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How to Talk about Your Strengths and Weaknesses in Interviews

How to Talk about Your Strengths and Weaknesses in Interviews

Anyone that has ever endured the joys of a job interview has probably been faced with some variation of the dreaded, "tell me about your strengths and weakness," question. This question is incredibly obscure and tricky to navigate. Should you answer honestly?

"My strengths are I am the life of the party, I don't do hard drugs, I'm tall and I have a great sense of humor. My weaknesses are I am always late, have problems with authority, steal office supplies and love to tell dirty jokes in meetings"

Or, should you give an answer that is vague and where your weaknesses are actually strengths in disguise, such as:

"I am a hard worker, a logical and analytic thinker and work well with others. My weaknesses are that sometimes I work too hard, I am a perfectionist, I am always over prepared and I meet every deadline – no matter how impossible it is…"

While the first response is incredibly honest and the employer knows exactly what they are getting – you probably won't get hired. The second response is obvious bull crap and while you may get hired, you've essentially set yourself up to fail. You've also shown the hiring personnel that you lack the ability to personally reflect and self-analyze.

Why do interviewers ask the strengths and weaknesses question?

Before we dive in and work on how to answer this question, it's important to understand why the interviewer is asking it. The main reason the hiring manager or team asks this question[1] is to try and determine if you possess qualities that will enable you to succeed. They also want to know what qualities you have that could hinder your job performance. Simple as that.

How to answer the strengths and weaknesses question

Now that you know why interviewers ask this question and what they are looking for, you can craft a response tailored to accurately satisfy this question. Let's look at the strengths first:

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How to discuss your strengths

Tailor your strengths to specifically match the job description

When facing questions about your strengths and weaknesses, always keep the job description and duties in mind. Highlight the strengths you have that are suited for that particular job. Try to include language similar to what was in the job description. Here's an example:

You are applying for a project based position requiring lots of collaboration, meetings and interaction with other co-workers. You would want your strengths to focus on addressing these areas. Some things you could list are: deadline driven, team player, effective communicator, exceptional people skills and problem-solver. You most likely, wouldn't want to highlight that you work best alone and are an excellent independent worker. The strengths you highlight should match your job description.

Make sure your strengths align with the organization's mission and value system

Aligning your strengths with the values of the organization assists you in helping the hiring official more clearly see that you were made for the position and fit the company's culture. Do some research prior to the interview and determine what the organization values.

For example, if a tech company has on their website the following phrase: "…providing practical and innovative solutions for all of your technology needs…", you may want to include in your list of strengths: creative, innovative thinking and pragmatic.

Be able to explain and provide a concrete example for each strength

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The best and most efficient way to attack this is to provide an example that demonstrates multiple strengths. This is the quickest and most concise way to answer this portion of the question without going on and on about yourself. It also communicates that you are precise and are prepared.

Let's say you are interviewing for a position as a sales manager and you strengths are: you're great with people, you're an excellent communicator and you are flexible. You could say:

"My strengths are: I'm great with people, an excellent communicator and I am very flexible. A great example of this is on one occasion in my last position as a sales associate, I was confronted by an angry customer who stormed into the store demanding a full refund on a recent purchase. The customer had purchased merchandise online, did not have a receipt for the item or any proof of purchase. Our store policy was that online purchases were exchange or store credit only.

I was able to calm the customer down and listened intently to his complaint. I determined that the customer had purchased the wrong product. I explained how both products worked and the differences between the two. The customer gladly exchanged the original product for the new, more expensive one and happily paid the difference in price between the two."

The candidate was able to provide three job specific strengths and back them up with solid proof. When preparing your answer to this question prior to the interview, come up with two or three examples just in case they ask for more and to give you options, in case one is more apropos than another.

How to discuss your weaknesses

Discussing weaknesses can be a bit more tricky than discussing your strengths. If the interviewer poses the question where they are grouped together such as: "What are your greatest strengths and weaknesses?" A good rule of thumb is to discuss the weaknesses first[2]and end on a positive note. Here are three things to keep in mind when discussing your weaknesses:

Be authentic

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Give an answer that legitimately touches on an area where you struggle. Providing an honest answer makes you more authentic, trustworthy and believable. It is also so much easier to discuss something you genuinely connect with versus something you've fabricated for the moment.

A great example could be the fact that you are a global or "big picture" thinker. You could explain that sometimes you can become overly concerned with the big picture that you may miss some of the smaller details.

Make sure the weakness is minor and will not directly effect your job performance

Pick weaknesses that are relatively small, will not directly effect your job performance, is not contradictory to the organization's mission and core values and does not reflect poorly on your character and integrity. So you may not want to divulge that you are a compulsive liar, petty thief, use drugs, or cheat on your taxes.

If you were applying for a job as a staff accountant you could pick as your weakness: public speaking, delegating tasks, and being a bit too straight forward at times.

Cast your weakness in a positive light and refrain from going on and on about them. Don't be overly critical of yourself and avoid self-deprecation. The trick here is striking a balance between being honest and humble while still maintaining your confidence.

State your weakness and chase it with a solution

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The best thing about the "describe your weaknesses," question is that our deficiencies – no matter what they are – are fixable. This question affords you the opportunity to show that you are self-aware, own your deficiencies and are proactively working to correct them.

Let's look at the example above. If you are applying for a position as a staff accountant and your weaknesses are public speaking, delegating tasks, and being a bit too straight forward at times, you could frame your response like this:

"One weakness that I have is that I am not fond of speaking in front of large groups. To help me in this area, I make it a priority to be well prepared when I have to speak. I also make sure that I have a good set of talking points with me if I know there is a chance I may be asked to speak, impromptu, in a large-scale meeting. I am also a member of Toastmasters Club[3]so I am confident and communicate well, but I still do feel the butterflies sometimes.

Another one of my weakness is that I tend to do extra work in lieu of delegating it. To help with this, I make it a point to be aware of the strengths and aptitudes of the people who could assist with these tasks. This way I immediately know who should perform the task and am confident that the work will be done well.

I can also be a bit to straightforward at times. To help me catch and stop myself from being overly direct, I have instituted my own personal five minute rule for written communication. So, I'll craft an email, put it aside for five minutes and then go back and find at least three places where I can soften the language a bit and then I hit send. It takes a few extra minutes but those extra minutes would be spent explaining what I meant or apologizing for being so blunt. I truly enjoy my colleagues and really work to be a pleasant professional."

In a nutshell

When facing the dreaded strengths and weaknesses question, keep in mind the interviewer's intent. He or she is looking for a good fit. A single answer won't make or break the interview, unless, of course, you say something particularly egregious. Focus your time and energy on your strengths statement and highlight what you have to offer. You are what they are looking for – and the proof is in your answer to this question.

Reference

[1]the Balance: Strength and Weakness Interview Question
[2]Monster: List of strengths and weaknesses
[3]Toastmasters International: About

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Denise Hill

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Last Updated on October 15, 2018

How to Calm Down When You Are Overwhelmed: 7 Quick Ways to Try

How to Calm Down When You Are Overwhelmed: 7 Quick Ways to Try

Do you sometimes feel that you add items to your to-do list faster than you tick them off? Do you spend most of your day worrying about your lack of time?

The truth is, no matter how much we love our job, or how productive we believe we are under stress, there comes a moment when the pressure rises above boiling point. The sheer number of urgent tasks multiplies in a geometric progression. New possibilities no longer sound inspiring, they sound overwhelming and equal more work.

If that’s where you are right now – keep reading! If not, it doesn’t mean you should wait until you get there to learn how to cope with a demanding work schedule and how to calm yourself down quickly when you feel overwhelmed.

Here are 7 quick and easy tips on how to calm down when you are overwhelmed:

1. Let go of a few activities

Yes, it’s that easy! Take a look at your to-do list and ask yourself, “If I don’t do it today, will it matter a month from now?”

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Not every urgent task is important. Just like not every important, high pay-off task is urgent. The best way to keep yourself from getting overwhelmed and to manage your time is to know the difference between the two and learn to simplify your life by getting your to-do list down to three big tasks.

2. Take deep breaths to calm down

This advice sounds so simple it’s often overlooked. But it works better (and faster) than any other relaxation technique out there.

There is a direct connection between our emotional state and breathing. An anxious, frustrated or overwhelmed person breathes as if they have just finished running a marathon. A calm person breathes differently. Their breathing is deep, slow and steady. So when you have a panic attack, the best way to bring your heart rate down and to regain your cool is to change your breathing.

Try this now:

Take a slow, long deep breath in, filling your lungs with air and expanding your diaphragm. Hold your breath for four counts and then slowly release the air through your mouth. Repeat four times and notice frustration and the feeling of being overwhelmed dissolve with each long exhale of these calming breaths.

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3. Make “Just one thing” your mantra

When we feel overwhelmed by the amount of tasks on our to-do list, it’s easy to enter the ‘deer in the headlights’ state. You see deadlines approaching directly towards you, and you know that something has to be done about them, but you just don’t know where to start.

The best way to get your mind out of an ‘inactivity trance’ is to create momentum. This is what makes the “Just one thing” mantra so powerful. It helps to change our expectation that everything has to be completed right now, “or else.”

Next time you feel overwhelmed make grabbing a cup of coffee your “Just one thing.” You can do it, right? Then come back, pick one of the smallest tasks on your to-do list and tell yourself you’ll do just that one task. This is your next “Just one thing” that you will concentrate on until it’s complete. After that you can move on to the next task and so on.

It’s not “One thing at a time.” Saying this implies that there is a huge line of other tasks waiting to get done and that’s not the message you want to keep repeating to yourself. Learn how to focus here and stop getting overwhelmed.

4. Reduce the multi-tasking and multi-thinking

It’s been proven that multi-tasking is very inefficient, to the point of dumbing us down (more than smoking marijuana does). The same is true for multi-thinking, when your mind frantically jumps from one thought to another, trying to focus on and analyze several things all at once.

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Fortunately, there is help. A few minutes of meditation or brainwave music is all it takes to start feeling more relaxed, more creative and less overwhelmed.

5. Get moving

Any exercise you engage in – be it walking or dancing to your favorite beat – helps to release endorphins, the ‘feel-good’ hormones, through your body and to clear your mind.

Staying active also increases your productivity, enhances your ability to combat stress and anxiety. It also helps you to release the tension, boosting your mood and changing the thoughts that induce the sense of being overwhelmed.

The best part is you don’t have to spend hours in the gym to get the mind-soothing benefits of exercise. Even as little as 15 minutes of dancing or jogging can go a long way towards making you feel better and staying calmer.

6. Change your surroundings

We all need and deserve to take vacations from work woes and family responsibilities. Unfortunately, spending two weeks lazing on a beach, toes in the sand and a Mojito in hand, is not always an option. However, this doesn’t mean that we can’t take short ‘vacations’ from work stress and the technology buzz.

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Go outside for a few minutes and enjoy the sunshine. Stop at a park instead of driving straight home from work. Sometimes changing your surroundings and ‘spicing up your routine’ is all it takes to change your perspective on things and find creative solutions to seemingly complex and overwhelming problems.

7. Get some pet therapy

Studies have shown what most of us already guessed – our pets can be a great help during stressful moments. Simple actions such as petting or playing with your dog or cat can lower high blood pressure, boost your immune system and boost your mood.

Besides, pets can make the best conversation partners to share your frustrations with. They listen, they love you unconditionally and they never talk back or say, “I told you so.”

Final thoughts

Don’t wait for stress to hit you to start practicing these quick ways to calm down when you are overwhelmed. The best way to enjoy a worry-free life is not to push yourself to the limit of being overwhelmed and frustrated.

Featured photo credit: Dardan via unsplash.com

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