It’s the interview question so many of us often dread. We just don’t know how to answer it. It often feels like a trap. What are your strengths and weaknesses?
I shudder at the mere writing of the sentence. But like it or not, it is a question we will get asked nine times out of ten on job interviews, regardless of the role, seniority level or industry. I never really knew what to say when someone asked me this but a few years ago I sat down as a recent university graduate and made myself a list of five of each. Companies don’t tend to ask for this many, but it is always great to have some spares to alternate with, depending on what job you are going for.
Let’s start off easily with some of our strengths. These should be things that will make you a great addition to the team and not things like ‘hardworking’ or ‘punctual’ which would be expected of all colleagues, regardless of the role.
- Focused / determined / passionate
- Use of initiative
- Team player / independent worker
- Thoughtful / considerate
- Open minded
- Writing skills / telephone manner (can also be a weakness depending on the job)
Now on to the dreaded weaknesses. It always feels like a trick question and that the employer is trapping you by asking you to tell them what you are bad at. Every job tip site and recruiter will always tell you to show your weaknesses as strengths, but shy of saying how much of a perfectionist you are and how you are ‘working on it’, what else can we say to this question?
It is good to take a look at yourself and pick things that are genuine weaknesses and then tailor them to professional weaknesses and think about how you are working on it. For me, I never liked speaking to people on the phone, screening any number on my mobile that did not display caller ID. When I was interviewing for my previous role, which would end up being primarily based on phones, I told them that this is something that I am keen to build my confidence on. I feel a lot more confident now on the phone, although I do still screen calls on my mobile!
- Self criticism
- Too detail orientated (a smart way of saying that perfectionist thing without causing mass internal eye roll)
- Public speaking
- Presentation skills
- Writing skills
- Lack of confidence on the telephone
My top tip for presenting your weakness would not be to present it as a strength in disguise. Rather, I would pick a weakness which I am working on. For example, instead of saying you are a perfectionist and need to complete everything to a high standard, which any employer would expect your work to be anyway, you could say that in the past you have struggled with prioritisation or organisation. You could then go on to say how you have started to remedy those issues, perhaps by writing things down in a notebook for that visual aid of ‘what is next?’
Knowing your own weaknesses can actually make you a stronger candidate in the eyes of the employer as you are confident in your abilities and unashamed to say what you need to work on. Nobody is perfect, so it is best not to pretend.
I pride myself in my creativity and open mindedness. I feel like I need to work on my public speaking skills as addressing a large group can still sometimes make me feel about the size of a mouse. I also struggle with delegation sometimes, preferring to just do everything myself.
What would you say are your strengths and weaknesses and how do you like to present them in an interview? Let me know in the comments below.