Answering the “Strengths and/or Weaknesses” question

For many, the interview question “Tell me about your strengths/weaknesses” can be a daunting moment and difficult to answer on the spot. However, as with all interview questions, thinking about what you might say beforehand will make answering this question easier and help you stand out from other candidates because you have thought about your response ahead of the Interview.

There are a few do’s and don’ts when it comes to this question: –

Positive things to do or say: –

1. Align your answer with the requirements outlined in the job advert

  • Think of two or three personal/professional strengths that align with the role, use the job description to help you do this, use examples of when and how you have demonstrated these strengths – this does not necessarily need to be work related! Raising children, managing a household budget, organising social and/or club activities can all be great ways to demonstrate strengths

2. Tell the truth

  • Look for actual strengths you possess; think about any transferable skills you have developed in your current/previous roles and/or personal life. You might be tempted to say I’m ‘hard working’, ‘dedicated’, ‘organised’, ‘driven’ or ‘goal orientated’ as they sound impressive but these are common clichés – and are likely to be less positive than you might think – especially if the interviewer has heard 4 other candidates say the very same thing. The key is to think of a genuine strength which links to the role you are applying for and explain how you demonstrated it.

3. Back up with examples/evidence

  • It’s important to not only state your strengths but also when and where you developed or demonstrated them. Again strengths can be from your personal life if they clearly demonstrate your competency in a particular area. However even if you think of great examples which are genuine and can be evidenced they won’t help if you fail to clearly explain them to the interviewer – use the ‘STAR technique’ to structure your answer(s) so they fully explain your example to the interviewer.

Things you should avoid: –

1. Stating you have ‘NO weaknesses’ or that you ‘can’t think of any’

  • Everybody has weaknesses! Bill Gates, Elon Musk and Richard Branson have weaknesses, the key in answering this question is to be aware of what they are. If you know what your weaknesses are then you have some control and the ability to minimise their impact on your work.
  • When you tell an employer that you ‘have no weaknesses’ it tells them that you are either unaware of what your weaknesses are or worse you’re hiding them because you think they will eliminate you from the interview.

2. Turning a weakness into a strength

  • When you turn a weakness into a strength it leaves the employer thinking you are not being truthful about what your weaknesses are or that you are ‘just saying what you think they would want to hear’. For example, you might have heard people say “I’m a perfectionist” or “I work too hard”, you might think this makes them sound like the best candidate, but this can easily be translated into ‘I take on too much’, ‘I get bogged down’, ‘I can’t prioritise my own tasks’ or ‘I struggle to complete tasks on time’. These weaknesses can be seen as highly undesirable and likely to make that employee far less effective at doing their job.

3. Giving a weakness which is an ‘essential’ requirement of the job

  • Imagine a job description which is looking for people who are ‘outgoing’ and ‘able to deal with customers in a fast paced environment’. Now imagine you were to say (and this is a common issue for many we work with) ‘I struggle in groups of people’ or ‘I’m introverted and find it difficult to talk to new people’; this role is likely to put you in exactly the position you find challenging. The result is you are likely to struggle in this role and an employer is not going to want to put you in this position (as it is neither good for you or their business).

4. Giving more than one weakness

  • While you might have, or think of, more than one weakness you should only ever give one example – unless you are directly asked to provide a second. I once conducted a mock interview with a client and asked them to tell me about what they thought was their greatest weakness and got three! There’s no reason to give an employer a reason not to want to employ you, so only answer the question with one weakness.

5. Not having a strategy to minimise your weakness(es)

  • I have left this point to last as it’s key to answering the question well. Once you have identified a genuine weakness, that’s not in the person specification on the job description, it’s essential to think of how you minimise the impact of your weakness. For example, if your weakness is nerves or anxiety when meeting new people then you might want to think about how you have, or are working to, overcome this. This could include joining local community groups or volunteering for a charity to enable you to get more comfortable with this. While it can be difficult to demonstrate how you are working to improve your weaknesses, it is a great way to show your proactivity and growth mindset.
  • I once worked with an individual who lacked confidence in Maths and English – to address this (and not let it be too significant a barrier in their life) they had taken foundational courses in both subjects, while both subjects remained challenging they were no longer as anxious about either in their everyday life.

To end this article, it’s important to stress the benefit of preparing to answer this question before the interview rather than trying to think of something on the spot – This is true for all Interview questions!

If having read all of the above you still would like direct 1:1 support feel free to contact us and we’ll be more than happy to discuss further how we can help.