, I always auto correct. If I don’t know how to program something, I do my research and figure it out, if I need to improve how I manage meetings, I read up on it. Need to deal with people better, ditto. So what weakness?
So I did some research online and what I discovered today is a few things:
- Although I have weaknesses today that I am actively working to improve, they are still weaknesses.
- What skill is required of the job that I do not currently possess today. In time I can learn it, but today I do not have it.
So I started jotting down everything I knew I could improve on, no matter how silly, specific, unrelated or lame it was. The list grew quickly and became a great exercise in self-discovery and honesty.
As the list grew I saw patterns, many of the items I was able to group into more pronounced skill sets, such as organization, communication, leadership, programming, technology, etc, etc, etc. Until I had a summarized list of skills or rather lack of skills. I sorted the list in order of greatest weakness first, and then removed the ones that weren’t directly relevant or a perfect requirement of the position I was applying for.
So I didn’t seem like a total newbie, I kept the list to under five items. One of them was directly related to one of the bullet points in the job requirements, a technical skill. Two were professional soft/leadership skills I new I had to improve on and was already working on them. And the last two skills were personal challenges of mine such as being able to take the initiative in social engagements which can be important when networking with potential clients or fellow co-workers.
One of the things that was going through my mind when I was composing my email to the interviewer with my list of strengths of weaknesses is that I suck, I have weaknesses, he’ll think I’m so under-qualified. But that’s not true, it shows that I’m aware of myself and my shortcomings and also that if what I provide matches his intuition, then it’s a win since it proves that I wasn’t making stuff up and am serious about improving myself.
Of course, this list doesn’t guaranty the job, but I now know how to assess weaknesses and can do a regular check up to see how if I’m improving my weaker skills.