How to Answer, ‘What are your Strengths and Weaknesses?’ at Interview

Posted on Friday, January 6, 2023 by Graham Quinn

Being posed with this question makes many candidates feel uncomfortable. Revealing your weaknesses seems to be in opposition to selling ourselves at interview. Highlighting our strengths is not without potential pitfalls; it’s a fine line between confident and arrogant. This is why carefully preparing your answer to this question is essential.

Here’s how to avoid the mistakes that can put you out of the running. We explain how to turn this question in your favour and stand out from the competition. 

Understand what the Interviewer wants to learn

With behavioural interview questions like this one, it’s not always obvious what the interviewer is trying to determine. However, working out what they’re looking for beforehand ensures that you’ll answer the question well.

Although the strengths and weakness you choose are important, the interviewer is also looking for an insight into you as a person. Getting to know what makes you tick helps them assess whether you are a good fit for the team.

The Strengths and Weakness question allows the Interviewer to assess:

 

  • Honesty

For this reason, choose genuine examples of your successes and failures. Just take care that these are suited to the person specification and won’t put you out of the running.

 

  • Professionalism

    Talking about your weaknesses without being visibly uncomfortable suggests you’ll be able to handle feedback in a professional manner.

     

  • Self-Awareness

    The ability to be self-reflective is a valuable trait. Employees who can identify their own strengths and weaknesses makes them more likely to continuously improve.

     

  • Pro-Active Attitude

    A crucial part of answering the weaknesses question is explaining what action you have taken to address them. Demonstrating a willingness to learn and improve shows you are motivated to deliver quality work.

     

  • Your Personality

    The interviewer needs to know if your personality is a good fit. For example, if the team you are being recruited for function well with little supervision, then the interviewer will be seeking someone who is self-sufficient.

    As you also want to find a role which is suited to you, try to show your true self.  This way, you’ll thrive if you are successful in landing the job.

     

    Do’s and Don’ts

    Before we get into choosing your examples, here are a few general tips on how to prepare your answers.

    Don’t pick weaknesses which could eliminate you from the selection process. For example, if the role requires outbound sales then relating how you struggle to communicate on the telephone is likely to drop you from consideration.

    Do read the person specification carefully. The interviewer will use your strengths and weakness examples to see whether you are a good match for the role.

    Don’t exaggerate or invent strengths you don’t have.  Choosing to apply for the role suggests you have at least some of the skills they require, so choose from those and aim to come across as confident rather than arrogant.

    Do illustrate your strengths and weaknesses with examples. This improves your chances of communicating effectively.

    Don’t waffle. When practising, cut down your answer till every sentence moves the story forward. Using the ‘STAR’ method will also help you be concise, (please see below).

    Do research the company you are applying to. Gaining knowledge of the company’s goals and challenges, (from their website, social media and in the news) will make you a stand-out candidate. Use this knowledge to explain how your strengths could help them achieve their aims.

    Talking about your Strengths

    Take the person specification and highlight the skills and traits you possess which match this.

    For example, if the job specification calls for teamwork, give an example of how you went beyond what is expected of you to support your colleagues or helped your team to achieve a goal.

    Choose a strength which you have plenty of experience with or have made a significant achievement in.

    Plan out an example to relate, using the STAR method to structure it.

    Situation

    Task

    Action

    Result

     

    Start with a situation which puts your example into context, giving the who, what, where, when. Move onto the task, which clarifies your role and responsibility. The action explains how you responded to the problem. Result is about the outcome of your action and how it improved things for your employer. Use statistics to back up your result where possible, such as cost savings or increased profits.

    You might choose to add how you developed this strength. Also, you could add brief examples of how it benefited other previous employers.

    For bonus points, explain how your strength could help the company you are interviewing for to achieve their particular goals.

     

    Talking about your Weaknesses

    Remember, choose a weakness that won’t affect your ability to fulfil the job requirements. Double-check the person specification to ensure your example won’t disqualify you for the role.

    The interviewer is looking for evidence that you take responsibility for your continuous improvement. Therefore, choose a weakness that you have taken action on and have improved as a result.

    When planning your answer, first give an example of how you discovered your weakness. For example, if you have a fear of public speaking, you may be able to relate how you struggled to give a presentation. Next, say what you have done to address this. Perhaps you practised with colleagues, took a course, or got some coaching. Finally, say how things improved as a result and highlight the positive impact it had on your employers.

    If you expect the interviewer may consider that you are lacking in experience, here is any opportunity to tackle this head on. Mentioning a lack of experience  can be a good idea if you can evidence commitment to building the required skill set. Talking about courses, training, working with an experienced mentor or complex projects you have shadowed will convey that you have the necessary skills despite a lack of time-served on the job.

    Other ways the Interviewer may ask about your Strengths and Weaknesses

     

               Most interviews today will require you to talk about your strengths and weaknesses.

               However, the question may be posed in different ways, such as:

     

    Weakness Questions

     

  • what is the most challenging part of the job for you?
  • Tell me about a time you made a mistake
  • What do your colleagues criticise you for?

 

Strengths Questions

 

  • What can you bring to the role?
  • What impact would you make?
  • Why do you think you’d be a good fit / successful?

 

Unfamiliar questions can be daunting, but if you prepare carefully to talk about your strengths and weaknesses alternative approaches shouldn’t catch you off guard.

Practise makes Perfect

 

Practise will help you to come across confidently. Enlist help from family, friends or consider investing in a career coach. One of the benefits of conducting your job search with a reputable recruiter is that they should offer free interview preparation coaching. Recruiters of good reputation are also experts at matching candidates to their ideal employer, reducing the stress of your job search and increasing your chances of success.

Graham, at Wireless Mobile International Search (WMIS), is skilled in preparing candidates in the latest interview techniques, including behavioural questioning. He has over fifteen years’ experience, successfully placing candidates in executive roles within their specialist niche (wireless and mobile networks, systems and connected devices) both in the UK and worldwide. Contact him today to see how WMIS can support you.


 

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