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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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Published on August 25, 2019

How to Find Your North Star

How to Find Your North Star

Most of us are familiar with the concept of a North Star–it’s the star  (currently Polaris) that helps travelers on their journeys… acting as a guide to keep them on track. And, I firmly believe that we all have our own individual North Stars as well, which act in a similar fashion.

When I talk about a North Star, I’m referring to a life purpose. If you don’t have one, you’ll be lost in life. But, if you do have one, you’ll have a guiding light that keeps you firmly on track for fulfillment and success.

A life purpose is exactly as it sounds: a purpose that drives your life. For example, think of a famous athlete or musician such as Michael Jordan or Ed Sheeran. People like this live to express their physical, mental and artistic abilities. They’re passionate, energetic — and they know what they want to achieve in life. In other words, they’re following their North Star.

So how about you? Have you discovered your life purpose? Or are you simply drifting aimlessly on an ocean of wishful thinking?

Why We Should Seek out and Embrace a North Star

American author Denis Waitley said:  “Winners are people with definite purpose in life.”

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In my experience, this is absolutely correct. Winners know what they want, and they have a plan on how to get it.

If you’re struggling to achieve the level of success and happiness that you’d like, then you may need to spend some time to find and embrace your North Star (see the next section for help with this).

What benefits will following your North Star give you? Well, first, you’ll develop an almost super-human ability to overcome and defeat obstacles that come your way. This is because, you’ll be fixated on your end goal and won’t allow small things to stop you from getting there.

Let me give you an example of this:

You’ve decided you want to learn electric guitar. You purchase the relevant equipment (guitar, amp, leads, picks, etc.), and you subscribe to an online guitar tutorial site. For the first few weeks, things go well, and you make solid progress. However, unexpectedly, you break the top string on your guitar while playing.

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If you were just casually dabbling with learning how to play guitar, then the hassle of purchasing a new string — and learning how to fit it on your guitar — could be enough to end your fledgling hobby. But, if you were set on being a proficient guitarist, perhaps even a professional musician, then you certainly wouldn’t allow this obstacle to stop you in your tracks. On the contrary, you’d most likely head off straight to your nearest music shop to pick up a few packs of replacement strings, watch a YouTube video on how to fit it, and then carry right on with your playing! And, the next time you break a string, you won’t miss a beat.

Can you see now how a North Star (or big goal) can give you incredible energy, drive and persistence?

It’s the difference between a care-free attitude and a must-do attitude. The former will cause you to drift through life; the latter will keep you firmly on track to reach your desired destination.

A North Star is really just a greater overall goal that will allow you to align smaller, achievable goals to it. For instance, if you want to become a school teacher, you’ll need to pass your grades to go to college, then pass your college exams, then gain the appropriate work experience — and then attempt to secure a job. Without completing each of these steps, you’ll never make it to the front of a classroom.

In other words, big goals only become manageable when we break them down into smaller, bite-sized chunks. If you attempted to join a professional basketball team, for example, but you’d never played before, you’d be laughed off the court. But, if you trained hard, found a great coach, and had a burning desire to make it — the right doors would probably open for you.

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Let me ask you a question: Do you currently feel a little lost or unsure about your future?

If you do, don’t worry. Once you start following your North Star, all the other stars will begin to align for you! You’ll be able to keep your mind on the bigger picture, and you’ll understand the best actions to take in life to realize your dream. And, when you do this, your confidence will inevitably grow, you’ll give your health a boost.[1] In a research-backed article by Psychological Science, it reveals that following a life purpose can even help you live longer.[2] You’ll also feel energized by your progress in pursuing goals that genuinely mean something to you.

5 Things That Can Help You Find Your North Star

So are you ready to discover your purpose?

If yes, then read on to find out five ways that will help you do this: 

1. Break free from mental limitations— You know what I mean, your inner voice that keeps telling you that you’re not good enough to do or achieve the things you dream of.

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2. Ask yourself these questions: What do you love to do? What activities set your soul on fire? If money was no object, how would you spend your time?

3. Think back to when you were a child — What things brought you immense satisfaction at that time? And, were there things you loved to do, but adults told you to forget about them? …perhaps a dream about becoming an actor, dancer or astronaut?

4. Spend time in contemplation — Dwell on the answers to the above questions for as long as you need. And, then wait for answers to come into your mind. This may take minutes, hours, days or even weeks.

5. Listen to that feeling deep in your bones — You’ll instinctively know when your life purpose has been revealed to you. It will feel right to you, and it’ll also excite you to begin taking action.

Finding your North Star is a crucial first step on your journey to success, but navigating your way to it is a whole different challenge. To help you with this, check out my recent article: Need a Breakthrough from the Limitations Holding you Back?

Featured photo credit: Heidi Sandstrom via unsplash.com

Reference

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