The month of June marks the ramp up to fiscal close in my neck of the library wood. In the otherwise quiet summer of academia there is this corner of buzzing frenzy. Staff work though last minute orders, pay invoices, troubleshoot problems, answer questions about the various statuses of the cash flow, and pull and prepare data to estimate a new year’s allocations. In my role, I mostly coordinate various inter-dependencies of the workflows and people that must align for these numbers to be properly reconciled. Thankfully for all I’m not responsible for the number-crunching.
You see, I’ve never had the intuitive ease with numbers accountants, or it seems an acquisitions librarian, is expected to have. I prefer to visualize and think around things rather than operate in the linear calculus that numbers require. My analytical mind loves to think about cause and effect, and even the many complex inversions and formulas that produce usable data and its visualization. But producing those inversions on the spot, even in simple arithmetic, doesn’t come easy for me. It explains why I was always terrible at timed math tests, but loved algebra and geometry. I struggle with sewing patterns that instruct from the inside out, but love cooking, where I can follow strict instructions and play with them to my taste.
When I worked in serials, calculations took on linguistic obscurity when it came to publication frequencies and title changes. “Is twice a month semi-monthly or bi-monthly?” Does continues mean what a title it used to be? Or what it will be going forward?”
And to this day, when gardening, “Do annuals mean I plant them every year, or that they come back every year?!”
What gets me in trouble in all of this is my strong preference to operate intuitively and efficiently. This means I am often impatient with the extra time it takes me to slowly think through cost comparisons and reports. I know that extra time is necessary for me, though, to make sure it is done right. Understanding of my own strengths and weaknesses in this way allows me to recognize the need to rely on other tools, systems, and people. Relying on the strengths of others is not an excuse to avoid your weaknesses. In fact, identifying and using your particular strengths can be a tool to overcome weaknesses, and it can mean talking about those vulnerabilities in more empowering ways.
This important skill is perhaps most practically applied in job interviews, where some variation of “What are your strengths and weaknesses?” is no doubt asked. The best interviewers do this using behavioral questioning or appreciative inquiry techniques, which often ask for examples that demonstrate direct personal experience with particular skill or trait. My first ever job interview was as a senior in high school, and I had no previous work experience. So I had to answer questions about what I find difficult when working with others using only my school experience. Thinking of various show choirs and musicals, where I had to practice and perform with my ex-boyfriend (among other characters), I answered:
“Sometimes I have a hard time separating my personal life from my work.”
Surprise! I did not get the job. Not knowing a lot about myself at 17, I failed to realize my strength as a performer was precisely the fact that I actually can and do work with others, even those with whom ‘it’s complicated’, probably better than the average person. Even though inside it was a hormonally-charged tornado of difficult emotion, I could summon my inner Olivia Newton John and nail Grease’s “You’re the One That I Want” number with a smile on my face. With each interview I got a little stronger at framing my skills. When interviewing for a waitress position, in which I did have some experience, I shared my thoughts about an unreasonably disgruntled customer, but described how I worked foremost to best meet that customer’s need.
As I’ve learned more about how my own strengths help my weaknesses, I know I thrive in project management roles because there is a framework to breakdown milestones, tasks, and timelines. I thrive on learning to use new tools because they help me be more efficient and accurate. Perhaps most importantly, I rely the strengths of the people with whom I work. What is painstaking for one person is often the effortless strength of another who is happy to be asked to contribute what they do best. When dealing with numbers, as I must inevitably do in the day-to-day work of acquisitions and resource sharing, I strategize (a strength of mine) to build in the extra time to sit with, play with, and picture data (my analytic strength). I am constantly using my learning strength not just to find new tools that can help me, but to know more about myself and others. I also have an individual relational strength that allows me to know and connect with other people and the unique strengths they offer.
In my seventeenth year experiencing and third year overseeing the fiscal close, I’m putting my anxiety around the numbers in better perspective. I’ve come to see that working through vulnerabilities and getting help where you need it is not abnormal at all. It’s what a responsible adult person would do.
Please tell me your favorite job interview story! What would you do over, if you could, from a position of strength?