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Job interviews can get surprisingly intimate. You’ve only met the interviewer 10 minutes ago, and all of a sudden they’re hitting you with a very deep set of questions: What are your greatest strengths? What are your weaknesses? These questions can take enormous powers of self-reflection to give an honest answer to. Rather than making your interviewer sit silently while you parse out what your greatest weakness is and how it’s impacted your career, it’s better to think of answers to these types of questions beforehand.
You’ll almost always hear these questions in one form or another during a job interview.
Employers want to hear in your own words why you’re a good fit for the job and for the company. They might want to assess what potential issues there could be, too. It’s a chance for them to assess your capacity to be self-reflective.
Whether the question you’re asked is “what attributes will make you shine in this role?” or “what areas of your approach to work are you looking to improve?”, taking a hard look at your strengths and weaknesses — and learning how to communicate them effectively in a professional setting — will be invaluable for your next interview.
Generally, you’ll focus on your soft skills as strengths — there are other ways for interviewers and recruiters to glean hard skills, whether it’s through take-home assignments, a coding interview or examples of your past work. But with soft skills, you have to tell them the story.
“Don’t feel that your response needs to match what you said your manager and colleagues think of you,” said Sharlyn Lauby, president of consulting firm ITM Group Inc and founder of HR Bartender, to Glassdoor. “It’s perfectly natural to say, ‘One skill I haven’t been able to use much in my current role is [insert skill]. I hope to use it more in the role we’re discussing.’”
Here are some examples of strengths. Which ones do you identify with? Can you think of more that have helped you shine in your career?
Depending on the job, you might also choose to include hard skills in your strengths, citing your ability to code in a variety of languages, your knowledge of a foreign language or your experience as a copy editor as examples of why you would be a strong candidate for the job.
Determining our strengths is generally easier; it’s fun to reflect on and celebrate our successes. But what about the areas where we struggle? Do you ever set aside the time to take a look in the mirror to see where you are letting others — and yourself — down, and how you can improve?
“Employers expect candidates to have weaknesses… so you are better served by answering the question frankly. A candid answer will show your prospective employer your growth-mindset and will demonstrate a sense of self-awareness and honesty,” writes Jeevan Balani, Founder and CEO of Rocket Interview and frequent Glassdoor contributor.
Here are some examples of common career weaknesses. Can you identify with any of them? If so, what have you done to improve these weaknesses?
Again, you might choose to highlight some hard skills that are a weakness for you too, for example not being good with math, not being versed in a particular type of software or having trouble spelling — but only if it’s non-essential to the role.
Now that you’ve got a solid list of your strengths and weaknesses, is it enough just to list them out when you’re asked during a job interview? Absolutely not! Backing up each strength or weakness with a relevant anecdote is critical to giving the interviewer the full picture of why you excel in one area, or what areas you’re working to get better in.
As an exercise to prepare, for every strength on your list, write down a story that showcases how you effectively used that strength to accomplish something in your career. For every weakness, write down a story about how that weakness had (or could have had) a negative repercussion in your career — then write what you learned from it, and what you’re actively doing to improve it.
Especially when answering about your weaknesses, framing is critical. You don’t want to make it seem like your flaws are immutable, or worse, incriminate yourself. You also don’t want to turn your weakness into a humblebrag, like “it’s hard for others to keep up with me because I think so fast.” So striking a reflective tone is key, which you can do by highlighting what you have learned about your weakness, and what you are doing to improve it.
On a more general note, try to match your strengths to the job description. It’s great if you’re a pro at skill X, but the job requires skills A, B and C, then your expertise in skill X might not be relevant. Similarly, keep the job description in mind when you share your weaknesses. If you’re applying for a job in copy editing, it’s probably not a good idea to say that your weakness is spelling.
Also, research on the company’s culture can help you decide which strengths and weaknesses to highlight, and how. If the company is known to be fast-paced and dynamic, you might want to highlight your strength in juggling many projects at once or your ability to pivot quickly to new tasks. But also be honest — if you find during your research that the company culture doesn’t seem like a good fit for you, then you might want to take a step back and reconsider, rather than trying to squeeze yourself into a mold that doesn’t quite fit.
Here are some example anecdotes for the strengths and weakness we defined above:
Told right, your answer to this question can inspire the interviewer and give them an intimate picture into how you work. It can help them assess whether your strengths and weakness will make you the right fit for your job, if your disposition will be a good fit with the team you’re working on and if you’ll fit into the company culture as a whole. But there’s a few things you need to keep in mind when delivering your answer, so that it doesn’t come off as bragging, overly humble or other common pitfalls.
“HR pros see through the, ‘I’m a perfectionist,’ response,” Lauby says. It’s still possible to keep it positive, though. For example, an answer Lauby gave: “I recently attended a customer service training program and I was reminded of some problem-solving skills that I need to start using again,” will certainly get the job done.
This interview question can be tricky, but don’t stress too much — with proper preparation, you’ve got it in the bag!
Be 150% ready for your next job interview by acing all of the common interview questions. Here are the best resources to help you: