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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

Denise shares about psychology and communication tips on Lifehack.

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Last Updated on April 8, 2020

How to Calm Down When You’re Stressed and Anxious

How to Calm Down When You’re Stressed and Anxious

Overwhelmed with work, family responsibilities, financial challenges and health issues are common culprits which catalyze stress and anxiety symptoms that show up differently in each and every one of us.

Whilst many of us are becoming much better at identifying what can trigger us to feel these, we’re not always that great at recognizing our individual thresholds; we don’t know exactly how to calm down when the mental, emotional storms erupt.

We can almost see you eye-rolling upon hearing commonly recommended stress antidotes such as taking a bath, lighting candles or going for a walk. Let’s face it. These simply aren’t practical things you can do when you’re on a red-eye flight at 5:30am to run a full day of training interstate and then fly back the same evening not to mention juggling a young family.

You want to know your triggers, predict the impact of them and have your own suite of tools up your sleeve to calm down that impact for the long-term.

Doing a little ground work to gain a strong self-awareness of your likely reactions puts you smack bang in the pilot seat to develop a robust mental and emotional toolkit that will work wonders for you.

A few simple but well-practiced techniques may be all you need to simmer down the cyclonic intensity of emotions, and disparaging thoughts pecking away at your self-esteem and confidence. However, it’s important you do this self-reflective groundwork first to gain maximum impact for long-term effect.

1. Strengthen Familiarity with What Triggers You

When you have arguments with your loved one, do you stop and look to see if there are certain things you fight about? Are there certain behaviors they display that drive you bananas?

Take your focus off them and ask yourself: “What is my usual response?”

Perhaps you feel the anger welling up inside your chest and you then spurt out that you’ve told him or her ten times before to not leave their underwear lying across the bedroom floor.

Think a little deeper. Ask yourself what values, standards and expectations you have that are not being met here. You’ll likely be attached to certain ways you believe things should play out. Are there assumptions and expectations as to how you believe people should conduct themselves and principles about how you feel you should be treated?

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Having a strong attachment to these for yourself is one thing. Expecting others to have the same attachment is often what can make the hot water start simmering.

It is often when people behave in ways inconsistent with our belief systems and events unfold in discord with what we expect and are prepared for that we feel the most stress and anxiety.

Make a list of the common circumstances in different areas of your life that cause you to become anxious and stressed. Against each of these, describe your stress response:

What happens? What do you feel?

Now think about the values, principles and expectations you have attached to these. You’ll see you have a few options:

  • Change my values and expectations
  • Try to change other’s values and expectations
  • Recognize and be in allowance of others having different values, standards and expectations

Reviewing how you react when you’re stressed and anxious, and identifying which of these three options above is going to best serve you, can greatly increase your ability to feel and be in control of calming your reaction.

You move closer to being able to choose how you want to respond as opposed to feeling helpless and the world is spiralling out of control.

2. Have Coping Statements on Hand

When you have a washing machine of chaotic thoughts churning in your mind, trying to implant thoughts that are the complete opposite of what you’re thinking and feeling can be pretty hard.

Not being able to do it can also add another layer of us feeling disappointment in ourselves. We feel we’re failing.

Having coping statements that you can literally latch on to to help you calm down in those stressful and anxious moments, can be particularly helpful.

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Look at creating palm cards and just have three to five of these you can have in your pocket or in your purse. Here are 6 examples:

  • Even though I am feeling this right now, I am going to be alright
  • What I am feeling right now is uncomfortable. I won’t feel this way forever. Soon the intensity of what I am feeling will pass.
  • I’ve survived these feelings before. I can do it again.
  • I feel this way because of my past experiences but right now, I am actually safe.
  • It’s ok for me to feel this way. My body and brain are trying to protect me but I am actually safe right now.
  • Ah, here you are again, anxiety. Thanks for showing up to protect me, but I don’t need you right now.

Choose words and dialogue that feel true and accurate for you. Read the statements out to yourself and test how fitting they are for you. What feels more assuring, calming and right for you?

Make these statements your own. The aim is of these statements is to de-escalate the intensity of what you feel when you’re anxious and stressed.

Remember, you want to refrain from having blunt statements which feel or sound like they’re self-reprimanding because they won’t be pacifying in a positive way.

If you are unsure as to how to come up with statements that fit for you, look to work with a psychologist or licensed therapist to give you a strong start.

3. Identify and Develop Physical Anchors

You actually have within you resources to provide some of the most effective ways to calm yourself down in heightened moments you feel stressed and anxious. Renowned clinical psychologist Dr. Peter Levine and expert in treating stress and trauma, teaches us how techniques which do this, such as Somatic Experiencing®[1] can significantly help us calm down.

By learning to be fully present and applying touch to certain areas of your body (e.g. forehead and heart space), you increase your capacity to self-regulate. You also learn how to attend to and release your unique symptoms that your body has been containing in a way you have not been able to before.

Here’s one technique example:

  1. Get in a comfortable position
  2. Have your eyes open or closed, whatever feels most comfortable for you
  3. Now place one hand on your forehead, palm side flat against the skin
  4. Place the other hand, palm down across your heart space above your sternum… the flat of your chest area.
  5. Gently turn your attention to what you feel physically in the area between your two hands. Observe and just take notice of what you physically feel. Is your chest pounding? How strong are its beat and the rhythm? Do you notice any other sensations anywhere else between your two hands?
  6. Don’t try to push or resist what you’re feeling. Try to just sit with it and remain this way with your hands in place until you feel a shift, a physical one. It might take a little longer, so try to be patient.

You might feel a change in energy flow, a change in temperature or different, less intense sensations. Just keep your hands in place until you feel some kind of shift, even if gradual.

It might take you even 5 to 10 minutes but, riding this wave will help you to process what discomfort your body is containing. It will greatly help to release it so you gradually become calmer.

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Purely cognitive exercises can be tough at the outset. Learning somatic experience techniques is particularly helpful because you’re engaging in exercises where you physically can feel the difference. Feeling the changes helps you increase confidence you can control and reduce the discomfort you’re feeling. You’ll be motivated to keep practicing and improving this skill you can take anywhere, anytime.

4. Move and Get Physical

If you’re not one to exercise, you’re robbing yourself of some very easy ways which help you calm down and reduce stress and anxiety responses. Many neuro chemical changes take place when you engage in exercise.

At certain levels of physical exertion, your brain’s pituitary gland releases neurotransmitter endorphins. When they bind with certain opiate receptors in your brain, signals are transmuted throughout your nervous system to reduce feelings of pain and trigger feelings of euphoria. You might have heard the term ‘runner’s high’.

For the last 20 years, University of Missouri-Columbia’s Professor Richard Cox has conducted research showing that high intensity interval training (HIIT) is more effective at reducing anxiety and stress levels than other forms of aerobic exercise.[2] However, if you would rather slay dragons than turn up an F45 class, it’s essential you still find something that will physically shift you and alter your current mental and emotional state of mind, even just a fraction to start with. It’s 100% ok if this is not your cup of tea.

So in a day full of back of back-to-back meetings, what can you do?

If you’re sitting, stand. Change your posture and open your body up. Have a suite of discrete stretches you can do regularly as you deepen and engage in diaphragmatic breathing.

If you’re looking down at your desk at work and feeling increasingly stressed, look up and change what you’re looking at. Give yourself more than a few moments to decompress.

The main thing is to change your disposition from the one you’re in when you are experiencing anxiety and stress symptoms. You’re shaking it up to calm it down.

5. Transform Your Unhelpful Inner Dialogue and Its Energy

Learning cognitive restructuring techniques can truly work wonders in helping you recognize and re-frame unhelpful dialogue and negative critical thinking patterns. This involves a little preparation being transparent with yourself about what exaggerated perspectives you might ascribe to what’s happening when you’re feeling stressed and anxious.

When you open your email inbox and see a flood of requests which require more time and energy you have for that day, dread starts to settle in and the following comes to mind: “This is impossible. How can they expect me to be able to do all this? It’s completely unreasonable!”

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Instantly, many other thoughts that reinforce this line of thinking as well as the emotional energy of your first conscious thought start unravelling. A 4-step process you can engage to calm the eruption is:

  1. Catch and notice that first thought you had. What was it? What did you think and/or say to yourself?
  2. Recognize that what you’re feeling and be in allowance of the initial intensity of whatever those emotions are.
  3. Breath deliberately a little more deeply and slowly for a few seconds.
  4. State to yourself: “Right now (in this moment) I’m feeling overwhelmed by this, however maybe I can look at what I can make good progress and headway with as a start from here on.”

Notice the language in step 4 is tentative, supportive, soft and not resistant nor defiant of what your original thought was. You accept your original thought, but gradually you become stronger at pivoting it.[3] You’re expanding your growth mindset language.

It’s definitely worth working with a coach or trained therapist to learn how to tailor re-framing statements which can truly help you calm down.

Final Thoughts

We know, in our minds what we should do. When we’re in the thick of experiencing mental and emotional turmoil, it’s actually harder to implement what we know. In those moments, you’re unlikely to have capacity to think about what you need to do, let alone do it effectively to help you feel calmer.

The key is to practice so that when the storm is brewing, your toolkit and supplies are in easy access. You already know your safety drill well.

Knowing you have strategies and prepared processes up your sleeves helps you not only become better at calming yourself in amongst currently stressful situations. You have more confidence now to face more anxiety-provoking stressors because you have developed the resources to handle it.

How you invest time and energy into getting to know your triggers and thresholds will influence how effective these strategies will work for you. We’re not denying relaxing baths or regular massages are helpful, however these band-aid-like solutions don’t really confront the root causes.

If you truly want to turn your experience of your stress and anxiety symptoms around, dig deeper, do the groundwork and that which rattled your cage will quickly become a thing of the past.

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Featured photo credit: Brooke Cagle via unsplash.com

Reference

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