“What are your greatest strengths and weaknesses?”
It’s certainly an interview question that gets your heart racing. How do you answer it without bragging or looking incompetent? The good news is it’s actually not as difficult as you might think. With a little prep, you can provide an answer that successfully showcases your self-awareness, honesty and ability to grow – all things a potential employer looks for when asking this question.
Here are five key tips to help you shape your responses, alongside some answer samples to give you ideas.
5 General Tips
- Question timing
The interviewer may choose to first ask about your weakness and then your strength (or vice versa). But they could also choose to go double-barrelled and include both in the one question. If this happens, discuss your weakness first and follow up with your positivity-packed strength.
- Keep it short
It’s easy to waffle on when you’re nervous and in doing so, you may provide more information than is necessary. Your answers to these questions needn’t be lengthy – prepare about a paragraph to address each one.
- Aim for honesty
Having performed countless candidate interviews, most hiring managers are adept at spotting a less-than-truthful answer. It’s therefore in your best interests to choose examples that are honest. They’re not only easier to recall, they also won’t need any embellishments that may come off as disingenuous.
- Use relevant examples
When considering your strength and weakness response, it’s a good idea to first review the key responsibilities and requirements in the job advertisement and description. Pick a strength that is directly related to one of these. Conversely, opt for a weakness that won’t impact your ability to accomplish an essential role function.
You can focus on either a skill or personality trait. Skills are generally things you’ve acquired through experience and education, and can be knowledge based or transferable (e.g. communication or problem solving). Personality traits are your unique qualities, such as your empathy or optimism.
- Stick to an answer formula
In crafting your answer, begin by stating your weakness or strength, then add brief detail for context, and end with a positive impact (what you’ve done to improve in the case of a weakness, and the result or impact of your strength in your work setting). Framing your answer in this way clearly demonstrates your capacity for self-reflection, self-awareness and growth, all highly attractive qualities in a potential employee.
While the above tips will assist you in formulating your response, it can also be helpful to see what that might look like in reality. As such, here are a few example answers. Keep in mind that these are generic – yours should be carefully aligned to the specific role.
Weakness example (skills based): Public speaking
In the past, I’ve struggled with speaking in front of big groups. One time I got so nervous presenting some project results at a big meeting that my boss had to take over. It was embarrassing and I didn’t want that to ever happen again, so I met with my manager to talk about ways to help me overcome my fear. It involved some formal training, but also me regularly volunteering to speak at smaller team meetings. Over time, I gained confidence and even though I still get nervous, I’m much better at getting my point across. I haven’t had anyone take over for me again.
Weakness example (personality based): Difficulties saying no
By nature, I’m a ‘people pleaser’ so have had trouble saying no, especially to extra work requests. This resulted in me taking on more work than I should and I struggled to meet deadlines. This was not only stressful for me, but impacted my team. In realising this weakness, I took the step of installing project management software, so I could see in real-time exactly what I had on. When someone asked me to take on more, I could then easily see my current capacity and show them as well. This helped me to comfortably say no when I needed to, and I stopped missing deadlines.
Strength example (skills based): Team work
I’ve consistently received feedback from previous managers and staff that I’m really good at strengthening team bonds. At a previous workplace, we underwent a major restructure that resulted in a brand-new team made up of people with varying levels of experience. There was uncertainty and conflict in work styles, so I set up specific weekly team meetings focused on building relationships, rather than task-focused. I also approached my manager to talk about extra training to even out the experience dilemma. Over time, team members got to know each other on a personal level, which greatly enhanced their work relationships. I had a number of people approach me afterwards to thank me for the work I did to bring the group together.
Strength example (personality based): Calm under pressure
My biggest strength is that I’m calm under pressure. In my last role, I helped to organise a professional development conference and on the day, one of the keynote speakers cancelled due to illness. Their presentation took up a significant portion of the schedule, so I had to quickly figure out how to fill it. I decided to insert an audience question segment at the end of the remaining speakers’ speeches. I anticipated people being quite upset that the keynote speaker wasn’t there, but was honest about what happened. I had a number of participants seek me out to say they still felt they got their money’s worth as the ‘Q & A’ ended up being the most illuminating part of the day.
Need Extra Support?
Here’s hoping you are now well equipped to deal with that curly interview question ‘What are your greatest strengths and weaknesses?’ But if you’d like some extra assistance or further interview tips, please connect with to one of our expert recruitment specialists here at Tradewind. We’d love to help.