A standard question asked during a job interview is to describe your strengths or weaknesses, or both. While some candidates may feel happy enough about putting their strengths into words, the weaknesses part of the question can stump many job seekers.
What interviewers are looking for when they ask these types of questions is not necessarily the strengths and weaknesses that you identify, but what your response says about you as a person. Yes, it is quite a psychological tactic. After all the recruiter wants to ensure that you are worth the company’s investment, so they will use psychological means to find their answer.
Keep this in mind when you think about how you answer these questions. Often with a little digging, you may realize that the answer you had ready for your strengths isn’t quite as strong as you thought.
Should the recruiter ask this as one question rolled into one, then it is best to address the weaknesses first so that you finish your answer on a positive note.
Firstly, things to avoid – the recruiter does not expect you to tell them your absolute worst habit, whether that be that you’re sloppy, perpetually late or that you don’t like to take orders. They also don’t expect you to fabricate an answer, or give one that tries to get off lightly such as ‘I am too committed to my work’.
Make your answer real, not overly honest and relevant to the job title you are applying for. The weakness that you mention should also be one that can be overcome, rather than a trait that just has to be accepted.
That’s a lot of directions, so how do you do it? Start by thinking of any feedback you may have received in the past, what areas were identified that you could improve upon? Constructive criticism from friends and family can also be helpful, as long as you can make it relevant to the role you are interviewing for.
When you have identified the trait you will discuss, think of firm examples of where it affected your work. This allows you to show that you can identify problem areas, next you will show them how you can provide solutions to these problems.
When you received negative feedback in the past did you take any action at the time to address it, or is it something that you can do now? Being able to pinpoint your areas of weakness while showing that you possess the initiative to work to improve upon it will stand you in good stead in an interview.
The answers people tend to provide in response to the strengths question can fall between two poles. Some people hate sounding as though they are full of themselves and so play down their strengths, while some go to the other extreme by bragging about themselves non-stop for five minutes.
The best answer is to be found midway between these two responses. This is your biggest chance to sell your skills, ability and personality for this job, so take it, you probably won’t get another chance!
You want to appear confident, self-aware and yet not too arrogant. Much like the weaknesses question you have to walk a fine line here. This is achieved by taking the time, before the interview, to figure out what your strengths really are. Make them specific to you and your talents. There’s no point in picking a talent that everyone has, select the skills that make you unique. After a good brainstorming session, whittle the long list into a short list of 5 great traits that you possess.
Flesh out some details on these, what makes it a bonus for your employer? Why will hiring you make them happy as a result of this strength?
If you find this work very tough then you can always enlist the help of family or friends, they know you best and value your unique qualities, so are ideally placed to identify them for you. If this still doesn’t yield answers that you would feel comfortable discussing in an interview then consider taking an online test which identifies your strengths for you. With all of this work done, you know the answers, you just have to get used to talking about them in front of a complete stranger.
Remember, the interviewer doesn’t want to know all the intimate details of your life, they just want to know if you’re the right person for the job. So, think of a good example for when you used your strength and bring the conversation right back to the work situation. You don’t need to feel as though your entire life is under the spotlight for this question.
When interviewers ask us about our strengths and weaknesses it is simply a tool to help them identify which candidate will be most suitable in their corporate environment and in the role. Don’t take these questions too personally, the interviewer isn’t there to judge you or your life. Think of an interview as a fact-finding mission on the company’s part. You want to give them all the relevant details about you, as an employee, in the best light possible, no more and no less.