Ever get an interview question about your strengths and weaknesses? You know the questions.
‘What are your biggest strengths? What are some of your weaknesses?’
Without knowing it, we often twist ourselves into believing it is a trick question and that there is a secret ‘right answer’ to it.
What These Questions Mean
These questions are not a trick question!
What the interviewer is trying to do is determine what types of tasks you enjoy and excel at. They are also trying to decipher which ones you do not enjoy or may struggle with.
They will compare this information with the requirements of the role to see if you will find passion in the job.
For instance, pretend you are applying for a customer service role. If one of your listed strengths is customer service, then the interviewer will indicate that your skills are a match for the role. If working with the public is a weakness, then it will be considered a mismatch for the role.
For each strength you list, that strength will be deemed a match if it matches a job requirement. If a weakness you list is a job requirement, then that weakness will be deemed a mismatch.
What to Keep in Mind When Responding
Here are some helpful tips for responding effectively to these questions.
It’s Okay to Have Weaknesses
When asked about their weaknesses, some people instinctively respond that they have none. Or they say that they’ve never received constructive feedback before. It’s okay to have weaknesses and be open about them.
It’s expected you have weaknesses. You are human.
If you say to a skilled interviewer that there are no weaknesses you are aware of, you might disqualify yourself from the selection process. The interviewer now has reason to believe you are either unwilling to admit and learn from your weaknesses. They also have reason to believe that you are either dishonest or lack self-awareness because everyone has weaknesses. This is how I’ve rated interviewees who ‘have no weaknesses’.
Know your weaknesses and be upfront about them.
Have Several of Each
Some interviewers will ask you to ‘list 3 strengths’ or ‘list 2 weaknesses’. Come prepared with a few examples of each.
If they ask you without a specific number, list 3 strengths, and 2 weaknesses. An example of this would be if they just say ‘tell me some of your strengths and weaknesses’. This approach demonstrates self-awareness; listing only 1 weakness would not achieve this. It also ensures the positives outweigh the negatives.
Use Specific Feedback
When you list these things, use specific feedback you have received from others. It is better to relay feedback you’ve heard from supervisors, peers, direct reports, or customers instead of your self-perception.
It is more credible from others because we often judge ourselves on our intent, not on our outcomes or behaviours.
One great way to do this is to use the feedback you received in your last performance evaluation if you have had one.
List How You Are Working on Your Weaknesses
After you’ve listed your weaknesses, your interviewer may ask you what action you have taken to improve on them. They may not.
Either way, after you’ve listed them, also list actions you have taken to improve in those areas.
It might be taking a course, adopting a new process, or changing your routine. For example, if you struggle with being organized, beginning to use a DayTimer is an action you may have taken to get better in that area.
One thing some people say is ‘they try to think harder about not doing it’. That is not an action; you will want to avoid this kind of answer.
Not All of Your Answers Need to be a Perfect Match
When your strengths or weaknesses do not match exactly what they need, you may start to worry. This is normal, it is our survival instinct kicking in.
Do not worry if everything is not a perfect match. The perfect match does not exist because the perfect person does not exist. No one person will like and match every aspect of a job.
What the interviewer is truly looking for is to ensure they hire someone with more matches than mismatches. It is likely whomever they hire has at least one mismatch.
Think about it this way: they are doing you a favour. If you have more mismatches than matches, it means that you will not enjoy the work. During the interview, we can be shortsighted and only see a job that we want in front of us. This causes us to worry about mismatches meaning not getting a job. But do you really want a job where a majority of the tasks and requirements are unenjoyable?
Bend the Truth at Your Peril
Now that you know this, there may be a temptation to answer these questions with what you think the interviewer wants to hear.
You might want a job and be tempted to make up your responses based on strengths that you know are matches and weaknesses that are mismatches.
Sure, you can do this. But you do so at your peril.
As mentioned above, these questions are asked solely to see if you’ll enjoy what is required by the job. Bending the truth will leave you in a job that you will not enjoy. Also, your new employer will notice that you do not enjoy it and it may hurt your credibility.
Answering questions about your strengths and weaknesses are as simple as being upfront and honest.
Do not be worried if some of your weaknesses match the job requirements. The interviewer is not looking for someone who will love everything about the job. Those people do not exist!
What they are looking for is to ensure that the matches outnumber the mismatches.
Although it is tough to see this as the interviewee when it means you might not get the job, it is actually in your best interests!
Remember, if you need help preparing for these questions, I am here!