You’ll likely be faced with this type of question at some point during the interview. Often, recruiters use it as an icebreaker before moving on to more detailed questions. During these short answers, many hiring managers look for quick examples of how you self-reflect and signs that you prepared for the interview and are able to professionally communicate.
We all have strengths and opportunities for development. With some targeted answers, you can show the recruiter that you’ve acknowledged your strengths and weaknesses and are actively working on improvement.
Tailor Your Answers to the Job
Rather than rely on your go-to responses, it’s important to tailor them specifically to the job at hand. By doing so, you’ll show the recruiter that you’ve taken the time to explore the position and know how you’ll fit into the team.
Whether you’re meeting with a recruiter or chatting with someone from HR, taking the time to truly consider their requirements and how you relate to them is essential.
Discover the Keywords
The best way to tailor your answer is to examine the keywords in the job description and then use a story that supports how you’re a great match. Consider a project coordinator position that repeatedly lists communication or coordination in the job duties.
Rather than simply stating, “I have great communication skills,” offer your prospective employer a frame of reference. What you consider excellent communication and what the recruiter believes is great communication might differ. You’re also losing an opportunity to expound on the development you’ve actively worked on to improve this skill.
Example strength: Communication
“I would consider communication one of my greatest strengths. During my role as an administrative assistant, I was responsible for ensuring that daily communications were sent to each of the five key departments, facilitating communication as needed to ensure the projects could run smoothly.”
Or, “I am extremely organized, which has helped ensure effective communication. After three years as a shift supervisor, I was able to decrease product waste by 15% when I established a system to communicate with the other shifts regarding our actual usage and needs.”
Offer Strengths Without Sounding Arrogant
Even if it’s not your intention, you can come across as arrogant if you aren’t cautious with your verbiage. A common mistake that job seekers make is not explaining their answers thoroughly. This is often a result of nerves or poor planning.
Two essential tips to ensure you sound confident rather than arrogant:
- Don’t overinflate your successes.
- Avoid speaking poorly about previous coworkers or leaders.
Bad example: “I consider leadership to be my greatest strength. In my past role, there was a lot of toxic hostility due to a lazy manager who played favorites, and our department wasn’t as productive as it could have been. Ultimately, I was able to create a change when I was promoted. Through my fair and equitable leadership, our department showed a vast improvement in output.”
While your leadership may have led to vast improvements in the department outputs, the information about the other leader is unnecessary. It will most likely leave the recruiter wondering if you’re a good team player when you’re not the one in charge.
Acknowledge Your Weaknesses
It can be hard to switch gears and speak about our weaknesses during an interview. We want to put our best foot forward. Sharing our areas of opportunity can seem counterintuitive. However, managers and recruiters recognize that team members actively seeking development are self-aware and often more receptive to feedback.
Be mindful in choosing which weaknesses to offer as examples. Don’t overshare. Saying that you struggle to be on time or spend too much time chatting in the break room isn’t the best way to begin an interview.
Develop Your Hard Skill Set
One area that might be obvious as a weakness would be the technical skill needed for the role. Suppose you’re interviewing for a programmer position and you’re familiar but not proficient in a particular programming language.
Example weakness: Lacking proficiency with [XYZ program]
“I haven’t had the opportunity to become as proficient as I would like with Ruby on Rails. I’ve been studying in my spare time and am focused on becoming an expert in it. Currently, I’m taking an online course with a completion date of next month.”
The same goes with a particular skill set related to proficiency for advancement but isn’t essential for this role.
Example weakness: Lacking data analytics knowledge
“As a copywriter, I haven’t had much experience interacting with data-driven numbers around our content. I spend most of my time in a creative mode. However, I recognize that learning would be beneficial in creating more targeted content. I’m actively working through some Google certifications to improve my knowledge in that area, but I wouldn’t consider myself proficient yet.”
Develop Your Soft Skill Set
More than your strengths, acknowledging your weaknesses shows prospective employers that you can take ownership, accept feedback, and work on development. Be cautious that you’re not simply listing a trait as a weakness that you’re hoping the recruiter perceives as a strength.
For credibility and to avoid appearing arrogant, you’ll need to give an example of how that weakness actually manifested itself negatively or created a more challenging work environment for your team.
Again, you’ll be able to do this by offering a story for context.
Example weakness: Prioritizing
“When I first started my career, I really struggled with prioritizing my tasks. In my first role, I tended to get overwhelmed by my to-do list and sort of jumped from task to task without a clear priority of what should be completed next. It wasn’t very efficient and I found myself racing to meet deadlines several times. My manager helped me fine-tune a task management system that has stuck with me since then. Being able to visualize the steps and the due dates has ensured that I’m prioritizing tasks more efficiently.”
Example weakness: Public speaking
“I’ve always struggled with public speaking and have a hard time articulating my ideas concisely in front of a larger group. I found this to be a hindrance in my last role, where I led daily meetings with a large group of employees and struggled to ensure they had the information they needed. To overcome this, I began volunteering with a local nonprofit organization that supports entrepreneurs. With regularly scheduled presentations, I’m gaining experience and becoming more of an organized and confident speaker.”
Create Authentic Answers
When you’re answering any interview questions, it must come from a place of honesty. Try not to exaggerate either your strengths or weaknesses. Instead, go with what feels most true about yourself.
What is the best way to come up with answers? Begin by thinking back on past experiences where these things might have been revealed. Whether that’s from performance reviews, customer feedback, or coworker’s comments, you can generally find a list of both your strengths and weaknesses. As you approach individual interviews, you’ll be able to tailor your responses to that role.
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