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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 April 19, 2021

The Art of Taking a Break So You Will Be Productive Again

The Art of Taking a Break So You Will Be Productive Again

Think of yourself as a cup. Each day, you wake up full. But as you go about your day—getting tasks done and interacting with people—the amount in your cup gradually gets lower. And as such, you get less and less effective at whatever it is you’re supposed to be doing. You’re running out of steam.

The solution is obvious: if you don’t have anything left to pour out, then you need to find a way to fill yourself up again. In work terms, that means you should take a break—an essential form of revitalizing your motivation and focus.

Taking a break may get a bad rap in hustle culture, but it’s an essential, science-based way to ensure you have the capacity to live your life the way you want to live it.

In the 1980s, when scientists began researching burnout, they described this inner capacity as “resources.” We all need to replenish our resources to cope with stress, work effectively, and avoid burnout.[1]

When the goal is to get things done, it may sound counterproductive to stop what you’re doing. But if you embrace the art of taking a break, you can be more efficient and effective at work.

Here are five ways on how you can take a break and boost your productivity.

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1. Break for the Right Amount of Time, at the Right Time

When I started my first job out of college, I was bent on pleasing my boss as most entry-level employees do. So, every day, I punched in at 9 AM on the dot, took a 60-minute lunch break at noon, and left no earlier than 5 PM.

As I’ve logged more hours in my career, I’ve realized the average, eight-hour workday with an hour lunch break simply isn’t realistic—especially if your goal is to put your best foot forward at work.

That’s why popular productivity techniques like the Pomodoro advocate for the “sprint” principle. Basically, you work for a short burst, then stop for a short, five-minute break. While the Pomodoro technique is a step forward, more recent research shows a shorter burst of working followed by a longer pause from work might actually be a more effective way to get the most out of stepping away from your desk.

The team at DeskTime analyzed more than 5 million records of how workers used their computers on the job. They found that the most productive people worked an average of 52 minutes, then took a 17-minute break afterward.[2]

What’s so special about those numbers? Leave it to neuroscience. According to researchers, the human brain naturally works in spurts of activity that last an hour. Then, it toggles to “low-activity mode.”[3]

Even so, keep in mind that whatever motivates you is the most effective method. It’s more about the premise—when you know you have a “finish line” approaching, you can stay focused on the task or project at hand.

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There are many applications and tools that can help you block distracting websites and apps (such as social media) for specific periods of the day. Similarly, you can also use some mailing apps like Mailbrew to receive all the social media content or newsletters you don’t want to miss in your inbox at a time you decide.

So, no matter how long you work, take a break when you sense you’re losing steam or getting bored with the task. Generally, a 10-15 minute break should reinvigorate you for whatever’s coming next.

2. Get a Change of Scenery—Ideally, Outdoors

When it comes to increasing a person’s overall mental health, there’s no better balm than nature. Research has found that simply being outside can restore a person’s mind from mental fatigue related to work or studying, ultimately contributing to improved work performance (and even improved work satisfaction).[4]

No lush forest around? Urban nature can be just as effective to get the most out of your break-taking. Scientists Stephen R. Kellert and Edward O. Wilson, in their book The Biophilia Hypothesis, claimed that even parks, outdoor paths, and building designs that embrace “urban nature” can lend a sense of calm and inspiration, encouraging learning and alertness for workers.

3. Move Your Body

A change of scenery can do wonders for your attention span and ability to focus, but it’s even more beneficial if you pair it with physical movement to pump up that adrenaline of yours. Simply put, your body wasn’t designed to be seated the entire day. In fact, scientists now believe that extended periods of sitting are just as dangerous to health as smoking.[5]

It’s not always feasible to enjoy the benefits of a 30-minute brisk walk during your workday, especially since you’ll most likely have less energy during workdays. But the good news is, for productivity purposes, you don’t have to. Researchers found that just 10 minutes of exercise can boost your memory and attention span throughout the entire day.[6]

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So, instead of using your break to sit and read the news or scroll your social media account, get out of your chair and move your body. Take a quick walk around the block. Do some jumping jacks in your home office. Whatever you choose, you’ll likely find yourself with a sharper focus—and more drive to get things done.

4. Connect With Another Person

Social connection is one of the most important factors for resilience. When we’re in a relationship with other people, it’s easier to cope with stress—and in my experience, getting social can also help to improve focus after a work break.

One of my favorite ways to break after a 30-or-so minute sprint is to hang out with my family. And once a week, I carve out time to Skype my relatives back in Turkey. It’s amazing how a bit of levity and emotional connection can rev me up for the next work sprint.

Now that most of us are working from home, getting some face-to-face time with a loved one isn’t as hard as it once was. So, take the time to chat with your partner. Take your kids outside to run around the backyard. If you live alone, call a friend or relative. Either way, coming up for air to chat with someone who knows and cares about you will leave you feeling invigorated and inspired.

5. Use Your Imagination

When you’re working with your head down, your brain has an ongoing agenda: get things done, and do it well. That can be an effective method for productivity, but it only lasts so long—especially because checking things off your to-do list isn’t the only ingredient to success at work. You also need innovation.

That’s why I prioritize a “brain break” every day. When I feel my “cup” getting empty, I usually choose another creative activity to exercise my brain, like a Crossword puzzle, Sudoku, or an unrelated, creative project in my house.

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And when I’m really struggling to focus, I don’t do anything at all. Instead, I let my brain roam free for a bit, following my thoughts down whatever trail they lead me. As it turns out, there’s a scientific benefit to daydreaming. It reinforces creativity and helps you feel more engaged with the world, which will only benefit you in your work.[7]

Whether you help your kids with their distance learning homework, read an inspiring book, or just sit quietly to enjoy some fresh air, your brain will benefit from an opportunity to think and feel without an agenda. And, if you’re anything like me, you might just come up with your next great idea when you aren’t even trying.

Final Thoughts

Most of us have to work hard for our families and ourselves. And the current world we live in demands the highest level of productivity that we can offer. However, we also have to take a break once in a while. We are humans, after all.

Learning the art of properly taking a break will not only give you the rest you need but also increase your productivity in the long run.

More on the Importance of Taking a Break

Featured photo credit: Helena Lopes via unsplash.com

Reference

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