List of Strengths and Weaknesses: What to Say in Your Job Interview
Imagine yourself in a job interview.
You are seated right there in front of the interview panel and everything so far is going well. All signs point to you getting the job and you are excited about it. You are doing all you can to maintain the momentum and not blow it in the last minute.
Then someone on the panel drops the bombshell.
“Tell us about some of your strengths and weaknesses”
This is one part of the interview that nobody likes – except for the HR professionals and the hiring managers who can’t seem to let the chance pass.
The good news is that just like it is with the other uncomfortable interview questions like “Where do you see yourself in 5 years?” or “Tell us about yourself”, you can prepare for this question and avoid messing all the progress that you have made so far in the interview.
In fact, you can turn it to be an advantage for you in the interview because it is a chance to show off to your potential employers and show them that you really stand out.
The reason why this question is dreaded by many people is the fact that despite knowing that it will be thrown at you, it always comes off as a trick question. So most people are left confused, not knowing what to say or do.
When it comes to strengths, on one side, you could brag so much and end up sounding arrogant, and on the other side you could take the path of modesty and end up unattractive because you didn’t present your incredible skills and achievements.
The weaknesses are also not any easy. You could try a lot of honesty and find that you have shot yourself on the foot, or you could hold back and lose credibility in their eyes.
Either way, it doesn’t end up well for you.
So which way should you take?
Worry not, you are on the right page. We will look at ways you can use to turn this question to your advantage and leave the interviewers feeling like you are the right guy for the job.
Let’s start with the strengths.
PITFALLS TO AVOID IN JOB INTERVIEW WHEN TALKING ABOUT YOUR STRENGTHS
When you are asked this question, there are things you can say and move directly from a candidate worth considering to one of the people to receive regret mail. Here are some common pitfalls that you should steer clear from:
Don’t give a list of qualities taken from the job requirements section.
Many interviewees give an answer close to this: “I’m an extremely detail-oriented, analytical, confident, efficient and very responsible in my duties”.
Although such an answer might sound like exactly what they want to hear, they probably won’t believe you.
Anyone can come up with a bunch of words boasting about how qualified they are for the position. The interviewer needs to know that you really mean what you say.
Don’t give an irrelevant answer.
Although the question is about your strengths, what the interviewer really wants to know is if you are a good fit.
So telling them how good you are in golf or opening beer bottles in parties won’t do you any good. Your answer should be honest and it should show that you understand the requirements of the position you are after.
Don’t be too aggressive.
You could have a track record that clearly shows that your skills are above average in your industry, but if you present it in an overly aggressive manner, you will come off as a dictator and that won’t work for you.
Avoid the unrealistic strengths.
Sometimes candidates will give answers that are too good to be true.
Saying something like “I’m a focused individual who can do anything to get the job done. I’m so excited for the job that I won’t mind working 7 days a week just to prove my worth. I’m also very good with timelines hence I will never get to work late.” Your interviewer will see right through the answer.
Instead of seeing passion, enthusiasm and determination to get the job done, your interviewers will see desperation and dishonesty, and that will make them doubt everything you have said in the interview.
Don’t stuff your answer with strengths.
Sometimes you will be given a number of strengths to talk about e.g. “Give us two strengths that will help you in this position” or sometimes you will get a general question and be left to decide how many strengths to give.
Either way, your answer should not give more than three qualities that you consider useful in the position. If you have been given a number, stick to it. If not, give two or three.
Avoid strengths that are weaknesses.
Sometimes in a bid to impress the panel, candidates could say something like: “I’m a total workaholic. I don’t even have a social life anymore. When I’m working on a project, I forget about everything else until the project is done.”
Although it may be intended to please, it really is a weakness. You are telling them that you have problems prioritizing things in your life. Work is important, but having a good balance is more desirable.
Avoid answers that show your lack of confidence in yourself.
When talking about your strengths, you have the permission to brag a little. It will help you to show that you have confidence in your product.
In an interview you are the product so if you are timid and unsure about your ability to deliver, you will only be giving them reasons why they should not hire you.
Don’t avoid the question.
As much as you hate the question, avoiding it won’t earn you points. Saying something like this won’t help: “I could give you a long list of strengths that make me a good fit for the job and bore you with details of how they helped me in my previous jobs. Instead, let me show you. Give me the job and you will see my strengths for yourself in person.”
Don’t be too modest.
Some people have a problem with self-promotion so they end up being too modest in their answers. Modesty is good, because you won’t come off as arrogant and proud, but too much of it could mean that you don’t get to talk about some of your great achievements. So feel free to blow your trumpet a little. That’s what they are looking for when they ask about your strengths.
Now that we have addressed the pitfalls that you should avoid, let’s look at the things that you should do.
HOW TO TALK ABOUT YOUR STRENGTHS IN A JOB INTERVIEW
Here are some tips that will help you give an answer that will earn you points and give your interviewers a reason to vouch for you.
- Your answers should be tailored to the company and position you are applying to. Everyone on the other side of the panel doesn’t care if you are good at cooking, delegation or selling. All they want to know is if your skillset, experience and personality can help the company. They want to know if you can apply them to give an advantage to the company.
- Pick three positive qualities that you intend to mention in the interview. As mentioned above, having too many of them will do you more harm than good so sit down and think carefully about the things that make you shine as a person. You can make a list of all of them and pick the three that you feel will be important in the position you are applying for. What is that activity that gave you the most compliments? What are some of the things that cause time to fly?
- Use stories to back up your claims. Remember the last time you did something that gave an advantage to your company using a skill that you weren’t hired for? Tell them about it. For example, “Although I’m mainly a PHP Web Developer, I’m also very conversant with other programming languages like Java and Python. A few months ago in my current position, my company needed to move to a modern, responsive website that shows the energy and passion in the team. I was able to leverage my knowledge of Java to add some extra functionality and cool visual elements to the pages and the result was incredible. This would not have been possible with PHP alone.”
- The good thing about this question is that it is an open ended question. This means that you can take whichever direction that you like and still have good results. You can even use it to fill holes in your resume by blocking any objections that they might have. For example, if you suspect that you’ve made too many job changes in your career and they will see you as a job hopper, you can use this question to turn it into an advantage by showing how this exposure to different industries helps you see things outside the box.
- Your goal as you come up with your answer is standing out from the other candidates. It will help you to put yourself in the shoes of your interviewer and try to pick a strength that is unique and attractive. For example, imagine you are interviewing for a marketing or accounting position. How many people do you think will claim to be “numbers” people? A lot. Instead of just saying that you are a numbers person, say something like this: “I’m a marketing campaign coordinator at ABC Marketing responsible with making sure that we get the most out of our campaigns. One of my favorite things to do is to evaluate the performance of campaigns and draw insights from the numbers. The other day I noticed that the areas where we were spending the most on advertisement were bringing in customers who spent the least and areas where we barely advertised were bringing in customers who were spending a lot. I then came up with a plan to redistribute the ad spend and the results were phenomenal! We were able to increase our sales by 17.5% from the same ad spend.” This says that you are a numbers person and you have a sharp eye for detail.
Now let’s move to the weaknesses.
PITFALLS TO AVOID IN JOB INTERVIEW WHEN TALKING ABOUT YOUR WEAKNESSES
Talking about weaknesses is a very tricky thing in a job interview. Prepare adequately for it by avoiding these pitfalls:
Yes, you do have a weakness.
Although many people will agree that this is an innocuous question, avoiding it with something like “I can’t think of any relevant weaknesses” or “I’m a positive person so I prefer to focus more on my strengths” won’t help you. Everybody has at least one weakness so be sure to think carefully about what you are going to say.
There are weaknesses that every interviewer hears several times in almost every interview.
Stay away from these. Saying that you are a perfectionist or workaholic will not help you to stand out from the other candidates, and standing out (in a good way) is your main agenda in any interview.
By all means, do not lie.
As much as there are traits that are desirable in the position you are seeking, lying to appear like the perfect candidate will not help you.
The minute the interviewers think that you are being dishonest, you will lose all credibility and they will have a hard time believing anything else you have said in the interview.
Avoid weaknesses that paint you in bad light.
For example, don’t say something like “I am very outspoken and sometimes I feel like I share a lot – sometimes more than I should share.”
It may be honest, but is also raises a red flag. The interviewer will be left wondering if you can be trusted with safeguarding the company’s secrets.
You have not come for a therapy session so don’t just throw a list of weaknesses to your interviewers.
Your goal is to show that you are qualified so share a story that shows that you know about the weakness, and more importantly, that you are working on it.
Don’t place blame on anyone.
It’s easy to blame your childhood, teachers, an old boss, siblings or anyone else for your weaknesses. The interviewers aren’t concerned about the source of your weakness. Instead, they want to know that it won’t affect your performance.
DIFFERENT FORMATS USED BY INTERVIEWERS TO ASK THIS QUESTION
Sometimes the interviewer will ask you directly for your weakness but other times, you will be asked in a different style. Let’s take a look at some of them
- Tell us about a development goal you are currently working on. This one asks for your weakness, but also looks for your ability to evaluate yourself honestly and come up with a plan to make an improvement.
- If I called your current manager, what would he/she say you need to work on? This one also asks for your weaknesses, but the phrasing is tricky. The idea of calling your current manager is meant to get more honesty out of you because at the back of your head you will be asking, “What if they actually call?”
- If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be? This one asks for one weakness and also the ability to honestly self-evaluate and come up with a plan to improve on your weaknesses.
- What area of your life would you want to improve in the next one year? This approach is more positive, but it still asks about your weakness.
HOW TO TALK ABOUT YOUR WEAKNESSES IN A JOB INTERVIEW
Now that we know what not to do, let’s dive in and look at how to answer this question.
- Be authentic. Honesty is one important thing interviewers are looking for when they ask about your weakness. You are going to make a better impression with sincerity than with a false weakness that sounds good. However, don’t pick a weakness that makes you look bad.
- Pick a weakness that is fixable. Your interviewers are looking for two things when they ask for your weaknesses: honest self-evaluation and some self-improvement. So picking a weakness that is fixable and showing that you are already working on fixing it will earn you some points. For example, you can say something like this: “Ever since my days in college, I have always had trouble sharing responsibilities. I have trouble trusting others with work when I know I can produce better results. So if I need to share a task, I get impatient when I suspect that the other person isn’t doing it right. I have spoken to my supervisor about this weakness and together we have come up with goals and timelines for each goal. I have even enrolled in a team building workshop. I’m gradually learning to trust others. My supervisor says that we are making progress. In fact, I was recently given the responsibility of leading a group of 6 people from my department in preparing our end of year presentation. It was a trying three weeks of my life, but I was able to get everyone involved and we received very good feedback at the end.”
- If you can’t find a weakness that’s fixable, give one that won’t affect your ability to perform on the job you are interviewing for. An example would be something like this: “I have a hard time working with others in a team. I don’t like it when I put a lot of effort towards achieving a goal, only to be let down by a member of the team who lacks the motivation to pull their weight. That’s one of the reasons why I decided to become a truck driver. I get to spend most of my time alone and my results are determined by my own efforts.”
- Just like it is with strengths, have three weaknesses ready when going for the interview. You might be asked to give one, two or three. If you have not been given a number, give one and say that it is your biggest weakness. This way, you will not be guilty of saying that you have only one weakness, and at the same time you will not be giving them too many imperfections.
A smart tip when you are asked about your strengths and weaknesses in one question is to start with your weaknesses. This means that you will have to finish with your strengths, hence the interviewers will be likely to focus more on the strengths when asking follow up questions.