The simplest interview questions are often the toughest. What is your greatest strength? Or, tell me about your most significant weakness. Yes, discussing your strengths & weaknesses can be hard.
You have a choice of many possible answers, but what do hiring managers want to hear? You want to come up with something impressive, but you need to be honest about your abilities. And humble, too. Hey, no one is perfect, so don’t pretend to be.
Thinking about strengths and weaknesses is the sort of thing that can keep a job seeker up at night. For a start, if they want to secure a job that is well suited to them, they need to work out the answers for themselves. Honesty starts at home. If you find that you are trying to convince yourself that you are someone else, how will you convince a hiring manager?
A job search is not a time for playing a role. Being honest about your strengths and weaknesses is the only way that you will find the right fit. If you share your honest feelings with a potential employer, you will equip them with enough information to make their decision. In this blog, we explore this critical issue. We will be looking at:
- An overview of talking about your strengths & weaknesses
- What types of strengths will set you apart?
- Should you talk about your weaknesses?
- What are your strengths? Seven examples
- What is your greatest weakness? Seven examples
- How to cultivate self-awareness.
This is a question where you may need an external perspective. Chat with previous colleagues. What do they think? Where did you excel and where could you have been a bit better? Sometimes rose-tinted glasses can be a hindrance.
What types of strengths could set you apart?
When you are asked about your strengths and weaknesses, there are different types to choose from. Maybe there is a specific aspect of the job that you know you need to work on. You could possibly choose an aspect of your soft skills that you have not had the chance to practise much previously. Alternatively, there could be a hard skill that you know you will need to pick up quickly to hit the ground running.
Choose carefully from this menu of skills. Your answer will be analysed, and the hiring manager will likely ask a follow-up question or two.
Job-specific. If you are asked about a strength towards the end of the interview, mentioning a job-specific strength that you haven’t mentioned yet might make sense. Mention a job-specific weakness at your peril, unless you obviously lack certain experience as you are moving into a new role, and you have a plan around how to acquire the missing knowledge.
Transferrable. Transferable strengths are a great topic to talk about as you can link to your previous successes and switch the interview conversation in the desired direction. This strengths/weaknesses question is a gift as its general nature allows a candidate to get the interview back under their control. Which transferable strengths do you possess?
Interpersonal. Talking about interpersonal strengths and weaknesses is a risky move when you are meeting a total stranger for the first time. You never quite know the personal preferences of the hiring manager, so talking about any specific behaviours may rub them up the wrong way if they have had bad experiences previously.
Soft. Soft skills are the hardest to change, but the most impressive to mention in terms of personal improvement. Working on your influencing skills takes real nuance, improving your IT skills not so much. We are all a work in progress, so the spectrum of soft skill proficiency will mean that there is always something to work on. Many soft skills are a safe bet to mention as a weakness, but make sure that they are not central to your job performance.
Hard. You are cheating somewhat if you mention a hard skill as a weakness as the question is normally hinting at something more subtle. You might choose to talk about a subset of a skill that you are working to improve, which may shed some light on the trajectory of your career. Mentioning anything topical such as AI may win you some brownie points.
Should you talk about your weaknesses?
Next up, let’s deal with the big one: your weaknesses. When you are spending an hour or more telling the interviewer about yourself, it is useful for them to gauge your level of self-awareness. Discussing your weaknesses and showing some vulnerability is a useful way to offer a little balance to your positive sales pitch.
It is a little jarring for a hiring manager to sit and hear a constant stream of positivity from a potential new hire, so while a candidate might not choose to discuss their faults, this question offers an opportunity to be honest and demonstrate your capacity for growth.
When you talk about your weaknesses, you show your future boss how they may be able to help you overcome them. On the one hand, they may have had a similar journey themselves and can share strategies to overcome the weaknesses. On the other hand, your future boss may possess strengths that can be passed on. Managers are there to facilitate growth — no one wants to manage someone who thinks that they are perfect.
Here are a few general ideas around how to talk about your weaknesses:
Keep it real. Choose a weakness that seems plausible and that you can talk about honestly if the interviewer decides to quiz you. It is not hard to tell whether someone is lying in these circumstances, so have a story that is ready to go before the interview. If you are aware of your weaknesses, you know what you need to work on to help you to grow.
Make it manageable. A weakness that will never be overcome is not something that a potential manager will want to have to deal with. We all have fatal flaws in our characters, but those are best left in the depths of your psyche, no matter how humble you wish to seem. Do not pick a weakness that could be a liability for your chosen role.
Frame it positively. Being proactive in the face of your areas for improvement is a great way of turning this question into a positive. Mention another weakness that you experienced previously and talk through how you worked through it. Don’t just say that you want to get better about a certain thing. Tell the interviewer how you intend to make it happen.
Give examples. There is no shame in saying that you are a work in progress. Hiring managers will hope that you are on a growth trajectory, because when you grow your employer can grow with you. People that feel that they have mastered every skill are hard to motivate. Give examples of what you want to work on next.
Don’t dwell on it. It is important that you do not get carried away with humility and self-deprecation. By all means, offer a compelling answer to this question, but don’t spend too long talking negatively about yourself. You may be a little too convincing.
7 examples of strengths you can mention
When it comes to your strengths & weaknesses, this is the easy part. You will likely be able to come up with a long list of strengths, but the trick for an interview lies in picking a strength that will assist you the most in your future role.
Think about what qualities the hiring manager is looking for. Maybe even pick up on things that have been mentioned earlier in the interview. How can you build on what has been said without being too obvious? These seven strengths may well be at the forefront of your mind.
“Throughout my career, I've enjoyed taking on new challenges and adjusting to various work environments. In my previous role, our team underwent a significant reorganisation. I was assigned to a new project with unfamiliar tasks and tight deadlines. By embracing the change, quickly learning new skills, and collaborating effectively with my new team members, I was able to contribute to the project's success.”
“In my previous role, I worked closely with colleagues from various departments, such as design, engineering, and quality control. By actively sharing knowledge, seeking input, and maintaining open communication channels, we identified potential issues and implemented improvements quickly. This collaborative approach led to a significant reduction in production delays and increased overall product quality.”
“In my tenure as restaurant manager, I worked with our chef to develop new menu items that catered to various dietary preferences, such as vegan, gluten-free, and allergy-friendly options. After introducing these new dishes, we received positive feedback from guests, and our overall customer satisfaction increased. My proactive approach resulted in a 19% improvement in our customer satisfaction rating.”
“I noticed that our patients' medication uptake was lower than desired, particularly among the elderly. I came up with the idea of using colour-coded pill organisers and personalised visual aids. By implementing this innovative solution, we were able to simplify the medication process for patients and significantly improve uptake.”
5. Conflict resolution
“In my previous financial analyst role, two team members had a disagreement over the best approach to a client's investment strategy. I mediated the conflict, encouraging open communication and active listening. By guiding them through a structured problem-solving process, we identified a mutually agreeable solution that combined the strengths of both perspectives.”
6. Analytical skills
“By carefully examining customer feedback and competitor data, I was able to identify patterns and opportunities that informed our product development strategy. For instance, I found a growing demand for eco-friendly packaging, which led us to introduce sustainable packaging options that significantly boosted sales and enhanced our brand image.”
“I was the procurement manager responsible for negotiating contracts with seed, fertiliser, and equipment suppliers. I sought to understand both our company's needs and the interests of our suppliers. By leveraging my research, I successfully negotiated distribution agreements that expanded our market reach and increased product accessibility for our customers. I managed to secure a 17% cost saving with improved supply terms.”
7 examples of weaknesses you can mention
This is a question where you must bite the bullet. When talking about your strengths & weaknesses, this one can be tough. Too many people will try to be cute and pick a weakness that can also be seen as a strength, but we would advise a more straightforward approach.
Choose a weakness where the hiring manager can see the genuine regret in your eyes. Look, this is something that I am not great at, but I am working to get better. Choose something that won’t overly impact your ability to do a great job and show that you are nonetheless working hard to get better at it.
“I would say my main weakness is perfectionism. While it has led me to produce high-quality work, I've realised it can also cause me to spend more time on tasks than necessary. To address this, I've been working on prioritising tasks and setting realistic deadlines for myself. This approach has helped me become more efficient, while still maintaining a high standard of work.”
“I'm driven and eager to see results, but I understand that this can sometimes put unnecessary pressure on my colleagues. I've been practising active listening and empathy, which has helped me gain a better understanding of others' perspectives and challenges. I've also been focusing on improving my time management skills, setting realistic expectations.”
“In the past, I tended to take on too much, which sometimes led to burnout and reduced overall productivity. To overcome this, I've made a conscious effort to trust my teammates' abilities and involve them in projects from the start. I've also been working on providing clear instructions and setting expectations, while encouraging open communication for feedback and questions.”
“I've learned that introversion can be an asset in many situations, as it allows me to be a thoughtful listener and a focused individual contributor. To further expand my skill set, I've been working on stepping out of my comfort zone by attending networking events and taking on more public speaking opportunities.”
5. Public Speaking
“One of my weaknesses has been public speaking. I understand the importance of effective communication, especially when presenting ideas or leading a team. To address this, I've been actively seeking opportunities to improve my presentation skills. I enrolled in a public speaking course, which gave me techniques and strategies to overcome nervousness.”
6. Lack of confidence
“I've struggled with a lack of confidence in the past, which may have held me back from fully utilising my abilities. However, I've been actively working on building my self-confidence by embracing challenges and celebrating accomplishments. I've also sought feedback from colleagues and mentors to identify areas for improvement and to recognise my strengths.”
7. Work/life imbalance
“I have often put in long hours and neglected my personal well-being. I've come to realise that a balanced approach is essential for long-term success and productivity. To improve in this area, I've implemented time management techniques and established boundaries between work and personal time. I've also started incorporating regular exercise and mindfulness practices into my routine to manage my stress levels.”
How to improve your self-awareness
One of the important attributes of a successful candidate is self-awareness. This is a quality that is not an essential requirement for many job roles, so it may be worth taking some time to reconnect with yourself before you ponder the deeper questions around strengths and weaknesses. Here are a few activities to pursue if you want to explore who you are.
Reflect on your emotions. Regularly take time to identify and analyse your emotions, how they impact your actions, and the factors that trigger them.
Journalling. Keep a daily journal to record your thoughts, feelings, and experiences. This can help you identify patterns and gain insights into your thoughts and behaviours.
Seek feedback. Ask for honest feedback from friends, family, and colleagues about your strengths, weaknesses, and areas for improvement. Be open to constructive criticism.
Set personal goals. Establish clear, achievable goals for personal growth and self-improvement. Regularly evaluate your progress and adjust your goals as needed.
Practice mindfulness. Engage in mindfulness exercises, such as meditation or deep breathing, to help you focus on the present moment, your thoughts, and your feelings without judgement.
Personality assessments. Take personality tests, such as the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator or the Enneagram, to gain insights into your personality traits, preferences, and behavioural tendencies.
Develop empathy. Practice empathy by actively listening to others, understanding their perspectives, and putting yourself in their shoes. This will help you gain insights into your own emotions and reactions in different situations.
Talking about strengths and weaknesses in an interview is an excellent exercise in self-awareness. It offers the hiring manager some insights into how you will react during the appraisal process and beyond. An employee who is self-aware is someone who understands what levers they need to pull in order to improve performance.
It is a safe bet that these two questions will come your way during an interview.
- Think carefully about your potential answers in advance.
- Choose the types of skills that you wish to share.
- Tell stories that are honest and that will add to your career story.
- Show that you are self-aware enough to know you are a work in progress.