While you can never be 100% certain what questions you are going to get in a job interview, there is one question that seems to occur in the vast majority of them – it is a question about your strengthens and weaknesses. And for many of us, this is by far one of the hardest questions to answer. After all, you don’t want to talk negatively about yourself or give away your weaknesses that could potentially mean talking yourself out of a job. And you want to give your strengths in a positive and encouraging way without coming across as boastful or arrogant. So what are the best ways to answer this kind of interview question?
Why ask these questions?
Strength and weakness questions have been around for a long time and many people wonder why employers continue to ask them. After all, you are less likely to tell the truth about your weaknesses and more likely to slightly overstate your strengths when pinned down about them in an interview. But often, employers aren’t so much looking at the actual answers but more what you give away during the answer – and how you approach it.
Consider the question from the job perspective
To prepare for these types of questions, it is important to consider yourself in the light of the job you are applying for. This means you should focus on the strengths that will be the most appealing for the role you are applying. Examples could include:
- The role is a team one where you will be working with five other people every day – therefore your answer could be along the lines of ‘I thrive in a team environment, working closely with others and contributing to a group effort.’
- The role involves a lot of time spent talking to customers and colleagues on the phone and via email so your answer could be something like ‘I am a skilled communicator able to articulate ideas from paper as well as to confidently give my opinions in written form while remaining personable and friendly.’
Turn a negative into a positive
There are different schools of thought about this idea but it might work for you, depending on the situation. While admitting a weakness, you also show how this could be a positive for the business.
One example might be to look at your workaholic tendencies – “I tend to get very involved in my work and it can take over my life but I pride myself on getting the job done to the highest standard and within all deadlines.”
Or you could highlight that you aren’t the most organised person – “I’m not a naturally organised person so I use a system called X to ensure that I manage myself and never miss a task that I have to do.”
Overcoming the weakness
A similar idea is to discuss your weaknesses and then detail how you have overcome them in the past or what you would do going forward to achieve this. This shows that you know yourself and understand what you need to do to overcome your own characteristics. For example:
- I tend to get too involve with projects I am passionate about and not so much to ones that aren’t as appealing but I have learned to balance this and put the same effort into all the projects that I work on
- While I am a little obsessive about my part of a project or my role, I have come to understand that I play just one part in the big picture and that I need to act accordingly
Managing questions about your strengths
Talking about your strengths may seem easier than talking about your weaknesses and it is easy to focus on former and downplay the latter but interviewers will see through this. Instead, look to offer your strengths in relation to the role you are applying for so beforehand, write a list of skills and strengths that you have that match up with the job description.
So for example, if the job involves working to deadlines you could say something like “I don’t like to just meet deadlines but complete projects ahead of schedule and even earned a bonus in my last job for completing X project X time ahead of schedule”
While not wanting to exaggerate, an interview isn’t the time to be humble. Make sure what you say is fact based (so as above, make sure you did get that bonus or other reward) and highlight the most important strengths in relation to the role you are applying for.
Strength and weakness questions are often the hardest to answer confidently. If asked as a single question, start with your weaknesses and finish with your strengths to end on a positive note. Show how you have dealt with your weaknesses and how your strengths can benefit the employer.