Proven Answers to “What Are Your Strengths and Weaknesses”
When it comes to job interview questions, the question “What are your strengths and weaknesses?” is definitely among the most asked about. It’s also a question, which can be difficult to answer in a way that impresses the interviewer.
In this guide, we’ll explain the reasons behind the question and provide you three strategies for listing your strengths, as well as your weaknesses. We’ll also provide you with three examples of bad ways to answer both of these questions.
WHY IS THE QUESTION ASKED?
On the face of it, the question about the strengths and weaknesses seems a little pointless, especially in job interviews. After all, you are hunting for a job, so why should you reveal your true weaknesses at that point? Wouldn’t everyone simply try present himself or herself in the best possible light in this situation?
But the interviewers aren’t actually that bothered about the answer you give them. They aren’t looking for what the answer is but how you answer it. It’s not to say they don’t care about your answers, but that your approach to the question can reveal as much as the actual answer you provide.
The strength and weakness question focuses on:
- Whether you align with the core competencies of the jobs
- How you relate to your own strengths and weaknesses
- What approach are you taking to answering the question
- How well prepared are you, as this is one of the most common interview questions you can get
Furthermore, the question isn’t usually presented as a standalone question, but often comes with follow-ups. The follow-ups are used for expanding on your answers and to notice whether you actually have thought about the question, rather than just pulled out the answers from your hat.
The most common follow-ups include questions like:
- How have you last used the strength in your job?
- How has the weakness affected your professional career?
- How have you tried to solve the weakness?
- How will you use your strengths in your new job?
Be aware of the follow-ups, as the interviewer might also give you a stress question to answer. For instance, the question might be, “If this is your weakness, how will you be able to perform in this job?”
In essence, the aim of the follow-ups is to ensure you haven’t just made up the question and you properly understand why the specific attribute you chose is a strength or a weakness. The interviewer is going to challenge you on your chosen quality, so you must be able to adequately justify your chosen answer.
It would be a mistake to consider the question as a generic question that you could just wing it. The attributes you pick as your strengths and weaknesses, can reveal a lot about you and you should definitely prepare for the question beforehand.
We’ll now move on to examine the different strategies you should use to answer the questions, as well as outline the mistakes you must avoid. Before we expand on those strategies, you can watch the below video, which touches on some of the points we’ll be making:
SMART STRATEGIES FOR ANSWERING, “WHAT’S YOUR GREATEST STRENGTH?”
Let’s first turn our attention to answering the question, “What is your greatest strength?”
Strategy 1: Focus on quality, not quantity
The question about your strong attributes might seem easier and it can seem easy to start listing the different strengths you have. But pay attention to the question before you blurt out an answer. If the interviewer asks for strength, you don’t want to list more than a single attribute.
At times, you might be asked about strengths, but even then, it’s better to list only around three instead of ten. This shows humility and makes it easier to focus your energy on explaining why this is a strength. The aim is to focus on quality not quantity.
So, instead of responding with “My greatest strengths are that I am detail-oriented, focused, hardworking and honest”, pick a single quality answer which you can then expand on with examples.
It’s a good idea to relate your answers to the job position. Think beforehand what are the specific qualities required in the role and which one of them align with your attributes well.
Example answers include:
- I’m good at conveying a message to people.
- I can adapt quickly to new situations.
- I am a reliable worker.
Strategy 2: Focus on clarity
The second viable strategy is to focus on clarity. The strength you pick should not be something generic. You shouldn’t pick an attribute, which is universally considered good, but which you don’t relate to at all.
Whilst you want to impress the interviewer, you should never pick an attribute you can’t relate to. Furthermore, ensure you define the strength narrowly, instead of opting for a broad characteristic. The strength should always be backed with example situations and proof of you actually having this attribute.
For example, you can outline your ability to work hard in two different ways. The more generic answer would be to say, “I work hard”, whereas saying “I have a strong work ethic, which means I don’t like to leave things unfinished” gives more clarity and depth to your answer. It also provides you a route to follow-ups, as you can outline an example situation for finishing things.
Example answers include:
- I’m good at creating positivity around the workplace.
- I’m able to think logically and solve problems that require attention to the detail.
- I’m good at time management because I like to be aware of the things happening around me.
Strategy 3: Relate the strength to your past
The third strategy you should consider is relating the strength to your past. Since the question on strengths often comes with a follow-up, you can prepare for it by picking an attribute you’ve used in the past. This also provides more authenticity to your answer, as you’re not just making things up.
Tying the attribute to a past event or job will ensure the interviewer knows you haven’t plucked the answer out of thin air, but have actually thought about it. Since you’ve shown this characteristic before, you’ll also feel more confident to talk about it.
Example answers include:
- I’m good at multi-tasking because I used to be a manager of a busy coffee shop and I often had to organize orders, while serving customers and answering employee queries.
- I’m willing to take the initiative. During my time at university, I had to step up to lead our student group because the previous leader left and I feel this was an occasion where I highlighted this strength well.
- I’m good at languages, as I’ve spent an exchange year in Columbia and France. I was able to hone my language skills during this time.
WAYS YOU SHOULDN’T ANSWER THE QUESTION ABOUT YOUR STRENGTHS
The above strategies will help you come up with a good answer to the question. But you also need to avoid making certain major mistakes when discussing your strong characteristics.
#1: Lie about your skills or abilities
As mentioned briefly above, you should never lie about your skills or abilities. The lie will always come and bite you in the end, especially if you are offered the role.
For example, if you hate talking to people and you aren’t good at directing a conversation, don’t say “communication” is your strength. You might end up in a position where the employer thinks you are suitable for a customer service position since you are a good communicator, only to find out you don’t like it all.
Furthermore, the interviewers will make follow-up questions and can quite quickly spot the lie. This might destroy your chances of being hired, even though you might have been good for the position otherwise.
#2: Sound overly confident
There’s a famous movie line that goes, “Don’t be cocky kid” and it’s definitely something to keep in mind in a job interview. Whilst it’s auspicious to point out your strong qualities, don’t assume you are the most talented person out there.
Arrogance is never a good attribute.
You should also avoid belittling other people or past work colleagues during the job interview. So, don’t claim strengths at the expense of others. Answers like, “I think leadership is my strongest attribute. In my previous job I was the only competent person to ensure tasks were achieved on time”, are unprofessional.
Finally, the answer “Everyone really thinks I’m such an amazing person” will probably lose you the interview immediately.
#3: List a strength that is more of a weakness
There are also certain qualities, which could be considered more of a weakness. Answers such as, “I’m a workaholic” or “I love to please other people”, can easily be turned into a weakness. For instance, being a workaholic can highlight your problems in balancing your personal life with your work and being a people-pleaser shows you might lack the ability to keep your own mind.
Instead of answering with the above attributes, you could say, “I have a strong work ethic” and “I’m committed to finding solutions to people’s problems, as I love to be helpful”.
Finally, remember that the interviewer can reply to your answer by stating, “The quality isn’t a strength, provide another one”. Keep your focus and explain why you believe it is a strength.
STRATEGIES FOR ANSWERING, “WHAT’S YOUR GREATEST WEAKNESS?”
Whilst picking strength might not be too difficult, finding a good answer to the question about weaknesses can be a bit tricky. Here are three strategies you should consider when answering this question.
Strategy 1: Avoiding essential skills for the job
Whilst it’s important to be honest when discussing your weaknesses, you don’t want to list an essential quality for the job. This would immediately sound the alarm bells for the interviewer you either don’t understand the requirements for the job or you are not the right match for the role.
If you are looking for a job in social media, for example, you shouldn’t say that technology or communication is your weakness. Instead, you’d want to recognize the non-essential qualities of the job and pick a weakness, which aligns with these. In the case of a social media professional, you could say dealing with finances isn’t your strongest attribute.
Therefore, to find the ‘right’ weakness, think about your weaknesses in terms of the role you are applying for.
Example answers include:
- My biggest weakness is that I’m sometimes a bit reserved – This would work in roles where communication with other people or customers isn’t required.
- I’m not very good with numbers – This would be a good answer if the role doesn’t require mathematical or financial skills.
Strategy 2: Picking a weakness which you have a solution for
Another good strategy to focus on is finding a weakness, which you are actively trying to solve. Perhaps there’s an attribute you know is holding you back, but you are trying to improve it. For example, you might be trying to become better at managing time.
You shouldn’t pick anything too negative, but rather focus on finding an attribute, which can be easily fixed. Picking a weakness like this gives more depth to your answer and shows the interviewer you know how to turn the weakness around.
Example answers include:
- I sometimes get nervous when speaking in front of a large crowd or a meeting, but I’m trying to improve it by enrolling for a drama class.
- I sometimes feel I’m not good at managing multiple tasks at once. But I’ve started keeping a more detailed schedule and setting up notifications, which has helped me stay focused.
Strategy 3: Highlighting the positives
Finally, you should try to find positives from your weakness as well. Keep in mind this doesn’t mean picking a weakness, which is actually a strength. Rather, it is finding something good about your attribute or a lack of a specific skill.
The positive could be highlighted by a lesson you learned in the past or a situation where you turned the weakness into an advantage. It could even be a personal development goal you’ve set for yourself.
Example answers include:
- Although I’m not yet experienced in this industry, I feel I have many fresh ideas and this job could help be develop my understanding of the industry further.
- I’ve been a bit too critical when giving feedback to others in the past and I’ve been told I shouldn’t be so critical. I feel it has taught me more about the importance of compassion and how positive feedback can be more useful than negative.
WAYS YOU SHOULDN’T ANSWER THE QUESTION ABOUT YOUR WEAKNESSES
When it comes to answering the question about your weaknesses, certain pitfalls must be avoided. The following ways of answering the question are sure to leave a bad impression for the interviewer.
#1: Being too honest
While you definitely want to pick a trait that’s actually a weakness you recognize having, you don’t want to be too honest. You shouldn’t pick a flaw that could ruin your chances of landing the job.
Therefore, you must avoid qualities, which are essential for the job. If you are applying for an accounting job, you shouldn’t say you are bad at maths.
In addition, you shouldn’t go for qualities that are typically required for holding a job.
For example, it’s generally important to show up to work on time. Therefore, you don’t want to list the inability to be anywhere on time or waking up in the morning as your weakness. It might make the alarm bells ring a bit too loud.
#2: Picking non-professional qualities
You might think it’d be clever to pick attributes that aren’t related to work life as a weakness, but this isn’t a good idea. Personal traits as weaknesses don’t make a great answer and you are likely to face follow-ups, which require you to focus on a professional weakness, if you do so.
It actually shows more professionalism and deeper understanding of your personality to list a professional attribute as a weakness. Answers, such as “I’m not hygienic” or “I never go to the gym”, are not appropriate for an interview.
#3: Not answering the question
Finally, don’t make a fool of yourself by refusing to answer the question. Saying “I don’t have any weaknesses” is definitely not going to impress your interviewer. In fact, you are better off listing a ‘bad’ weakness than showing arrogance by stating you have none.
The question is also not the best time for making jokes, unless you are applying for a position to be a stand-up comic. Answers such as “Kryptonite is my weakness” or “My greatest weakness is spiders” probably won’t amuse your interviewer as much as they did your friends.
“What are your strengths and weaknesses?” is among the most common job interview questions.
Although it’s regularly asked, it’s also one candidates find the hardest to answer.
Hopefully, the above strategies have provided you with a good understanding of how to best tackle the questions, as well as outlined the mistakes you should avoid.
Overall, the answers should always be aligned with the position you are applying for and have enough honesty behind them to make the answers believable.