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Dated July 13, 2005

How do I answer an interviewer's question: "What is your biggest strength?"

AKSHY
Pondicherry

You have been called for the interview and you realise that you are not prepared for such a question. Take heart, think of some challenges in your work background -- positive and negative -- and weave your answer around those challenges, your response to them and the results. For example:

Challenge - Your sales division's productivity decreased, and it seemed your division would not meet/exceed annual goals.

Response - Observed the staff to find the bottlenecks. Determined a need for additional employee development and training. Focused on employee development through intense training.

Result - Hit corporate budget at year-end and was noted by management for exceptional problem solving and turnaround capabilities.

You can respond by saying that "My biggest strength is my ability to identify potential problem areas, solve them and produce results. An example of this would be when my division's productivity decreased and it seemed as though we would not meet/exceed our annual goals..." and continue with the narration above.

Can I just make a single cover letter and use the same to send my résumé to several companies?

RAJESH

Visakhapatnam

In theory, this sounds like an efficient way to save on time. In reality, when you do not customise each cover letter, it appears that you're lazy. Address every cover letter to a specific person. If you don't know who the hiring manager is, call and ask the receptionist.

Always avoid addressing your cover letter "To Whom it May Concern." It takes minimal effort to find a direct contact for your cover letter, but will make good impression in return. You also need to address the specific company and job posting in your cover letter. In the opening paragraph of your cover letter, try including something you know about the company. For example, mention that you read that the company had improved its profits this year or that it was recently named one of the top 10 places in the city to work. Employers will be impressed that you have done your research.

How can I make my cover letter stand out among the hundreds the employers receive for every vacancy?

SUBHADRA
Vijayawada

Be as specific in your cover letter as you possibly can. Address the cover letter to a specific person, mention the specific job you are applying for and mention specific skills you have that make you the right candidate for the job.

The purpose of a cover letter is to answer the employer's question of "What's in it for me?"

"Explain how your academic training has prepared you to step into this position." Please explain the appropriate answer.

SRILAKSHMI
Chennai

Your answer could be; I see that this position requires attention to detail as well as being able to work in a team environment. In my position as a teaching assistant, I helped students with coursework, graded their performance, and held weekly study group sessions. Additionally, my papers at college required detailed data analysis as well as statistical work. We had several group projects each semester. One project on was very similar to what your Company does.

"What do you consider to be your weakness?"

ABU YUSUF
Bangalore

Considering everyone has weaknesses, you would come across as arrogant or naive if you insist that you have none! Therefore, you need to carefully review your weaknesses and mentally put them into one of the following four categories:

The first category involves those weaknesses that would be detrimental to the position for which you are interviewing. For example, if the job requires an individual who has excellent communication skills, and you realise that you need more practice effectively organising and clearly expressing your thoughts in written forms of communication, you would not want to respond by saying that you have weak communication skills. Granted, if confronted with a question concerning your communication skills, you don't want to lie about your weakness. Instead, you might respond to the question by saying, "My written communication skills are not as strong as I would like them to be. Therefore, I am currently taking steps to improve my effectiveness in that area." Then briefly describe how you are working to improve that particular skill.

The second category involves strengths that, when overextended, become weaknesses. For example, you might consider yourself to be a perfectionist or workaholic. Naturally, employers would want their employees to perform every aspect of their jobs to the best of their abilities. Therefore, your interviewer may actually approve of your revealed weaknesses. If possible, select a weakness (overextended strength) that would lend itself well to the position for which you are interviewing.

The third category involves those weaknesses that are insignificant from a potential employer's point of view. For example, if your position only involves the marketing of products, you won't hurt your chances of being offered the position if you reveal that you are not an effective money manager.

The fourth category includes weaknesses of which the interviewer is already aware. For example, if the position requires the use of a computer programme with which you are unfamiliar, and the interviewer knows that you do not have experience with that particular programme, you could state that as your weakness. After stating such a weakness, you would be wise to discuss how you intend to correct your weakness once hired.

The FAQ column deals with career concerns addressed to the C&K Management Ltd. P.O. Box 2178, Secunderabad 500003 or emailed to faqs@cnkonline.com

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