Here’s How to Answer That Tricky Strengths and Weaknesses Question

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At some point in your career, it's safe to expect a prospective employer to ask, "What are your strengths and weaknesses?" Although this question seems simple, it's often loaded — employers are interested in your answer, of course, but they're also looking for honesty and self-awareness. When you're prepared, you can give an answer that helps you get the job.

Be Honest About Your Strengths and Weaknesses

When a prospective employer asks about your strengths and weaknesses, it's important to give an honest answer — especially when it comes to your weaknesses. Choose a true weakness, but pick one that isn't critical to the job. If you're applying to be a manager, for example, it's probably not a good idea to say that you struggle with interpersonal relations. Honesty is also important when it comes to your strengths. If you exaggerate, the employer can usually find out quickly by talking to references, administering skills tests or asking pointed questions about your experience.

Put a Positive Spin on Weaknesses

Once you've stated a weakness to an employer, you can put a positive spin on it. The easiest option is to explain how you overcome the issue on the job. If one of your weaknesses is being overly critical of yourself, you might talk about reaching out to colleagues for feedback. If you struggle with a technical aspect of the job, try explaining that you're building skills with evening classes and training. Have your efforts paid off? Let the employer know by saying something such as, "Public speaking isn't something that comes naturally to me, so I've been taking improv acting classes for a year. Now, I'm still slightly uncomfortable, but I can give presentations and speak in front of crowds with confidence." Focusing on the positive shows that you're self-aware and proactive, which is a valuable quality in any employee.

Be Prepared for Follow-Ups

Many employers like to ask follow-up questions about your specific strengths and weaknesses. Sometimes, these questions are as simple as, "Can you give me an example of how you used that ability in your last position?" or "How do you deal with that weakness in the workplace?" Other times, follow-ups are designed to see if you're telling the truth. If you try to disguise a strength as a weakness, the employer might even call you on it and ask for a more honest answer. As a candidate, you can prepare by thinking through each of your strengths and weaknesses. How has it affected your work life? How can it serve you in the open job? How do you want to improve it in the future? A little bit of self-reflection before the interview can go a long way in helping you give thoughtful, natural answers.

Answering questions about your strengths and weaknesses can be intimidating, but it's an important part of a job interview. By answering honestly and giving a positive spin, you can position yourself as the right candidate for the job.


 

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  • Nancy Anderson
    Nancy Anderson

    @mark West thanks for your comment. Yes, I know Liz Ryan quite well. We have sourced her articles hundreds of times over the years. I agree that the questions regarding strength and weaknesses can be trite but they can also be very telling. It is certainly your right to refuse to answer the questions. But, it has been our experience that these questions are asked in most job interviews. Maybe it's because they have always been there and companies feel that they are needed to make decisions. Maybe they will just drop off the charts as time goes by. It's hard to say. But these are only one or two questions out of the interview. Have you refused to answer them in an interview? Would really like to know what the results were. Has anyone else refused to answer the strengths and weaknesses questions? Would like to hear your story.

  • Mark West
    Mark West

    PS, this question or any other demeaning behavior doesn't HAVE TO BE part of an interview. Refuse to answer the question, then post a review of your interview experience. After enough public censure, this behavior will cease and desist!

  • Mark West
    Mark West

    I enjoy behavioral interviews because they're limited in scope. This is such a trite and unimaginative question it tells me my "superior" is a mental pygme. It's an insulting question and nobody with a healthy ego thinks it isn't. So I give an honest answer when asked that question just so I can shock the person into NOT wanting to hire me. Liz Ryan was a senior HR rep and recruiter for decades. Look up and read what she thinks on the matter!

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