Weaknesses in your professional life can be turned into advantages. The crucial element is knowing how to frame your perceived "weak" qualities to contacts and potential employers. Here are five common disadvantages that you can reframe and use to your advantage.
You're Inexperienced: You Can Learn Without Being Threatening
When you're an intern at a company, you might feel like you're at the bottom rung. You can turn that into a position of power -- as other people might be more willing to take you under their wing.
Nobody wants to make themselves obsolete. Talented or accomplished individuals at your company will be wary of sharing information with their peers. They might be more open to sharing it with an intern or student. Since you're in this type of position, people will think you lack experience. They won't perceive you to be as threatening as a colleague, peer, or a rival on similar or even footing.
As you build relationships with these experts, present yourself as nothing more than a curious learner. Don't be too aggressive. You're not entitled to these people's best ideas, or their jobs and work. Be patient and stay passionate, energetic, and consistent.
You're Easily Distracted: You Have A Lot Of Knowledge To Share
If you're addicted to information, use this as a catalyst for networking and building relationships. Find people who don't have time to fill themselves in on industry news or their interests, and use your own addiction to news and stories to learn something and share your knowledge. Send them useful or entertaining links.
In a way, you can think of yourself as a curator for other people. You can forward them articles or interviews that you know will either inform them, inspire them, or, at the very least, entertain them. As author Ryan Holiday writes at 99U:
One suggestion that's helped me: provide articles, links, or news that can benefit your mentors. You are less busy than they are, so your time is better spent looking and searching. Also by having other mentorships and pursuing my own interests on the side, I was able to be a source of new information, trends, and opportunities. I asked a lot, but I tried to give in return.
You could also forward articles or potential opportunities to people who you haven't met yet but want to build relationships with. It might be a bit forward, but if you're comfortable with it then give it a try. If anything, it will be a welcome step up from emailing them and asking to "pick their brain" or offering to buy them a coffee (um, they can probably afford their own coffee).
You're A Generalist: You Can Offer Multiple Perspectives
The career opportunities you're interested in might require different experiences or education than the one you have. Don't despair. Remember, you can bring a unique perspective to the table. Explain to your contacts or interviewer that your perspective or previous skillset can fill in for the company's knowledge gaps, weaknesses, or expansion opportunities. As marketing strategist Dorie Clark wrote<:
Check out the writings of thinkers like Frans Johansson, who argues in The Medici Effect that the best ideas arise from interdisciplinary intersections. You're never going to win the argument that you're better qualified than someone who has studied a relevant business discipline -- or who has worked in the field for years. So don't even try. You're differently qualified, and your unique perspective may be just what the company needs to move to the next level.
Bring the ideas or experiences you're familiar with and figure out how you can apply them to this new environment. If you're going to a technology startup and coming from a corporate environment, see if there are any processes you can help implement for better organisation (many startups/entrepreneurs can be quite disorganised), or any mistakes you can help avoid.
You're Fearful: You Know What's Most Important
It's easy to feel paralysed when you're planning for the future. You might feel like you've plateaued in your career. Alternatively, you might just be suffering from analysis paralysis. In any case, when a situation like this arises, ask yourself which professional opportunities you fear the most. Then, take a deep breath, and explore it.
For example, if you want more professional freedom or have a vision for a product, but are totally afraid of starting your own company and the risk that comes with it, you shouldn't let your fear be a barrier. Author Tim Ferriss says in this interview with VentureBeat, "...the thing we fear most is what we most need to do." In order for you to grow, it's important to continue stepping out of your comfort zone.
Identify your greatest fears. Figure out what the worst-case scenarios are, how likely they are to happen, and if there are any steps you can take to prevent them from happening or to recover from them. Ferriss suggests a specific exercise in this interview with Chase Jarvis LIVE:
So what I tend to do if I find myself paralysed or indecisive, is I'll write down all the worst-case scenarios. I mean really get high def in the absolute specific worst-case scenarios. Then the second column is…anything I could do to prevent those specific items. Then, if they happen, what I could do to reverse those or minimize the damage from each of those outcomes. You find once you do that that the worst-case scenarios are very seldom as bad as you have envisioned.
You might find your fear much easier to conquer once the mystery is clear. Maybe you'll find that it's not worth it, and that the consequences worst-case scenario are far too severe. Alternatively, you might find a less drastic opportunity that is less drastically outside your comfort zone. Exploring your fear allows you to keep your eyes peeled.
You're Occasionally Incompetent: You Can Prioritise
Believe it or not, you can even use a quality as frowned upon as incompetence. Use it as a polite way of avoiding tasks or activities so that you can spend time on things you're way better at (and actually interested in).
Entrepreneur and venture capitalist Marc Andreessen writes:
The best way to to make sure that you are never asked to do something again is to royally screw it up the first time you are asked to do it.
Or, better yet, just say you know you will royally screw it up -- maintain a strong voice and a clear gaze, and you'll probably get off the hook.
Of course, this assumes that there are other things that are more important at which you are competent.
As writer Jared Sandberg writes in The Wall Street Journal, "Strategic incompetence isn't about having a strategy that fails, but a failure that succeeds." Yet Andreessen's final caveat is really important. If you're even considering strategic incompetence, make sure that you're extremely competent and useful at other things. Otherwise, without that redeeming value, you'll just be plain ol' incompetent.
If you lack experience, use your non-threatening amateur status to build strong relationships with experts. If you get distracted easily, find interesting information and pass it along to people. If your skills or background doesn't fit into an opportunity, emphasise your transferrable skills and your unique perspective. Follow your fear. Use incompetence strategically to avoid tasks.