Answering the Strengths and Weaknesses Question During an Interview

You’ve seen time and time again a laundry list of all of the most common interview questions. Every list you’re likely to find on the internet will have this one question: What are your biggest strengths and weaknesses? In fact, every interviewer will also probably ask you this question! 

It must be important if interviewers ask this question so many times. To ace this question, it is important to understand the purpose of the question and what the interviewer is looking for when they ask it.

The purpose of the question

Interviewers ask this question to learn more about how you view yourself as an employee. Employers want strong, self-aware workers who are actively trying to improve and grow. It is also an honesty test; will you tell your potential employer the truth or will you try to spin a weakness into a strength? 

Interviewers are also looking to understand your relative fit within their organization. If their company is young and fun, they may reject a candidate who admits they may be a bit of a “Debby Downer,” or have a negative attitude. They may also use this question to weed out employees who may have weaknesses that work in direct opposition to the function of the job. For example, in a deadline-oriented Advertising Manager position, a company may reject a candidate who admits to having poor time management.

Therefore, your answer should be work-related and strategic. 

 

How to strategically answer the strengths question

As in every other part of your interview, your answer should be informed by your research. Take time to consider the job posting once more. Do they identify the kind of candidate they want? Do they say they are looking for a motivated, self-starter? If so, you may want to zero in on a strength that highlights your motivation and self-starter attitude. 

Conversely, you may want to identify a strength you have that may improve the company altogether. Perhaps you are interviewing for a software engineer position but your greatest strength is your eye for design. You can explain how your eye for detail coupled with your expertise in software development would improve the overall product because user experience is always at the forefront of your mind.

Whatever strength you choose, be sure you can support your strengths with an example of a time you epitomized that strength. Anyone can say they are organized; using an example proves you are organized. It can also be a great way to expand on a part of your resume or cover letter that you feel deserves more explanation. 

Don't say
"I am an organized person. I am able to organize not only people but resources."
Say
"My biggest strength is my ability to organize people and resources efficiently and effectively. For example, I oversaw a team of account managers. The account manages often complained they were stretched for time and didn't have the resources to assist clients. I created a survey to understand what managers needed to help them. Using the survey as guidance, I reappropriated funds and reallocated company energy on different service offerings based on clients’ preferences. As a result of determining the most sought after services for the company, company revenue increased 30%. My company still uses this survey system to this day to make predictions and reallocate funds, services, and innovation."
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It is important to be strategic when answering these questions. A carefully constructed answer can communicate your capability and careful research. These types of approaches are sure to impress your interviewer and make your interview memorable. 

How to strategically answer the weaknesses question

The harder part of this question lies within the weakness. Many people believe that they should mention a big strength disguised as a weakness. For example, “I work too hard” or “I’m a perfectionist.” Those are both cliche and not real weaknesses. Try to be honest with the interviewer and yourself. We are all human and it is normal to struggle in one area or another. 

Another incorrect way to answer this question is to focus on personal weaknesses. Try to focus on a weakness that relates to the job function. For example, you do not want to talk about a personality flaw such as impatience as that has little to do with whether or not you can succeed in the job at hand. Instead, focus on a professional weakness such as public speaking, lack of knowledge in a certain area related to your desired industry, or leadership skills. These weaknesses are real and related to the job at hand. 

While interviewers care about your weakness, they care more about how you are working on it. After mentioning your weaknesses, be sure to explain how you are taking measurable steps on improving that issue.

Don't say
“My biggest weakness is communication. I always forget to update my coworkers about where I am on a specific project.”
Say
“My weakness is effective communication. I often get caught up in my own tasks, I forget to update my coworkers with information that may be important. However, I recognize this can create a bottleneck for information so every week I set a reminder on my calendar to update my coworkers and managers about my progress in my work.”
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In the second example, you describe an authentic weakness but reframe your answer to highlight the ways in which you are actively bettering yourself. By ending your response on a positive note, the interviewer will remember your weakness as a challenge you are working to overcome instead of an impediment to the company’s success. 

It is also important to be strategic here as well. You don’t want to answer this question too honestly. Don’t spend too long listing out all of your work-related issues or providing examples as this may deter your interviewer as well. Your weakness answer should be short and sweet.  

How to ace the biggest strengths and weaknesses question

Practice. As we mentioned before, this is a very common interview question. You are almost guaranteed to run into this question in your job search process. Having a go-to answer for this question can help soothe interview nerves and make you sound more polished and prepared. 

Interviews are never easy. It’s even harder to think about yourself on the spot. Preparing and thinking ahead can ensure you have an awesome interview! 

Having trouble identifying your biggest strengths and weaknesses? Unsure how to word your answer in a way that feels authentic? Contact us, we can help!

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