While you can never be 100% certain about what roaster of questions you are going to get, there’s a requiring set of common interview questions that pop up almost every time – “What are your strengths 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. At the same time, you want to convey your strengths encouragingly without coming across as boastful or arrogant.
So how do you go about discussing your strengths and weaknesses during a job interview? Let’s unpack this together!
Why Interviewers Ask About Your Strengths and Weaknesses
On the surface level, this interview question seems puzzling to most job candidates. After all, all of us are less likely to tell the truth about the weaknesses and more likely to slightly overstate your strengths when pinned down about them in an interview. So why bother asking, right?
Well, as experienced HRs will tell you: the goal of posing this question isn’t about getting an absolutely truthful answer. But rather assessing how you approach the question.
When asking “what are your strengths and weaknesses” most employers actually try to evaluate your character. In particular, they are trying to gauge whether you are:
- Self-aware and mature
- Receptive to feedback/constructive criticism
- Comprehensive of your growth areas
For HRs that’s the actual personal qualities that matter since these qualities are indicative of your day-to-day behavior and potential performance at the job. After all, not everyone is ready to deal with a person who cannot tolerate constructive criticism or recognize their weak areas to benefit from suggested learning & development opportunities.
How to Prepare Your Answer to “What are Your Strengths and Weaknesses” Interview Question
To come up with the best answer to this interview question, it is important to consider yourself in the light of the position you are applying for. As you prepare for the job interview, go back to the original job posting and note on the following:
- General candidate requirements
- Bonus/extra requirements
- Work environment descriptors
In the first two sections, pay more attention to soft skills requirements as these will be the cornerstone of your reply. Picking hard skills over soft skills when naming your strengths isn’t a great move since the interviewer has likely assessed these through your portfolio, in-person tests, or the accomplishments you’ve listed on the resume.
Thus, when asking this question they are way more interested in learning more about the scope of your interpersonal skills and your overall approach to getting things done.
The last point “work environment” is also important as it lets you weave in some extra bits into your narrative. For example, if the ad says that the job involves a lot of deadlines, sample interview strengths and weaknesses reply could go like this:
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. As for my weaknesses, I tend to prefer solving all the problems on my own, especially when the timeframe for the assignment is short. This is great in some cases, but oftentimes I need assistance from others to overcome obstacles beyond my control. My previous manager commented on this tendency once and since then, I’ve become more deliberate with asking for assistance whenever I feel that my personal skills are not sufficient to solve the issue.”
With all of that in mind, let’s take a closer look at how you can prepare an honest and impactful answer to the strengths and weaknesses interview question.
1. Assess Your Most Relevant Strengths
Schedule a quiet sit-down with yourself and organize all the skills you’ve prepared for your resume into three buckets:
- Soft and interpersonal skills: The skills indicative of your abilities to interact with others, showcase social and emotional intelligence. Examples: problem-solving skills, active listener, negotiation, teamwork, etc.
- Personal traits: Unique qualities that describe your personality well. Examples: expressive, polite, outgoing, dependable, etc.
- Knowledge-based skills: The hard, technical skills you’ve acquired from your past work experience and education. Examples: coding skills, language skills, software skills, etc.
Next, assess all of them against the original job description to determine which match the best with the employer’s requirements.
For example, if you see that the job mentions you working as part of a big team, you can start by saying “‘I thrive in a team environment, working closely with others and contributing to a group effort.”.
2. Prepare Short Stories to Back Up Your Claims
A short, real-life example helps contextualize your response and adds extra credibility. Plus, a short story always sounds more personable and engaging, plus gives you some extra room to toot your horn.
So for each strength, you want to highlight, think of a couple of short examples. If you can drop in some numbers along the way, it’s even better!
For example, as a customer support specialist, you may want to discuss your strong phone and email communication abilities in the following manner:
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. At my previous job, I had a consistent 90%+ customer satisfaction rating for all chat interactions. Also, I encouraged the management to allow smiley usage since they also help convey the emotions better as well as make the chatting experience more delightful for the customer. By the way, I’d be happy to help agents at your company learn the smileys etiquette too!
3. Carefully Line Up You Weaknesses
Most people trip when they come to the second part of this interview question – discussing their weaknesses.
There are two most common mistakes:
- Saying that you don’t have any major weaknesses. This signals the interviewer that you lack self-awareness or don’t want to be honest.
- Trying to “pass” strength as a weakness. Saying that you are “too punctual” or “too organized” shows the HR that you lack creativity, and again – don’t want to make an actual effort and assess your personality.
Avoid going with either of these approaches.
At the same time, you don’t want to shoot in your own foot and openly admit that you have some major character or professional flaw. (Look, everyone does, but that’s not the first thing you should bring up during a job interview).
The easiest way to come up with good enough weaknesses to mention during a job interview is to focus on a trait that you already know how to overcome.
For example, you are a naturally absent-minded person, you forget things all the time and some emails just sit in your inbox for ages. Here’s how you can tell about this during a job interview:
Since I’m a ‘big-picture’ kind of person and get overly-focused on reaching the final goal, I can miss the small details during the execution stage. Some of my colleagues will surely tell you that I’m not the best at answering emails fast. But I recently found this cool app that brings read but unanswered emails to the top of the client, reminding me to get back to people who need my input.
When discussing your weaknesses make sure that you emphasize your awareness of the problem and the exact things you are doing to rectify it. By framing your response this way, you showcase the employer that you are a proactive problem solver and invest in personal growth.
4. Script and Practice Your Answers
Take the time to write down personal strengths and weaknesses list with at least 3-4 descriptors for each category, plus examples you are going to bring up.
You can create short scripts for each strength and weakness and then practice them a couple of times. But remember: practicing your interview replies isn’t the same as rehearsing them. Don’t try to memorize your reply word-by-word or else you risk sounding like a robot during the actual interview.
Instead, practice and remember your main talking points, so that you could easily bring up the cool examples and data points on day X.
Talking about your strengths may seem easier than talking about your weaknesses and it is easy to focus on the 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.
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 strength that could make you successful in the new role!
This article has been originally published on January 23, 2017 and has been extensively revised and updated on December 23, 2020.