Q: I am applying for a role with a new company This new company is a competitor of my employer. Many of my co-workers know my strengths and weaknesses. I am very detail-oriented and deadline driven. I like to crunch numbers and usually my contributions are met with favorable feedback. I do well with pivot tables and macros. What I am not good at is presenting data. Standing in front of a big group and presenting a deck is intimidating to me. I also seem to struggle with the pacing of the slides and I am not an engaging public speaker. My current team understands this, so someone else volunteers to present data if needed. I am sometimes called on to explain the data, and this is fine. If I apply for a new role, how do I explain this weakness?
A: Welcome to the human race! We all have strengths and weaknesses. Your skills are sought after. It sounds like you have the ability to build complex spreadsheets, crunch and analyze data, and then use this data in a meaningful way for your employer. Though you don’t specify your actual role, or what your employer does, these skills are very much transferrable. Many of us associate advanced Excel skills with professionals in accounting or finance. However, administrative assistants, project managers, cost estimators, loan officers, analysts, economists and statisticians, among others, all have likely touched Excel during their careers. Additionally, that you can be called on to explain what data is behind the spreadsheet is even more important. Your co-workers must trust your quantitative abilities quite a bit.
Not everyone is a strong public speaker. Most people, even the most accomplished public speakers, have a few nerves before presenting to a group. Public speaking, just like any skill, can be improved with practice. When you first were introduced to Excel, you probably had a “knack” for it, but you were not familiar with functions like the VLOOKUP function. Over time, you learned the basics of Excel, but then you learned the more advanced concepts. Public speaking is similar. You may never be the best public speaker, but it may be an area which could practice. Start with a small group or on Zoom. Your audience members should be a close group of trusted friends, co-workers or family. Ask them for feedback. Their feedback may include establishing better eye contact or smiling. Or they may tell you to slow down, and not rush through your presentation. Whatever the feedback, listen and think about how to improve. You may also ask your audience what you do well. Do you seem confident in the material? Are you able to explain the data and any insights and/or conclusions? It is important to listen to the feedback in a positive manner. If you are defensive, then your audience members will be reluctant to share feedback.
We all have strengths and weaknesses. I think the key is knowing what they are. You may want to look for roles which specify requirements like advanced Excel and quantitative skills. I think the key is knowing what they are. You will land. In Massachusetts, the unemployment rate is just over 3%, which is unusually low. At the moment, it is a candidate’s world. Good luck on your search.
Pattie Hunt Sinacole is a human resources expert and works for First Beacon Group in Hopkinton, an HR consulting firm. She contributes weekly to Boston.com Jobs and the Boston Sunday Globe Money & Careers section.