How to answer Strengths and Weaknesses Questions
While they are some of the most common interview questions being asked about your strengths and weaknesses are often the most difficult questions to answer!
We’ve all been there, sat in an interview, feeling like it’s going well and then suddenly the questions arises, so tell me “What are your strengths and weaknesses?”. Suddenly your heart begins to race and palms go sweaty as you try to formulate an answer, one which doesn’t make it look like you have made mistakes or are bragging.
It’s crucial that you avoid being vague or deferring the question, as it’s possible to turn it into an opportunity to show how you handle challenges and manage your priorities. The best way to answer this professionally and calmly is to prepare. You know it’s coming so make sure you rehearse exactly what to say.
“So, what are your greatest strengths?”
Preparation is key – Make a list
The best place to begin is with an honest list of the skills, traits and attributes that have driven your progression and earned you recognition in your professional career. Not all strengths will be worth mentioning, and not all of the same strengths will be appropriate for each opportunity.
With the job specification to hand, narrow your list down to a strong five points that blend technical competencies with desirable soft skills. Each strength should represent an aspect of your work that makes you feel the most successful, be it communication, proven aptitude in a particular field or strategic problem solving.
Consider how you reached this place in your career
Don’t confuse your strengths for the traits you admire in others. It’s easily done but bear in mind that these qualities are what it takes for other employees to succeed in their own roles, not yours.
Instead, think about what you have achieved in your job and what it took to get there: did you excel in education, were you recognised by an employer for your efforts, have you received an award or reward for your skills or accomplishments? However far you have come, it has been on the back of your strengths: this in mind, a desire to learn in itself can be a strength.
Focus on the skills the employer needs
Ultimately, the ‘greatest strengths’ question is used to measure your proudest accomplishments and most valuable skills against the requirements of the role as set out by the organisation. Rather than an extensive list, focus on the strengths within your list that you believe will signal to the employer your suitability.
For instance, does the role see the successful candidate thrive in a fast-paced environment? Highlight your ability to work under pressure and provide evidence that supports this. Are they searching for someone who can hit the ground running? A passion and personal commitment to learning and development coupled with a proven aptitude with a particular program can set you aside from the competition.
Keep it concise
As long as your list of strengths may be to land the role, you don’t want to come across as boastful and you certainly don’t want to confuse your interviewer. Instead, ensure it to keep it brief, focused and support each strength with a short but powerful achievement.
“Tell me, what is your greatest weaknesses?”
Quite frankly, the interviewer doesn’t want to hear that you’re a perfectionist or hard-worker – or at least, not in your answer to this question. The reason you’re sitting in front of them is because they’ve seen your CV or LinkedIn profile and they want to know more about you as person. They’re asking the question because they want to find out what you wouldn’t be shouting about in your job application.
A strategic approach
To impress the hiring manager, you’ll need to strike a balance between being open and honest – which helps to build trust and rapport – while also tactically turning the table in your favour. You’re looking to show self-awareness by giving an answer with depth rather than deflecting the question.
You could take several approaches with this, but try to avoid talking about a skill which simply isn’t relevant to the job. Yes, you could argue that you’re not showing any signs of weakness within that particular role, but any experienced hiring manager will see straight through your guise.
Alternatively, try referring to a time you improved your skills in an area that previously would’ve been your weakest. Perhaps you took a short course or asked your colleagues for help. It’s always easiest to talk about improving hard skills, such as your ability to use a piece of equipment or software. Soft skills are the characteristics we’ve developed over time – like communication and patience – and it’s much harder to prove that you’ve strengthened them.
Prepare your answer
There’s no need to write yourself a script, as you’ll only become flustered when you inevitably divert from it. However, it does pay to write yourself a few bullet points if it helps you to memorise the key points you want to translate. You’ll also feel better prepared when you walk into the interview – especially if you’ve done the same for several of the most commonly asked interview questions.
Everyone has weaknesses – it’s what makes us human, and what makes us different from automated systems which are beginning to replace us. But by recognising how you’ve endeavoured to upskill yourself, you’re sure to impress when you face the all-important greatest weaknesses question.
Sometimes, you’ll be explicitly asked the ‘what is your greatest weakness question’ but it can also be disguised as any of the following:
• ‘What did you find most challenging in your last role?’
• ‘How would you like to develop your skill set?’
• ‘What areas could you improve upon?’
• ‘If could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?’
No matter how it’s phrased, you’ll still need to answer it in the same way.