It’s usually not very far into a job interview when you get asked the dreaded question, “What are your strengths and weaknesses?”
As an executive recruiter, I’ve seen candidates struggle with the question time and time again. But, although it’s a difficult one, it’s also one that you know is coming so you simply have to be prepared.
Strengths are easier so let’s start there. First, assess your personal strengths whether those are job-related skills or personal traits. Write down five to ten. Then think about the role you’re applying for and what traits a successful candidate should have. See which of your skills are the most relevant and be prepared to discuss three to five of them.
When asked, most candidates just list off their strengths but that’s a missed opportunity. Back each strength up with facts or examples. For example: “One of my greatest strengths is my ability to manage large teams. In my previous role I oversaw the work of 25 employees.” Or: “One of my greatest strengths is my desire and willingness to develop new skills. When our company opened up an office in Shanghai I began taking Chinese language classes, which allowed me to work exceptionally well with our China-based team.”
Weaknesses are, of course, much more difficult. It feels like you’re being asked to tell someone why he or she shouldn’t hire you! But no one expects you to be perfect and acknowledging your own weaknesses is a sign of self-awareness.
You should only present one weakness, even if you get asked for more. But have a couple extras up your sleeve in case you’re really pressed to share additional weaknesses.
The old wisdom was to put forward a “weakness” that is actually a strength – for example, “I’m a perfectionist and put too much pressure on myself” or “I’m too detail oriented and sometimes I get stuck in the weeds.” Don’t go that route. It was elicit eyerolls and interviewers are looking for honesty.
Be humble and earnest. Think about what you’ve struggled with in the past. What issues have come up in past performance reviews? What doesn’t come as easily to you as you wish it did? Once again, list them out. Then make notes on all the ways in which you’ve addressed those weaknesses because that’s what the interviewer really wants to know. Although honesty is the best policy, you don’t want to shoot yourself in the foot so leave any weakness out that could be dealbreakers for an employer.
Use your notes to craft responses stating what the weakness is and how you successfully dealt with it in what I call a “good-bad-good Oreo”. For example, “Organization is very important for maximizing efficiency and effectiveness on the job. But I’m not an organized person by nature and early in my career I might have let some things slip through the cracks as a result. I’ve worked very hard to develop strategies to keep myself organized and feel that I’ve been very successful in doing so.” Or: “I’ve really learned in career that differences of opinion are valuable. However, like many people, I tend to be conflict averse by nature and tend to avoid speaking up when I disagree with others. But this I’ve learned that differences of opinion are valuable and I have worked on listening and then sharing my point of view even when it’s not always comfortable for me.”
You’ll want to write your responses down and them practice them out loud, especially if it’s a weakness you’re nervous about sharing, to make sure your presentation is spot on.
“What are your strengths and weaknesses?” is such a common interview question that it should never catch you off guard. Just be careful not to come off as too rehearsed. Take your time responding so it doesn’t seem like you’re reading from a script and try to reference the specific job you’re applying for so that the response doesn’t feel canned.
How do you like to handle discussing your strengths and weaknesses in an interview? Share you experiences with us below.