Everything you need to know about answering the inevitable ‘strengths & weaknesses’ interview question 

  • Tim Neary | August 15, 2019
Interview in process

It’s a job interview so you know it’s coming, right? The dreaded strengths and weaknesses question. Preparing ahead for it is therefore a very good use of your time in the lead up to the big day.

Then even if you aren’t asked about your strengths and weaknesses specifically, scripting your response will provide a candid, compelling description of what you bring to the job, according to job site platform Indeed. 

It says it’s always best – where possible – to cover off your weaknesses first so that you can end on a positive note.

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“When addressing your weaknesses, draw upon examples relating to either skills, habits or personality traits,” says Indeed. 

“You may want to choose which to focus on depending on the type of job you’re interviewing for. For example, discussing a skill or habit may be highly relevant for a technical position. But for a sales or customer service role, your interviewer may be more interested in hearing about your personality traits.”

Indeed says neither choice is strictly right or wrong. 

“Re-read the job description for clues on what may matter most for this specific role.”

Either way though, it says that answering the question is pretty much formula driven. 

“First, state your weakness. Second, add additional context and a specific example or story of how this trait has emerged in your professional life. 

“That context will give potential employers insight into your level of self-awareness and commitment to professional growth.” 

Anxiety  

Global employment exchange Monster says that despite it being a stock-standard question these days, it still can cause some anxiety: “How do I say what I'm not good at without looking terrible and say what I am good at without bragging?”

Best, it adds, to emphasise a positive quality that's needed for the job, and minimize—but be truthful about—the negatives. 

“The best way to handle this question is to minimise the trait and emphasise the positive, [and] select a trait and come up with a solution to overcome your weakness. Stay away from personal qualities and concentrate more on professional traits.”

Monster says by asking the question the interviewer is looking for a fit.

“They are forming a picture of you based on your answers,” it says. 

“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.”

Challenges 

The Balance Careers says that you may hear these questions phrased in different ways, but the underlying reason employers ask remains the same. 

“They want to know what you see as your strengths and weaknesses and also observe how you respond to a challenging question,” it says. 

“The interviewer is looking for honesty, self-awareness, and the ability to learn from mistakes. So, don’t give a cliched answer like, ‘I’m a perfectionist!’. Hiring managers hear that one a lot, and they’ll assume that you’re either not aware of your actual failings or that you’re not willing to share them.” 

The Balance Careers also says that strengths and weaknesses are different for almost every job. 

“What could be a strength for one job applicant may be considered a weakness for another candidate,” it says. 

“When answering questions about your strengths and weaknesses, always keep the job description in mind. Remember, the employer wants to know that you have the skill set, experience, and attitude necessary to get the job done.”

In the end though, The Balance Careers says these questions are an opportunity to demonstrate self-awareness. 

“The best employees are the ones who tackle their deficiencies head on and keep learning throughout their career. 

“Show that you’re the best person to solve their problems and achieve their goals.” 

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