Over the course of my career I have seen many candidates struggle with a common interview question when they should not. It’s a line of conversation that provides them with a great opportunity to impress the person leading the interview. Instead, I have often found that they mistakenly believe the response is easy and gives an inadequate answer without stopping to think. That’s why I want to talk about the best way for interviewees to answer: “What are your strengths / weaknesses?”
To be clear, there is no right answer to this question. A good answer, or even an excellent one, will depend on your skills and experience. However, there is true way Answer that. Your attitude and structure in the answer will determine how you will reach the person and whether you can offer the employee what he is looking for.
To give the best possible answer, it is easier if we look at each part of the question separately.
“What are your strengths?”
This is a common interview question and should be an exciting moment for you, as it gives you the opportunity to show the qualities and skills you may not have been able to reach at another point in the conversation. You can also reinforce your positive image in the mind of the interviewer.
However, this does not mean that you should just close a list of features that you feel make you look good. Despite the positive connotations, there is still a wrong way to answer this question, and it is important that you are not caught in this moment.
Make sure everything you say is relevant to the company and more specifically, to the job itself. Use the job specification as a reference to what you will need to perform the job successfully and make sure you mark the skills / experience mentioned in it. If you have not already done so, take time to explore the company and its culture, whether through its website or social media channels. In addition, it will help you understand if they will suit you, it will advance your understanding of what they are looking for.
Include a combination of technical skills, transferable skills and attributes. The first should have been clear in your resume or in your cover letter, but keep in mind that the person interviewing you may not have read them thoroughly, so it’s worth reminding him what you can offer.
If you are applying for a position that requires difficult skills that you lack, it is best to focus on traits and soft skills, and prove that you can apply them here. You could also say that one of your advantages is the speed with which you absorb new technical skills and use past examples to prove it.
This interview is an opportunity for you to stand out from the rest of the candidates, so make sure your strengths on the list set you apart from the rest. Do not say anything obvious that any candidate can claim. One of the most powerful points, so to speak, given to the candidates, in my opinion, is: “I work hard” – believe me, it has the opposite effect than the speaker hopes it will have. Everyone should feel this about themselves, and what is the alternative? I highly doubt if any of the other candidates will say “I do not work hard”, then think about what sets you apart and is most suitable for the job.
This leads me to my last point: be specific. Like I said, it’s good to describe the soft qualities and skills that make you an ideal employee, but, even if you’re honest, any vague description may seem dishonest. Choose a relevant field to which you can apply them successfully, and ideally, use examples again.
“What are your weaknesses?”
This is the aspect of the question where I imagine people are more likely to struggle. The most important thing for anyone who finds this question threatening is to see it as an opportunity to impress, rather than a trap that will catch you.
For many of us, there is the temptation to “um” and “ah” when you struggle to think of anything that might be perceived as weakness, almost as if the thought never occurred to you. Please do not make this mistake, as this is a common interview question and it seems you are not ready. Moreover, you will be found to be selfless.
Self-awareness is often a desirable trait for employers and shows that you can work well with others. It emphasizes that you are able to evaluate and build on your performance, as well as take lessons from constructive criticism and move forward. Therefore, honesty you will find as well. Blaming others for the weaknesses you mention, or excuses for them, will indicate that you are less willing to work on yourself and therefore will not be attractive to potential employers.
Of course, there is also a risk of going too far in the other direction. If so, it is possible to be too honest and list too many shortcomings, in which case the person who will take up the position may think that you lack the necessary skills or attributes. Finding this balance is critical.
The best way to do this is to first consider what the interviewer actually wants to find out. It is inevitable that you will struggle with some challenges in your new role, so it is important to explain how you reacted to other problems in the past and prove that you learned from it and made improvements as a result.
Before we continue, I want to avoid any confusion. This does not mean that you should try to rotate your weaknesses by trying to imply that they are a force: “I am a perfectionist”, or “I need to be busy”. The interviewer is not going to fall for it. Instead, use these as a starting point to explain how you are gaining new skills, or why you want the job for which you are applying. For example, you could replace “I’m a perfectionist” with “sometimes I spend too much time focusing on details. I would like this role because it would allow me to develop my ability to look at the bigger picture.”
Alternatively, discuss the vulnerabilities you are working on, or any previous problem you have had and how you progressed to learning or improving skills as a result. Ideally, use a story from your previous job or your academic experience to illustrate your journey. This is what the interviewer wants to know. However, I have some suggestions on how you should do this.
First, try to avoid using words that may seem too negative, or have these connotations (for example, “failed”, “unsuccessful” or “poor”). It will not help the interviewer’s perception of you, even if it happens subconsciously. Instead, explain that a project or task “did not go as I hoped” or that “the results could have been better” – this will show that you meet high standards and are always looking to do the best job possible. Then, tell them why you believe it happened and what you did / will do better next time.
Another important tip is to choose weaknesses that are not necessarily relevant to the job. for example:
- Is it a role in recruiting or sales, or one that will require you to interact with new people on a regular basis? If not here’s a new product just for you!
- Will you have to talk on stage or to the camera often? If not, you can say you can be nervous before speaking to an audience.
- Will you need to use certain software or hardware? If not, you can admit to your inexperience with it. In this case, just make sure it is relevant to some extent to the conversation (i.e. it was required in a previous or similar role), otherwise it would seem strange to mention it in the first place.
This is another case where your research around the company and the role will come into use. The more you know what you will need to be successful, the more you will know that it is irrelevant. These can be your listed weaknesses.
This is a common interview question for some reason
When they work for the job, interviewers choose this question because they can learn a lot about your personality, skills and application. Taking the time to make sure that each of your responses is structured and that the desired result is positive will help you create the best impression possible and stand out from the rest of the candidates.
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