Discussing your strengths and weaknesses can be one of the most difficult parts of the job interview. Avoid interview paralysis with our advice.
You probably immediately noticed your heart racing if you’ve ever been asked the question “What are your strengths and weaknesses?” in a job interview. How do I say what I’m not good at without looking terrible and say what I am good at without bragging? Yep, this is a toughie. But there’s a secret formula that can help you succeed: Emphasize a positive quality or skill that’s needed for the job, and minimize—but be truthful about—the negatives.
Let’s say two candidates—we’ll call them Francine and William—have job interviews for a customer service manager position. As always, one of the interview questions they’ll be asked is about their strengths and weaknesses.
First up is Francine. When she’s asked, “What are your greatest strengths and weaknesses?” Francine responds, “My strength is that I’m a hard worker. My weakness is that I get stressed when I miss a deadline because someone else dropped the ball.”
This answer is unimaginative, a no-brainer. Most people think of themselves as hard workers—who would actually admit to not being a hard worker? Also, Francine’s weakness is technically not a weakness, plus she passes the buck: Someone—not her—drops the ball, which causes her to get stressed.
Now it’s William’s turn. He also has difficulty with the question. “I really can’t think of a weakness,” he begins. “Maybe I could be more focused. My strength is probably my ability to deal with people. I am pretty easygoing. I usually don’t get upset easily.”
This answer leads with a negative and then moves to vague words: maybe, probably, pretty, and usually. William isn’t doing himself any favors.
So what is the best way to answer this common interview question?
Assessing your weaknesses
Let’s get the hard part out of the way first—your weaknesses. This is probably the most dreaded part of the question. Everyone has weaknesses, but who wants to admit to them, especially in an interview?
Some examples of weaknesses you might mention include:
- Being too critical of yourself
- Attempting to please everyone
- Being unfamiliar with the latest software
The best way to handle this question is to minimize the trait and emphasize the positive. Select a trait and come up with a solution to overcome your weakness. Stay away from personal qualities and concentrate more on professional traits. For example: “I pride myself on being a ‘big-picture’ guy. I have to admit I sometimes miss small details, but I always make sure I have someone who is detail-oriented on my team.”
Assessing your strengths
When it comes time to toot your own horn, you need to be specific. Assess your skills to identify your strengths. This is an exercise worth doing before any interview. Make a list of your skills, dividing them into three categories:
- Knowledge-based skills: Acquired from education and experience (e.g., computer skills, languages, degrees, training, and technical ability).
- Transferable skills: Your portable skills that you take from job to job (e.g., communication and people skills, analytical problem solving and planning skills)
- Personal traits: Your unique qualities (e.g., dependable, flexible, friendly, hard-working, expressive, formal, punctual, and being a team player).
Some examples of strengths you might mention include:
When you complete this list, choose three to five of those strengths that match what the employer is seeking in the job posting. Make sure you can give specific examples to demonstrate why you say that is your strength if probed further.
Scripting your answers
Write a positive statement you can say with confidence:
“My strength is my flexibility to handle change. As a customer service manager at my last job, I was able to turn around a negative working environment and develop a very supportive team. As far as weaknesses, I feel that my management skills could be stronger, and I am constantly working to improve them.”
When confronted with this interview question, remember the interviewer is looking for a fit. She is forming a picture of you based on your answers. A single answer will probably not keep you from getting the job, unless, of course, it is something blatant. Put your energy into your strengths statement—what you have to offer. Then let the interviewer know that although you may not be perfect, you are working on any shortcomings you have.
Keep on the strong side
Job interviews are among the most nerve-racking part of the job-search process, which is why being prepared makes all the difference.