You’ve found your dream job, poured over the perfect application, and nailed the phone screening. You’re booked in to formally interview with the recruiter or hiring manager, it’s time to prepare. As you start to think through every possible question that could be asked, you hit what is possibly the most dreaded job interview question: What are your strengths and weaknesses.
Before we provide a few examples of how to answer this question, it’s essential to understand why this question is even asked during interviews.
On the surface, it’s hard to see the value of this question, especially when it makes candidates feel so uncomfortable. Well, that is precisely the reason behind the question. There are numerous reasons why a job interview is conducted, and one of them is for recruiters to see how you respond to questions and handle uncomfortable situations. Also, your responses will give them an insight into your personality, how confident you are in your skills, and how honest and realistic you are when it comes to your virtues.
Here are a few tactics to use when crafting your response:
- Do not avoid the question. Be honest, but selective with the weaknesses you choose to share. There is no need to reference weaknesses that are irrelevant to the job, for example, a Finance Manager does not need to know that you are terrible at tennis.
- Be genuine and honest about your strengths. An authentic answer will be received well, however, an overly calculated one could come across as arrogant. Again be selective in what you choose and always select something that has a direct correlation to the role requirements.
- Strike a nice balance. This is an opportunity to demonstrate that you have a high level of self-awareness. Avoid negatively referring to skills/ traits that would be regarded as essential to the role, you don’t want to hurt your chances of landing the role. You can, however, refer to something that might be regarded as a second-order priority or a nice-to-have that you are actively working on developing. Confidently share anything you’re doing to turn that weakness into a strength, for example taking an online course to improve your graphic design skills or seeking mentoring. It doesn’t have to be completed yet, demonstrating you’re open and self-motivated to be in continuous improvement for further building your skills is the key message you want to share.
- Do not try to outsmart the interviewer with weaknesses that are your strengths, such as your perfectionism or caring too much about the work you do. This is a dated and well-publicized idea – you’ll come across as disingenuous and will not help your chances of landing the job.
- Don’t overdo it. Keep it sharp and concise, there is no need to drag your answer out and overstate either your strengths or your weaknesses. Your interviewer doesn’t need multiple examples – just 1 well-crafted example will be enough.
- Use examples where possible. Examples are a fantastic way to demonstrate that you have tangible experience using your strengths effectively, or identifying your weaknesses and then taken active steps to grow and learn from them. The well-known STAR-formula is an excellent structure to form the basis of your answer and keeps you focused on the most important parts, the actions you’ve taken, and the results of those important steps.
Here are some examples of the most effective ways to handle the weaknesses question:
- Although I don’t have a lot of experience with the software in question, I have used similar platforms before such as “XYZ”. I am very comfortable with technology and learn new applications very quickly.
- I have always struggled with public speaking. I recognised that this was holding me back in my career growth so have recently made a concerted effort in team meetings to be more vocal and speak up. It’s something that I am still actively working on but so far, I’ve received a lot of positive feedback from my manager with the valuable input I bring to meetings.
- I had a preference for taking on projects by myself. However, after nearly missing a deadline I realised that if I delegate effectively and share the work across the team, it reduces the risk of missing deadlines, and also brings in perspectives and contributions from other team members which enhanced all of the project outcomes.
- I have strong leadership skills and am very team-focused. I believe that a strong company culture helps everyone grow and learn together, which ultimately ensures both individual and company success. I developed an internal ‘office hours’ program where team members had dedicated 1:1 time with managers within the organization. This gave employees a chance to develop relationships and exposure to opportunities to enhance their career growth.
- I have over 7 years of brand and copywriting experience, and with my last promotion to Senior Community Manager, I was given ownership of the company social media accounts. In this role, I published over 300 content pieces and dramatically enhanced my writing and communication skills.
Regardless of your individual strengths or weaknesses, remember that it is important to be genuine and authentic. Ensure that you always relate your answers back to the job description and wherever possible provide real-world examples of how you have demonstrated your strengths or tangible ways that you are actively working on your self-improvement.