You’re in an interview. It’s going well—you aced the small talk, and you have solid, thoughtful answers to all of their questions about your resume. Now things start to get a little more abstract in the questions: Tell me more about yourself. And then there’s the one that can feel like a friendly, professional trap: What would you say your biggest strength is? Your biggest weakness?
Strengths tend to be a little easier; you probably already know what you do well, and can sing your own praises on that one. But weaknesses can be trickier—you want to keep making a good impression no matter what, and weaknesses are (quite literally) not your best moments. Here’s how to approach the good and the bad together in an interview.
No matter what you answer, it’s important to give it a positive spin. If your strength is that you’re a good leader, you don’t need to suggest that you’re always right or tend to overpower people around you. Emphasize your skills with working on a team while steering things in a productive direction.
For example: I really enjoy the politics of making sure everyone is working together to get a project done. I love putting together a project plan and setting up touchpoints to make sure we’re all doing our part.
For weaknesses, positivity can be more of a challenge. That doesn’t mean you should go with something glib, or obviously fake (like “My biggest weakness is that I work too hard,” or “My biggest weakness is chocolate! *wink*”). Instead, phrase it as something you continually work on or are striving toward.
For example: I tend to have tunnel vision when it comes to important projects, so I make it a point to reach out to others to make sure we’re all on the same page. Or I try to do everything at once, so I’ve learned how to negotiate and prioritize to make sure that I’m working on the right things at the right time, and not getting overwhelmed.
Most interviewers have pretty good baloney detectors. If you’re exaggerating strengths that aren’t backed up by your resume, your interview, or your references, it won’t be long before someone figures out your ruse. Your strengths should be realistic and should align with the narrative you’re trying to tell in your resume.
For example: One of my best assets has always been my organizational eye. I can come into a chaotic situation and am never happier than when I can help set up a system that makes everything clear and organized.
For weaknesses, honesty is especially key. They’re not asking you this question because they’re going to take your answer as ultimate truth—they’re asking it because they want to know how you view yourself and how you express that. This is not a place to air your worst faults, but it’s a chance to show an area that you know is a challenge for you that you want to improve.
For example: My biggest weakness is that I sometimes work too fast, without asking necessary questions to make sure I’m aligning with the ultimate goal. That’s something I learned the hard way in my first job out of school. It has taught me that I need to be honest about any questions or points of confusion I may have before I get started. It’s made me a better listener and asker.
Tell a story
Again, because most of the point of this question is how you answer it, not necessarily the words you say, you don’t want to give an answer that’s too short … or one that rambles on and on. Think of it as a short story. Tell them your strength (or weakness), add a brief example from your career to support it, and summarize with a sentence or two explaining how it aligns with the specific job you want. This is where a little pre-research can come in handy: knowing the job description and a bit about the company culture can help you tailor that last bit.
And whatever story you’re telling, make sure to get (and stick) to the point fairly quickly.
And finally: don’t overthink it
The good news is that this is a question you can easily prepare in advance. Before the interview, come up with a list of three strengths and three weaknesses, and know them cold. That way, they’ll feel more organic when they come up in conversation, and you’ll be able to gauge which one you can use at the time. For example, if the interviewer seems like a stickler for order and organization, that’s the theme you’d pick for your strengths.
Your strengths and your weaknesses are both already part of you. It’s just a matter of finding the right story to tell and becoming comfortable in both singing your own praises and speaking frankly about where you need to grow professionally.
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