Job interviews can get personal very quickly. During your interview, after meeting an interviewer only a few minutes ago, you may be asked to elaborate on your strengths and weaknesses.
The questions “What is one of your biggest strengths?” or “What is your greatest weakness?” are some of the most common interview questions hiring managers ask. The reason is because these questions help an employer get a better sense of the traits that make you uniquely qualified for the job.
The fact that these questions are so common is an advantage to you: if you are prepared adequately to respond, you’ll be able to set yourself as a well-qualified candidate for a job. So, it’s a good idea to prepare some quality answers to these questions.
In this guide, we’re going to discuss how you can sell your strengths and discuss your weaknesses without sounding either too confident or underplaying your strengths.
Why Do Interviewers Ask About Strengths and Weaknesses?
Asking about strengths and weaknesses may seem somewhat on the nose—if the job of an interviewer is to get to know you better, you would think they may want to ask more specific questions about you and your skills.
Questions about strengths and weaknesses are not common for no reason. One of the main reasons why employers ask these questions is that it helps an employer learn more about the ways in which you think you can add value to the business.
In addition, your responses to questions about strengths and weaknesses are not so much about what you say, but rather how you say it. It’s easy to say “My main strength is my ability to communicate.” But if you are able to give a clear example of when you used this skill, you’ll be able to set yourself apart from all the other candidates.
Above all, this question is an excellent way for an interviewer to learn about how self aware you are. If you are able to come up with an effective answer, it means that you are willing and able to reflect on yourself and your traits. Many people will try to hedge questions like this or provide a dishonest answer. You’ll be much better off giving an honest account of your greatest strengths and weaknesses than to try to fool the interviewer.
How to Answer “What Are Your Greatest Strengths?”
When you are asked about your strengths, what an employer really wants to know is what skills you have that make you a good fit for the job and the company.
The employer wants to hear from you, in your own words, what skills you have that you think will make you a valuable employee.
Determine Your Strengths
Before the job interview begins, you should spend some time reading over the job description and researching the company’s history and visions. You can find this information on the company’s website, its social media pages, and any other public-facing correspondence they have posted.
Reading over the job description and researching the company will help you learn more about what they value most, and what attributes they may be looking for in their ideal candidate for the job. Then, when you have this information, you can use it to see which of your strengths align with those needs.
Here are a few personal strengths that you could mention in your interview:
- Hard worker
- Technical skills
- Team player
- Self awareness and self reflection
- Management skills
You only need to mention a few of your core strengths in your interview. The ones that you do mention should be aligned with what you think the company is looking for, and which ones you think accurately demonstrate your value.
Example Answers to “What Are Your Greatest Strengths?”
Suppose you are applying for a job as a marketing manager at a startup. Here are a few responses you could give if you are asked to talk about your strengths:
I would say one of my greatest strengths is my ability to work as part of a team. Toward the end of my last job, my manager gave me the opportunity to lead our efforts to streamline our email campaigns. On this project, I was able to effectively motivate other members of the team, and we were able to meet our goal of streamlining our email campaigns on time. Our efforts led to a 15% increase in engagement on our email campaigns.
I am a very detail-oriented worker. When I work on a project, I make sure that I keep a close eye on all the details, and that I am familiar with both the high-level and low-level work associated with a project. In my last job, this attention to detail helped me identify a problem in one of our core marketing campaigns before it was released. This allowed us to mitigate embarrassment that could have been associated with the error being published to our marketing channels.
I have strong communication skills. I have been a marketing associate for four years in two different industries, and during that time I have been responsible for writing clear and concise marketing copy for my employers. This has required a high degree of creative thinking, and I firmly believe that good writing makes the difference between a marketing campaign that performs well and one that changes the trajectory of a business.
How to Answer “What Are Your Greatest Weaknesses?”
While it may feel unnatural to talk about your weaknesses, this is a common question for which you should prepare before you go into an interview room.
Determine Your Weaknesses
Before your interview, you should spend some time reflecting on the areas in your career where you struggle. Have you found it difficult to manage your time effectively in the past? Do you find it difficult to work under pressure with tight deadlines?
Employers do not ask about your weaknesses so they can identify problems with you. Rather, they ask this question to make sure you are not lacking in any key skills that are pertinent to the job for which you are applying.
When you respond to this question, you should be truthful in stating that you have a weakness, then try to end on a strong note. For instance, if you can say that you know you are not good at organizing your work, but that it is something you are working on, you’ll be seen in a good light by an employer.
This is because you have admitted that you have a problem—and that you know that problem exists—and you have spoken about how you aim to address it.
Here are a few weaknesses you could mention in an interview:
- Finding it difficult to establish boundaries between work and life
- Being impatient
- Being disorganized
- Being too rigid
- Being too competitive
- Taking on too many different tasks
- Lacking focus, or being too focused
Example Answers to “What Are Your Greatest Weaknesses?”
Suppose you are applying for a job as an administrative assistant. Here are a few responses you could give if you are asked to talk about one or more of your weaknesses:
My greatest weakness would be not asking questions to clarify the main points associated with an assignment. I noticed that, in my last job, I would sometimes be given an assignment and not ask for help because I was scared that I may be seen as someone who had not been paying attention when the assignment was issued. Since then, I have been working to become more proactive in asking questions when an assignment has been issued. I also often repeat the specifics of an assignment before I begin to my manager, to make sure I have not missed any core details.
I often focus too much on the details of a project which can result in my working at a slower rate than would be expected. For instance, in my last job, I found that I spent too much time trying to optimize my boss’ schedule, which ended up resulting in my becoming distracted from other assignments that required my attention. After my boss missed an important meeting as a result of my perfectionism, I started to become more aware of this tendency. I am presently working on finding a balance between being efficient and detail-oriented.
I sometimes believe that I can solve a problem without the help of anyone else. In many cases, working independently is an effective approach, but in the past, I have encountered situations where I could have been a better employee by working with others.
Last year, for instance, I was assigned to a major restructuring of our company’s calendar practices. Instead of working with a team, I restructure my boss’ calendar by myself, in accordance with the guidelines written by other assistants. This was an ineffective approach as I was not able to voice my concerns with others. Since then, I have been working to make sure I volunteer to contribute to teams when I think I can add value.
Tips on How to Answer “What Are Your Greatest Strengths and Weaknesses?”
To help you answer questions about your strengths and weaknesses, we have compiled a few short tips that you can use. These are:
Tip #1: Make your answers insight-driven
When you are discussing your strengths, you should make sure that your answer is linked to the needs of the company and the role for which you are applying. This will make it easier for an interviewer to see the relevance of a particular skill and how it could be applied to the job.
On the other hand, when you are discussing your weaknesses, you should make sure that you are not too critical of yourself. So, instead of just mentioning a weakness, you should try to anchor that weakness to how it has encouraged you to learn. Are you disorganized? Talk about how you are starting to learn about new productivity systems.
Tip #2: Keep your answers short
These questions will only be one of many that you’ll be asked in an interview. You don’t need to talk about every strength or weakness you have. Often, you’ll only be expected to talk about one or two strengths or weaknesses.
What matters most is that you discuss your strengths and weaknesses in depth. If you struggle to meet deadlines, talk about how you are overcoming that weakness, and discuss what made you realize it. This information will be more useful to an employer than a list of weaknesses you have identified that you have.
Tip #3: Be honest
You may be tempted to exaggerate your strengths to make yourself sound more impressive, or to downplay your weaknesses to make yourself appear a more qualified candidate. However, you should try to avoid doing either of these things.
In your response to questions about your strengths and weaknesses, you should try to be honest and direct. If you know you are a procrastinator, talk about it openly and be as direct as possible. If you know you are good at working on teams, be honest about your strength, but do not go over the top when elaborating on this strength.
Tip #4: Don’t undersell yourself
When you are talking about your weaknesses, it is easy to enter a pattern where you start to undersell yourself. For instance, if you talk about your tendency to be late, you could easily start to spin it into a negative story that makes you sound unreliable.
Employers will ask you about your weaknesses to learn more about how self-aware you are and to see if you have any qualities that disqualify you from doing a particular job. You don’t need to be overly self-critical. Just being aware that you are not perfect, and being humble enough to share your weaknesses with someone else is enough.
The job interview is the most stressful part of the job search process. An interviewer—or even a panel of interviewers—will ask you a series of intimate questions that talk about your core strengths and weaknesses.
The best way to navigate questions about your strengths and weaknesses is to be prepared. Before an interview begins, spend some time reflecting on what you think your strengths and weaknesses are, and think of a few examples of when these attributes have become evident.
By following the tips in this article, you should have no trouble identifying your strengths and weaknesses, which will help you effectively discuss them when it comes time for your job interview.