Suppose you’ve ever had to fill out a self-evaluation for work. In that case, you know how awkward it feels when asked to toot your own horn by sharing all of the fantastic things you’ve accomplished over the last year, followed immediately by having to highlight areas for growth. Now, take this uncomfortable practice and sprinkle in a bit of anxiety and you have the classic interview question: What are some of your strengths and weaknesses?
There’s nothing like walking into a scenario where you already feel uneasy and being asked to list the reasons you may or may not be a good candidate for a job. It would make sense to spend a little more time talking up all of your strengths, but if you lean too much into this, you could come off as overconfident, which isn’t a good look. But you don’t want to emphasize your weaknesses because what if you share too much and miss out on an opportunity?
Even though we all know that this is a question we’ll likely be asked (in some variation) during any given interview, it still manages to trip so many of us up. It doesn’t have to, though. While there’s no way of getting around how awkward it feels to answer the question, you can at least feel confident in your response with the proper preparation.
Why Do Interviewers Ask About Strengths and Weaknesses?
Given the popularity of this question, it’s hard to believe there isn’t some hidden meaning behind it. Why is it so magical? An interviewer asking this question can’t be as simple as essential data collection, can it? There must be a greater purpose.
The truth is, it’s a little of both. This question is, in fact, pretty magical because your response will not only give more black and white information about you and your hard and soft skills, but it will also provide a glimpse into your personality. Interviewers know this question is awkward to answer, and while the information you provide in your response is undoubtedly helpful, so is how you handle the situation. Some things they may be paying attention to when you answer this question include:
- Do you seem cocky, like you could do this job with your eyes closed?
- Do you answer the question or try to sidestep it by steering the conversation another way?
- When answering, do you stay on topic (your ability to do the job), or do you share strengths/weaknesses irrelevant to the job you’re discussing?
- Do you seem genuine in your response, or are you giving them a canned answer?
Most importantly, interviewers use this question to get a sense of how honest you are. Everyone has their own set of strengths and weaknesses, and it’s a question of if you’re humble enough to share what yours are, truthfully.
Best Practices for Responding to These Questions
So, how do you answer this question, then? How do you find the sweet spot between being honest and oversharing? What kinds of things should you share, and what should you keep to yourself? What is the correct answer to an interview's strengths and weaknesses question?
Unfortunately, there is no perfect universal response to this question. However, there are some great tips that you can use to help you plan out your best answer ahead of time. Here are a few things to consider and keep in mind as you craft your list of strengths and weaknesses:
- Make sure the skills you share are relevant to the job (for example, an IT manager doesn’t care if you’re a horrible cook)
- Be honest about your weaknesses but also selective in what you share; don’t draw attention to a disadvantage significant enough to cost you the job
- The opposite is true for strengths; share the things that’ll help you land the job, just don’t be overly showy about it (use the job description to help you choose here)
- Don’t undermine yourself or your abilities when you share your weaknesses; you can be transparent and confident at the same time
- If you share a time you failed at work, make sure your story also includes what you learned from the experience
- Skip the weaknesses-that-are-actually-strengths bit (perfectionism, competitiveness, etc.). It won’t work. Instead, share weaknesses that demonstrate your self-awareness.
- Pick a few strengths in different areas of the job to highlight that you’re a well-rounded candidate (ex: a complex skill, a soft skill, and a niche skill for this particular job)
- “I don’t have as much in-depth experience with [software or program] as I’d like, but I have done a lot of work in [similar program] over the years.”
- “I am confident that I can do [skill], but I don’t have much experience, so there would be a learning curve.”
- “I have a tendency to hold myself to an impossible standard and be too self-critical, which has resulted in lower quality work in the past, so I have to work harder than most to avoid this pitfall.”
- “I’m highly organized and realistic about what I can accomplish in a day, so I’m comfortable delegating tasks to others in order to deliver work on time.”
- “I have spent a lot of time working with [essential program/tool] in my current role and I enjoy figuring out new/different ways we can use it to our advantage.”
- “I thrive in chaos and am able to quickly adapt to changing/evolving processes and initiatives.”
Opt for Honesty
Yes, the primary goal in an interview is to blow the hiring manager away with how qualified you are. But there is more to being a great employee than simply checking many boxes. By humbly and honestly sharing your weaknesses with an interviewer, you’re giving them a glimpse into your personality and how you handle difficult situations, which is just as invaluable when it comes time to decide if you’d be a good fit for the position (and team, and company). You can’t go wrong with honesty (with a side of strategy, of course).
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