Strengths vs. Weaknesses

Strengths vs. Weaknesses

It’s common knowledge that certain questions pop up in every interview:

Tell me a little bit about yourself.

What are your strengths?

What are your weaknesses?

It can be hard to tell a complete stranger the many ways you think of yourself as brilliant, but it’s even harder to share the ways in which you feel you are deficient.

Now, imagine that you are a candidate with Learning Differences, or as the world often puts it: a Disability. For some, the interview itself can be a huge stretch, but to talk about how you think and learn differently becomes a herculean feat.

This week I worked with a group of young adults who have finished their high school careers and are transitioning into the adult world of jobs and earning money. All are considered Special Needs individuals, my own son included.

We talked about how they might get through the difficult interview process, we practiced self-introductions and finding the right details to offer when answering, “_Tell me a little bit about yourself.”_ To the one, these young adults were without guile. They are very literal, and do not know how to dissemble, or how to augment the truth. What a wonderful thing it is to be faced with total honesty!

They weren’t sure how to define their strengths, so we talked about how important honesty, creativity, the ability to follow directions and loyalty can be to an employer. We talked about the special things they love: music, organization, gaming and how these hobbies could give an employer insight into who they were as people and candidates.

Someone asked the question; how do we talk about our disability? Do we tell the employer about it when they ask us, “_What are your weaknesses?”_

I shared my opinion that they should be honest about how their disability comes up in their life, offering statements like: “I need simple instructions,” or, “If you show me how to do something, as well as tell me, I will learn it better and do it right forever.”

We talked about how it could be helpful to share something that was or is a challenge and how they worked to overcome it. We were all laughing at how many in the room would say that Math had been their greatest challenge in high school when one student offered that it was only Advanced Calculus that had stumped him.

That’s the beauty and surprise of life on the spectrum – it’s always a balance of deficit and abundance.

I discouraged them, however, from either labeling their disability or offering it up as a weakness. Why?

First, because there are so many misconceptions out there about the labels: autistic, ADD, anxiety, depression, that people might draw the wrong conclusions.

Second, and more importantly, because their disability is not a weakness – it is just a part of who they are. They should never apologize for that.

Working with these amazing young people makes me reflect on the many times I work with my clients on speaking up more in meetings, encouraging them to share their ideas and talents more courageously.

It’s hard for the best of us to put ourselves out there, even when we are considered “typical” or even “outstanding” in our abilities.

The lesson from these brave individuals is that who you are – just as you are – is important to own and to share with the world.

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