What are your strengths and weaknesses?
Here comes the question that you were dreading all along the interview. You’ve been doing great during the interview and even started thinking that after all the interviewer is not interested in my strengths and weaknesses and then comes the bomb.
Everybody knows that this is a common interview question and is being asked in more than 90% of the interviews. And people even prepare for it during their interview preparation. But still everybody wishes that the question never be asked.
First of all, let’s see the importance of the question. The interviewer or the Hiring Manager knows that he is not going to get a 100% honest answer for this question. And that most of the answers are going to be memorised or prepared from articles like this. Then, why does he ask this question?
Well, it’s all psychological. The way you answer this question and what you answer says a lot about you. What the interviewer is looking for in you when you answer is:
- Does the person seem flustered?
- Is he comfortable answering the question and is he making eye contact?
- Does the reply seem all memorised and ‘directly from the book’ type?
- How honest the answer is?
- How fake or real these strengths and weaknesses are?
The answer to this question is not something that you can learn somewhere. You have to sit and think thoroughly before answering this question. So, better be prepared with this one.
Breaking up the question : “Strengths and Weaknesses”
This question actually is made up of two entirely opposite questions.
What are your strengths?
What are your weaknesses?
Sometimes, you may be asked these questions in one or simply one after another. When asked as one question, always start with your weaknesses and then move on to your strengths. That way, the last that the interviewer heard from you were your strong points.
We will also start with how to tackle the weaknesses first.
Search for relevant weaknesses
The first thumb rule that doesn’t change is your answer should be relevant to the job that you are applying for. Say you may be afraid of dark but you don’t have to specify that for your Assistant’s interview where your office hours end way before it is dark. Or say your fear of spiders or insects has nothing to do with a receptionist’s job unless of course if the office is located in the middle of a jungle.
Weakness as a strength in disguise
You’ll find this advice everywhere but people make this mistake so often that no article is complete without addressing this point. People like to claim that they work way too hard or that they are too dedicated (can’t sleep until the task is complete) or too punctual that others hate it. These answers are too cheesy and the interviewer is far more mature than that. At least give him some credit. He is sitting on the other side of the table.
I’ve seen many candidates deny straightforward that they can’t think of any weaknesses or think for a long time and come up with a blank expression. It’s really fun to watch such self proclaimed perfect people. I mean please, who are you kidding? Everybody has something that he needs to improve in.
Honesty is the best policy but don’t overdo it
It’s always good to be honest. That way you don’t have to remember what you said and you don’t also get stuck in the counter questions that may follow. But people tend to overdo it in their excitement or nervousness. You don’t have to tell your interviewer that you have the concentration of a child or you get bored during meetings.
Just be natural when answering. You may have prepared your answer but don’t just speak it out like a parrot.
So, enough about the don’ts. Let’s focus on how you can come up with a good answer.
- Try to list a weakness or anything that may have troubled you in your previous job.
- Make your selection such that it won’t utterly ruin your chances at the job.
- Add in your answer how you are working on your weakness and how you’ve improved.
- Optionally, you can also state the effects of your weakness and how you overcame them.
Let’s see some sample replies and then we’ll analyse them.
I had problem learning the new software that our office adapted. I mean I could use it but couldn’t get hold of some of the features that others were using and hence getting their work done faster. So, I asked for help from our supervisor and read about it at home and now I can say that I am pretty good at handling that software. I read in the requirements that knowledge of that software is an added benefit. The learning of the new features was really exciting and I would not mind learning other software too. It helps you grow too.
I get nervous when I’ve to confront someone. As an Events Manager, many a times I had to face people doing the wrong thing. I got angry but was not able to point it out and ended up doing it myself and getting stuck in tasks that others should be doing. Then, a colleague helped me through it. He told me that the key was not to lose your cool and be polite but firm. There’s no need for shouting in most of the cases. It helped and I can say that I’ve improved. I mean there are some ruthless workers that I have problem handling but I’ve come a long way. Now, I confront people and that too with confidence and the determination to get things right and going.
Both the answers are a good example of addressing your weakness properly. As you can see that the person is aware that his weakness is obstructing his development. And he seeks help and tries to overcome it. In the first answer, the person shows his readiness to even learn anything new though he had problem learning the new software.
Similarly, in the second reply the person accepts that he may not have fully overcome the weakness but has shown significant improvement. Sometimes, interviewers tend to twist their questions to further confuse you. Some of the variants of the same question may be:
- What are the problems that you face at your job?
- How can you improve your current self?
- What complaints did your past employer had with you? How did you overcome them?
- If there is one thing that you can change about you, what would that be?
The key is to stick to one or two weakness that is relevant to the job and also state how you’ve worked on it and what the results are.
Also, if the interviewer asks counter questions like
- Speak about some real weakness.
- What have you done about it?
- Are you sure that’s even a weakness?
Then do assess your answer and improve it using above tips. The interviewer was not happy with your reply.
Now, let’s discuss the second part of the question.
Some people find talking about strengths a bit easier. But again some of the rules remain the same.
The first one is relevance. You don’t want to tell the interviewer about your great cooking skills when applying at a law firm or your great athletic legs when you want to be a chef. No matter how great your qualities are, if they are not going to help in current job; the interviewer has no interest in them.
Qualities not duties
Some people like to claim that they are utterly hardworking or punctual as a hen. But these are not your strengths. When you join a job, it is expected of you to work hard and be on time. It’s not something that you can boast of.
The unending saga
I’ve also come across people who have a long list of qualities that in their mind makes them unique and a ‘better than the rest’ candidate. Okay, either you’ve made that list or maybe you are a gem. But the interviewer doesn’t need to know about all the qualities in just one answer. Limit the number strengths that you include in your answer to maximum three. Never cross that limit, no matter how talented or gifted you are.
Always back up your qualities with some incident that happened at your previous work place or during your college in case of a fresher. This increases the impact of your answer. Suppose you say that you’ve good leadership qualities. Then back it up saying how you’ve led teams in past and how your team members look up to you.
So, I’ll just summarise how to prepare your answer.
- List out your strong points that will be helpful in your job.
- Select the most relevant and most strong points and mention them in your answer. The number should not be more than three.
- Try to come up with an incident that backs up what you are saying.
- Never use any negative traits like impatience or over friendliness or lack of interest as your strength.
Let’s take a look at a few sample answers.
I consider my presentation skills to be my greatest strength. I can make a presentation and prepare it at a very short notice. As a result I was trusted with presentations at short notice at my previous office. I remember once our team leader could not come on the D-Day and there was a presentation to a very potential client. Our team leader recommended me as I had helped in preparing presentation. I had around four hours to prepare it. Not only did I present it well but we got the project. Since then I’ve become their presentation man.
Writing is my passion and strict deadlines don’t affect the quality of my work. The magazine that I work for focuses on current affairs and hence there are times that we need to articulate news that has just come and the magazine is to go for print in no time. I am their best man for such scenarios. I make sure to not just complete the article or story quickly so that the printing is not delayed but also maintain the standard that we are known for. Our magazine has published many untold stories and news before any other magazines and I am proud of that.
The first answer shows that how a simple skill as creating presentation can help you leave a good impression on the interviewer. Presentations are an integral part of any company. So, if you are to save your company by your presentation skills in times of need, it definitely is an asset.
The incidence in the first answer shows how the person took responsibility which was not mandatory and helped the company. This becomes another positive quality that any company would want in their employee.
The second answer shows that how the person is dependable for tight deadline projects and good quality ones too. The last sentence of the second answer shows that the person is proud for the success of the company. This simply proves that he will put the success of the company above his comforts.
There are some of the variants of this question too.
- What are your qualities that others look up to?
- How do you aim to achieve success here?
- What are your qualities that will benefit the company?
The questions may be different but you always have to state one or two quality that will help in the growth of the company and the individual.
My last word is to prepare one or two extra strengths and weaknesses, in case the interviewer asks for more. It should not seem that your reply was all memorised.
So, with a little practice and a bit of self awareness, you’ll be able to crack this question and impress your interviewer.