Knowing key strengths and weaknesses before going into a job interview can help prepare for this common interview question. It’s a popular question, “What are your strengths and weaknesses?” Preparing both strengths and weaknesses can ensure that the hiring manager gets impressed with the answer. And feels compelled to ask further qualifying questions in the interview.
The prospective employer likes to know the answer to this question as it helps them assess the candidate’s potential core competencies within the organization. Think of this as understanding personality traits and character strengths or character weaknesses. When being open about this, the employer can better position that employee within the company and ensure success.
It’s more than just an interview question
Charleen Maher, Ph.D., describes that competencies are vital for employers. Because “competencies have long been used as a framework to help focus employees’ behavior on things that matter most to an organization. And help drive success. They can provide a common way to harmonize, select, and develop talent. The benefits are clear for employees and managers, and ultimately, the organization.” This is precisely the reason for asking this question.
Tip: Keep seeing the phrase “core competencies?” Curious about what a core competency is? A core competency is a concept in management theory introduced by C. K. Prahalad and Gary Hamel. It’s defined as “a harmonized combination of multiple resources and skills that distinguish a firm in the marketplace.” And therefore, it is the foundation of a companies’ competitiveness.
And as the interviewer asks this interview question among the others. They are continuing to determine what the candidate’s true greatest strength and greatest weaknesses are. Don’t be fooled by the interviewer simply asking this question and moving on. They will be assessing the candidate’s character and abilities throughout the interview.
The interviewer might decide to ask one of the following interview questions:
- What are your strengths and weaknesses?
- How would you describe your strengths and weaknesses.
When you hear these questions, you’ll know it’s time to present strengths or weaknesses using the following method.
How to Answer “What Are Your Strengths and Weaknesses?”
When answering this common interview question, always share a story. Don’t simply list a personal strength or the biggest weakness. Think through a story that can be shared using a work situation. A situation that presents one of the strengths or weaknesses you’ve decided suits your personality type.
When presenting a weakness, always allude to the weakness and then end the answer with how you might change this weakness for the future. A way that you’ve determined you’re going to change to overcome that weakness. Alternatively, for strengths, how the employee will continue to embrace that strength and develop those skills is important to reference in the answer.
What a great answer looks like
Here are sample answers for both:
“I’d like to think that one of my greatest strengths is active listening. There have been multiple occasions where teams I’ve been part of have pulled me aside. And told me how they appreciate feeling heard during stressful parts of the project. And I feel strongly that active listening is the first step in showing management skills or communication skills. That can lead to great business outcomes.”
“One weakness that I know I have is a lack of patience. It comes from wanting to move quickly, achieve the business goals, and continue growing. Like my colleagues, this part of my personality can feel uncomfortable for many people around me. And I have to remind myself that making others feel uncomfortable, even when I have great intentions, will not lead to success. I’ve created ways to adjust my patience in real-time.”
Why these answers work
In both circumstances and answers, we have alluded to a skill or soft skills. Active listening, management, communication, and patience. All of these are great portable skills or transferable skills that the interviewer will appreciate bringing up.
To go one step further in answering this interview question, present a task and situation to the interviewer. In the form of a business opportunity. And then mention which professional traits (both good and bad) were used to create the outcome (again, both good and bad).
Be prepared for both interview questions to be asked back-to-back. For example, when the hiring manager asks about the “biggest strength,” they often follow up with the interview question asking about the “biggest weakness.” Be prepared to coordinate the answers. The best way to do this is to consider the strength and weaknesses the same. For example, having patience. Patience is a wonderful strength. But patience can be a great weakness as well.
Weaknesses as a strength
Here is an example answer where the weakness and strength are the same:
Sample answer: A big weakness of mine is having patience. Patience can be a great strength; the willingness to listen to others and provide ample time for success to be nurtured. But without properly managing patience, deadlines can be missed. Or communication can get misinterpreted. Patience has to get properly managed.
Sample answer: My greatest strength is the inverse of my weakness: patience. Providing others ample opportunity to develop on their timeline is a skill that managers often develop. I believe patience is a strength that colleagues appreciate. It’s not a fun feeling to be rushed by a colleague. Or to make another colleague feel as though they are failing you. Patience has to get properly managed.
If the interviewer asks, “What is your greatest strength and weakness?” it’s okay to use different answers for the strength and the weakness. Be sure to pick a relevant strength and a relevant weakness and answer them back-to-back.
List of Strengths
- Direction Taking Abilities
- Direction Giving Abilities
- Quantitative Research Abilities
- Qualitative Research Abilities
- Initiative Taking Abilities
- Risk Taking Ability
- Active Listening Abilities
- Influence Abilities
- Planning Abilities
- Strategic Planning Abilities
- Analytical Problem Solving Abilities
Example Answers Using Strengths
Below are example answers when the hiring manager asks about strengths.
Below is a list of strengths and sample answers to use when answering this job interview question. Be sure to identify a strength that fits each ability or qualification expressed through the resume and the cover letter. The answer should always be honest, that’s fitting to the candidate.
1. I’m able to manage my own time effectively
Sample answer: “I think a great strength of mine can manage my own time effectively. I appreciate that I don’t have to rely on my manager to prioritize my work, and I’m able to meet weekly deadlines and goals.”
2. I’m always willing to learn new things
Sample answer: “In my previous job, I was put into a position where I had to learn quickly. Instead of falling to the side because of the pressure, I decided to embrace the challenge. Learning new things has since become fun for me. And I have a process for embarking on new responsibilities at work.”
3. I’m objective about my work and use quantitative insights to make decisions
Sample answer: “I think it’s essential to look at our work with an objective and open-minded lens. This is really helpful when being a team player as well as driving effective work forward for customers. I feel this is a strong core strength of mine.”
4. I’m adaptable to new work environments and situations
Sample answer: “In my previous job, the company’s management and structure were changing rapidly. I learned that changing environments doesn’t mean job insecurity. And this remembrance of an idea kept me motivated and “heads down” on my work. I feel like this is a great strength now.”
5. I’m able to be creative and quantitative at the same time
Sample answer: “I like to think I’m a “right-brain” and “left-brain” thinker. This means that I’m capable of being creative and using quantitative insights to drive home my work. I was able to do this by looking at sales engineering problems and use creative thinking to help address them.”
6. I’m able to practice active listening skills for my teammates
Sample answer: “I appreciate the skill of active listening. Not simply listening to someone but going through understanding what that person is communicating and why. This is not only a skill but a strength that can apply to any specific job or situation in the workplace. Listening is key.”
7. I’m capable of taking responsibility when I make a mistake
Sample answer: “Part of ownership and responsibility is the ability to admit when a mistake was made. This is a strength, in my opinion. It builds character and confidence with the team when I’m able to admit when I did something wrong and commit to making a change.”
8. I’m capable of making decisions under pressure
Sample answer: “I don’t let time or deadlines impact my ability to make good decisions. This took me time to develop a “thick skin” for not being impacted by deadlines. But this is a quality of mine that I’m pleased about, and it’s proven to be valuable to each one of my employers.”
9. I’m motivated by challenges and problems
Sample answer: “When I hear about a new challenge or problem. Whether it’s for the company or the customer, I get motivated by this. I love solving problems. That’s what drives me to my work every day. The idea of overcoming a challenge. When I hear a challenge, I get excited, not daunted.”
10. I’m capable of being diplomatic in the workplace
Sample answer: “Being able to be objective and not being overpowering with my opinions is a great strength. This comes down to how communication is made, knowing how to ask for help properly, and other communication techniques. I consider this being diplomatic, and I believe it’s a strength of mine.”
11. I’m capable of making work fun and challenges fun
Sample answer: “Work should be fun. Happy people often do better work, see things more clearly, and generally stay with the company longer. I want to have fun while accomplishing work. Not just have fun in a social setting. I like to bring that with me wherever I go.”
12. I can bring logical thinking to the team
Sample answer: “I tend to think about things on a fundamental level. Distill them down to simplistic notions and ideas to better make decisions. When things seem obvious, I feel like it’s the best route to go after that. Logical thinking is a strength, and I can bring it with me to the team.”
13. I can bring critical-thinking to the team
Sample answer: “I’m able to think about all the components of a problem. And distill a solution down into a single execution that has minimal risk. To me, this is an example of critical thinking. And it’s something I can inherently teach my teammates to do by getting exposed to it.”
14. I have strong communication skills
Sample answer: “Everyone will say they have strong communication skills. But I believe my strength is that I understand how each person needs to be communicated to. Everyone is different. Everyone has various needs. Understanding those needs and then addressing them through communication is what I consider to be advanced communication skills. This is a strength of mine.”
List of Weaknesses
- Inability to Delegate
- Direction Taking Abilities
- Active Listening Abilities
- Feedback Taking Abilities
- Presentation Abilities
- Interpersonal Skills
- Comprehension Abilities
- Teamwork Abilities
- Criticism Giving Abilities
- Feedback Giving Abilities
- Having a Hard Time Saying “No”
Example Answers Using Weaknesses
1. I can be too detail-oriented.
Sample answer: “I can find myself getting too heavily involved in the details of a project. While this is an indicator of my passion for the project. I can spend too much time focusing on the minor details and forget about the holistic needs of the team.”
2. I can care a little too much about our customers.
Sample answer: “At my previous job, I found myself using too much empathy. In certain circumstances, like in a nursing home, you have to distribute empathy equally. I found it difficult not to connect with a few patients emotionally.”
3. I have a hard time saying “no.”
Sample answer: “Saying ‘no’ is really difficult for me. I like to make sure that our customers and team members are happy. Though, I recognize that if I say ‘Yes’ all the time, I might not follow through with my promise. And this lets my team or customers down even more.”
4. I have a hard time letting go of a project.
Sample answer: “When I’ve spent a healthy amount of time and effort on a project, I have a hard time letting others get involved. At my previous job, there was a project I spent 12-months on. And when another team member came to take it over, I found it difficult not to check in on the project. And potentially micromanage periodically.”
5. I sometimes lack confidence.
Sample answer: “When others ask my opinion, I struggle to present my thoughts and opinions. Even though I feel they are on target with what the company needs or the project needs. This is me not being able to ‘speak up’ for myself.”
6. It cannot be easy to maintain a healthy work/life balance.
Sample answer: “When I get really passionate about a project, I can spend a little too much time on it. And find myself getting a little burnt out. I need to remember that spending time away from a project is healthy.”
7. I can find adaptability to be too comfortable.
Sample answer: “I get concerned about the fact that I’m too comfortable with adaptability. Changing environments and the changing of hands. I want to think that stability is a good thing at times and is something I should be comfortable with as well.”
8. I often find myself working too many hours and getting burnt out.
Sample answer: “Some days, I can’t put my work down. And I forget that I’m going to have to come back to work the next day. I might work late into the night and get incredibly passionate about a problem. I have to remember to pace myself and think clearly.”
9. I have a hard time shifting from one project to another.
Sample answer: “If I’m particularly passionate about one project, I can find it hard to shift into another project. Not because I won’t have a passion for it, but because I feel like I wasn’t able to complete the previous project fully.”
10. I can be overly helpful to others.
Sample answer: “I love helping others. But this can be a fault sometimes. Depending on the personality type, someone might see ‘help’ as micromanaging or getting involved in their work. I really need to be cautious of how I help others and what methods I used to do that.”
11. I can have a difficult time not seeing the results I expected.
Sample answer: “When I am particularly passionate about a project. And I’m aiming to achieve results. I get disappointed when I don’t see the results I was expecting. I need to remember that the challenge is part of the fun. And that we have plenty of chances to improve.”
12. I have a difficult time with public speaking.
Sample answer: “Public speaking is something I’m not great at. It’s simply because I haven’t spent a lot of time doing it. This is something that I’d like to try more. And see if I can bring some value to a brand or company through my expertise and passions.”
13. I can get hyper-focused on a problem and forget about time management.
Sample answer: “When I get hyper-focused on a problem, I can forget about the team’s needs that week. And that’s an issue. I try to remind myself that there are many problems to solve, not just one. And to diversify my efforts evenly. This is something I need to work on.”
14. I can feel too much drive to be creative and forget about quantitative insights.
Sample answer: “I love being creative. That feeling of having the spark of imagination and something coming to life. Though, I need to remember that quantitative insights are critical in decision-making for a business. And being creative, with quantitative insights, is the key to success.”
15. I can feel too drawn to numbers, like revenue, and forget about creativity.
Sample answer: “I love numbers. More importantly, I love growth. But growth is not always a great thing. For example, being hyper-focused on numbers can lead to team members being burnt out or feeling a lack of creative drive. I need to remember to balance creativity with quantitative goals.”
16. I have trouble taking constructive criticism.
Sample answer: “When I’m particularly passionate about a problem, I can struggle with taking constructive criticism. Though, I’ve come to realize that all criticism is good and should be evaluated properly. It is that first ‘punch’ of the feedback that I struggle with. After that, I’m okay.”
17. I struggle with perfectionism.
Sample answer: “I appreciate the details. It is something that I love and dislike about myself. When it comes to my work, I’ve always felt the need to pay respect to the process. And focus on every minor detail that embodies my work. This can result in a lot of unnecessary time spent and perfectionism that doesn’t embody collaboration. I need to strike a balance between perfectionism and ‘good enough’ for the team or customer.”
Determining Your Own Strength and Weakness
There are various methods for determining which strengths and weaknesses best suit ourselves. The first is to speak with a previous colleague. And ask them what employee strengths they noticed while working together. This could be a former supervisor or manager. They can inform the candidate what it was like to be on the job with them, both good and bad. Ask someone from a recent previous place of employment, as sometimes asking a professional that wasn’t recently worked with can be challenging. It can be difficult for the colleague to remember a specific example of working together to be useful.
Another way to uncover key strengths and a personal weakness is to take a personality test. These personality tests can help to identify ways to improve in the workplace. The Caliper Assessment test is the best one to take. These tests are instrumental in identifying strengths and useful weaknesses.
Jonathan Michael provides a nice framework for being able to identify strengths and weaknesses. Be sure to use this framework in professional settings only.
To help you think about what to include as strengths and weaknesses, try asking yourself questions like:
- What am I good at?
- And what have others complimented me about?
- What have others had to help me with on more than one occasion?
- Which projects and tasks seem to drain my energy?
- Which projects have I spent hours on without getting tired?
- What are my hobbies, and why do I like doing them?
Interview Answer Tips
When asked about key strengths, don’t simply answer with something vague, like “I’m a hard worker.” Or “I’m a good team player.” Or “I’m a good fit for the role.” These are not very useful for the interviewer.
- Have your strengths answer be a strength’s statement. Use powerful keywords like creative, self-starter, motivated, decisive, resourceful, persistent, organized, productive, and more. Then reference achievements that you were able to accomplish using your strengths. It would be best if you used the term “And, as a result” when connecting your achievement with your strength.
- It’s unnecessary to include a technical skill or hard skill in the answer unless interviewing for an IT position or Software Engineering role. These roles require advanced computer skills, and speaking to a hard skill like coding ability would be essential.
- It’s okay to include a personal quality in the answer. But remember to focus on how it connects to professional life. For example, speaking about social skills is great. But it’s only useful if interviewing for a sales position where interpersonal skills are a key indicator of job performance.
Examples of Poor Answers
Poor answers to this interview question are ones that sound generic, lack personality, and avoid providing invaluable competency information to the hiring manager.
Sample poor answer: I played LaCrox throughout college, and my coach was always telling me that I needed to hustle more. I pushed back on him and told him that I was doing just fine. If I had to describe a weakness of mine, it would be challenging people. I can find myself challenging others and then not working as a team. Friends, family, and previous colleagues have reported to me that they feel negative about this trait in myself.
Sample poor answer: One of my strengths is being the team’s best player. I struggle with being able to find others who can meet me on my level. I’m hoping that this company has a higher caliber of talent available for me to work with. Because, honestly, I’ve had a hard time finding executors who can match me when it comes to our capabilities. What does the team look like, and how are they going to keep up with my progress?
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