Does the question “what are your strengths and weaknesses?” send shivers down your spine? In interview and networking situations, selling yourself is important. You need to be able to communicate your skills and expertise clearly. You may not get this exact question, but articulating how your particular skillset will add value is likely to come up in some form.
Before I developed my speaking skills, I went through many awkward experiences where I could not get my brain and mouth to connect to get the words out to answer questions. I’ve also seen many people in interview situations with the opposite problem; they immediately start speaking and say a lot, but without answering the question.
How can you ensure you communicate with clarity to sell yourself in an appropriate manner?
A skill that can be learnt
A few years ago I attended a Women in Leadership course. We had to do an exercise of presenting ourselves and our roles in our company to camera. The feedback that I got from the other women on the course was that I came across as confident and articulate. Being one of the youngest in the room, the other women thought that this communication capability must come naturally to me. I explained that my speaking skills were absolutely not something I was born with. My ability to do this exercise was because I practice speaking at least twice a month at a public speaking group. I learnt how to do this, which meant that they all could too.
Self (and others) awareness
On her podcast, How to Own the Room, one of the tips shared by Viv Groskop and her guests is that comfort on stage is about knowing yourself. And this desire to understand yourself manifests from an interest in other people.
At recent networking events, some other attendees (in this case seeking non-executive director roles) have seen the way I communicate as being good at marketing/selling. Sales is not something I’d ever identify as my skillset. It was the thing that I disliked most in my corporate jobs. What I am good at is self-awareness. I find personality tests useful and have spent time taking and understanding them. I know my own strengths, weaknesses and motivations well. This has allowed me to appreciate how I work and what I can contribute in a team. Just as importantly, it helps me understand how other people work and what they contribute.
My confidence in communication comes from knowing my strengths are being clear, concise and calm. My communication style matches my personality. In showing who you are, this congruence and authenticity is important.
Trial and Error
One of my personality traits is being reflective. I often think about experiences that I’ve had; what they tell me about myself and the people I work with and how I can learn from the situation. I write a lot of things down, because this works for me. This also connects into the public speaking point about practice. Practice is essentially learning from an experience and improving the next time you do it.
As I’ve moved into a portfolio career, I’ve been applying for roles as a non-executive director and undertaking interviews. The way that I tell my career story and articulate my skills, experience and drivers has evolved. I’ve learnt what works, what doesn’t and keep adapting and improving. That is a large part of what has given me communication clarity.
If you want to get better at communicating who you are (selling yourself):
- Commit to learning speaking skills and practicing them. In an interview situation, this could be answering questions thrown at you by a friend, mentor or coach.
- Invest some time in understanding yourself. Taking personality tests is one way. Another is asking other people about their impressions of you.
- Accept that you won’t get it right every time – by having a go, assessing what went well and what didn’t, you can refine your communication style and message.