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Imagine yourself in a job interview.
You are seated right there in front of the interview panel and everything so far is going well. All signs point to you getting the job and you are excited about it. You are doing all you can to maintain the momentum and not blow it in the last minute.
Then someone on the panel drops the bombshell.
“Tell us about some of your strengths and weaknesses”
This is one part of the interview that nobody likes – except for the HR professionals and the hiring managers who can’t seem to let the chance pass.
The good news is that just like it is with the other uncomfortable interview questions like “Where do you see yourself in 5 years?” or “Tell us about yourself”, you can prepare for this question and avoid messing all the progress that you have made so far in the interview.
In fact, you can turn it to be an advantage for you in the interview because it is a chance to show off to your potential employers and show them that you really stand out.
The reason why this question is dreaded by many people is the fact that despite knowing that it will be thrown at you, it always comes off as a trick question. So most people are left confused, not knowing what to say or do.
When it comes to strengths, on one side, you could brag so much and end up sounding arrogant, and on the other side you could take the path of modesty and end up unattractive because you didn’t present your incredible skills and achievements.
The weaknesses are also not any easy. You could try a lot of honesty and find that you have shot yourself on the foot, or you could hold back and lose credibility in their eyes.
Either way, it doesn’t end up well for you.
So which way should you take?
Worry not, you are on the right page. We will look at ways you can use to turn this question to your advantage and leave the interviewers feeling like you are the right guy for the job.
When you are asked this question, there are things you can say and move directly from a candidate worth considering to one of the people to receive regret mail. Here are some common pitfalls that you should steer clear from:
Don’t give a list of qualities taken from the job requirements section.
Many interviewees give an answer close to this: “I’m an extremely detail-oriented, analytical, confident, efficient and very responsible in my duties”.
Although such an answer might sound like exactly what they want to hear, they probably won’t believe you.
Anyone can come up with a bunch of words boasting about how qualified they are for the position. The interviewer needs to know that you really mean what you say.
Don’t give an irrelevant answer.
Although the question is about your strengths, what the interviewer really wants to know is if you are a good fit.
So telling them how good you are in golf or opening beer bottles in parties won’t do you any good. Your answer should be honest and it should show that you understand the requirements of the position you are after.
Don’t be too aggressive.
You could have a track record that clearly shows that your skills are above average in your industry, but if you present it in an overly aggressive manner, you will come off as a dictator and that won’t work for you.
Avoid the unrealistic strengths.
Sometimes candidates will give answers that are too good to be true.
Saying something like “I’m a focused individual who can do anything to get the job done. I’m so excited for the job that I won’t mind working 7 days a week just to prove my worth. I’m also very good with timelines hence I will never get to work late.” Your interviewer will see right through the answer.
Instead of seeing passion, enthusiasm and determination to get the job done, your interviewers will see desperation and dishonesty, and that will make them doubt everything you have said in the interview.
Don’t stuff your answer with strengths.
Sometimes you will be given a number of strengths to talk about e.g. “Give us two strengths that will help you in this position” or sometimes you will get a general question and be left to decide how many strengths to give.
Either way, your answer should not give more than three qualities that you consider useful in the position. If you have been given a number, stick to it. If not, give two or three.
Avoid strengths that are weaknesses.
Sometimes in a bid to impress the panel, candidates could say something like: “I’m a total workaholic. I don’t even have a social life anymore. When I’m working on a project, I forget about everything else until the project is done.”
Although it may be intended to please, it really is a weakness. You are telling them that you have problems prioritizing things in your life. Work is important, but having a good balance is more desirable.
Avoid answers that show your lack of confidence in yourself.
When talking about your strengths, you have the permission to brag a little. It will help you to show that you have confidence in your product.
In an interview you are the product so if you are timid and unsure about your ability to deliver, you will only be giving them reasons why they should not hire you.
Don’t avoid the question.
As much as you hate the question, avoiding it won’t earn you points. Saying something like this won’t help: “I could give you a long list of strengths that make me a good fit for the job and bore you with details of how they helped me in my previous jobs. Instead, let me show you. Give me the job and you will see my strengths for yourself in person.”
Don’t be too modest.
Some people have a problem with self-promotion so they end up being too modest in their answers. Modesty is good, because you won’t come off as arrogant and proud, but too much of it could mean that you don’t get to talk about some of your great achievements. So feel free to blow your trumpet a little. That’s what they are looking for when they ask about your strengths.
Now that we have addressed the pitfalls that you should avoid, let’s look at the things that you should do.
Here are some tips that will help you give an answer that will earn you points and give your interviewers a reason to vouch for you.
Now let’s move to the weaknesses.
Talking about weaknesses is a very tricky thing in a job interview. Prepare adequately for it by avoiding these pitfalls:
Yes, you do have a weakness.
Although many people will agree that this is an innocuous question, avoiding it with something like “I can’t think of any relevant weaknesses” or “I’m a positive person so I prefer to focus more on my strengths” won’t help you. Everybody has at least one weakness so be sure to think carefully about what you are going to say.
There are weaknesses that every interviewer hears several times in almost every interview.
Stay away from these. Saying that you are a perfectionist or workaholic will not help you to stand out from the other candidates, and standing out (in a good way) is your main agenda in any interview.
By all means, do not lie.
As much as there are traits that are desirable in the position you are seeking, lying to appear like the perfect candidate will not help you.
The minute the interviewers think that you are being dishonest, you will lose all credibility and they will have a hard time believing anything else you have said in the interview.
Avoid weaknesses that paint you in bad light.
For example, don’t say something like “I am very outspoken and sometimes I feel like I share a lot – sometimes more than I should share.”
It may be honest, but is also raises a red flag. The interviewer will be left wondering if you can be trusted with safeguarding the company’s secrets.
You have not come for a therapy session so don’t just throw a list of weaknesses to your interviewers.
Your goal is to show that you are qualified so share a story that shows that you know about the weakness, and more importantly, that you are working on it.
Don’t place blame on anyone.
It’s easy to blame your childhood, teachers, an old boss, siblings or anyone else for your weaknesses. The interviewers aren’t concerned about the source of your weakness. Instead, they want to know that it won’t affect your performance.
Sometimes the interviewer will ask you directly for your weakness but other times, you will be asked in a different style. Let’s take a look at some of them
Now that we know what not to do, let’s dive in and look at how to answer this question.
A smart tip when you are asked about your strengths and weaknesses in one question is to start with your weaknesses. This means that you will have to finish with your strengths, hence the interviewers will be likely to focus more on the strengths when asking follow up questions.
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