In the work world, your company will likely assess your strengths and weaknesses on a regular basis. If you’re job hunting, the time is quickly approaching when you’ll sit across from an interviewer and be asked to answer these questions for yourself.
To help you prepare for that moment, this article will explore how to answer these two popular interview questions: “What are your strengths?” and “What are your weaknesses?”
We’ll start by discussing your greatest strengths.
How to Structure an A+ Answer
The key to answering the question, “What are your strengths?” is to respond with strengths that prove you’ll be a great fit for the job you’re interviewing for.
To prepare, choose three relevant strengths and support your claims about these strengths using the four A’s:
- Awards: Prizes you have won that emphasize your strengths.
- Accolades: Privileges or special honors you’ve gotten because of your strengths.
- Anecdotes: A story you can tell that demonstrates your strengths in action.
- Acknowledgments: Special recognition you have received for your areas of strength.
Answer this question effectively, and you’ll leave your interviewer with talking points about why you’re the best candidate for the job.
Once the interviewer launches into any variation of the “What are your strengths?” question, outline the three strengths you’ve prepared. Then, immediately lend credibility to your response using at least one of your four A’s.
Any candidate can list a few strengths that relate to the job description. By adding supporting evidence, you’ll stand out.
How Do You Choose the Right Strengths?
You want to choose strengths that:
- Are directly related to the job you’re interviewing for, and
- Demonstrate your ability to settle into the job faster and perform better than other candidates.
Choose strengths that you can illustrate using any (or all) of the four A’s. Take your industry into account and do your research to see what traits or skill areas are essential to success on the job. Base your answer around these key qualifications.
It’s sometimes difficult to determine our own strengths. If you need some extra guidance, upload your resume to Chegg CareerMatch. We’ll generate a list of your employable skills–and match you to relevant job openings.
Sample Answers for “What Are Your Strengths?”
Now we’ll put it all together with some examples of excellent responses.
I’m a really good communicator. Whether it be over the phone, in person, or via a written medium, I can express myself clearly and concisely. I was awarded “Captain Communicator” at my most recent internship. I received several shout-outs from my manager for diffusing difficult situations with my strong communication skills, and I even got an acknowledgment in the company newsletter for just being really good at talking to clients. I think this strength will help me to do well on the job since being a receptionist requires interfacing with individuals from different backgrounds. I’ll be able to make each person feel welcome and understand that their business is valued.
I have a strong work ethic. I’m committed to meeting deadlines and completing all tasks at a high standard. At my previous job, I worked with a client who was on a very tight schedule. Due to circumstances beyond my control, we received some of the information needed to complete the project just one day before the deadline. Instead of missing the deadline or delivering a rushed, poorly done final project, I volunteered to stay late and complete the task. I was regularly recognized for my dedication and my ability to work under pressure. Because of this positive reputation, clients began requesting to work with me specifically. I think my strong work ethic will help me manage multiple projects and keep all clients satisfied as a graphic designer at your agency.
Both of these answers provide a relevant strength, list supporting credentials, and connect the strength to the job in question. Also note the confidence of these responses. Instead of saying, “I’m pretty good at…” or, “I think a strength might be…,” launch directly and confidently into your answer.
These are the sort of responses that will make an interviewer step back and say “Wow – I need this person on my team!”
Common Mistakes in Talking About Strengths
Pitfall #1- Not Supporting Claims with Tangible Facts
If something is truly a strength, then you should be able to demonstrate why it’s a strength.
Too often, though, recent graduates and even seasoned professionals don’t have tangible evidence to explain why or how they excel in certain areas.
If you’re reading this now and you can’t use any of the four A’s to back up your strength claims, pause and brainstorm before moving on.
Pitfall #2- Talking About Achievements Instead of Strengths
Achievements are often evidence of strengths, but not the strengths themselves. Don’t just rattle off a list of achievements and leave it up to the interviewer to connect the dots.
Instead, list the strength first, then state the associated achievement(s) to support your strengths, not as standalone items.
If you’re unsure, examples of strengths include communication, problem-solving, initiative, persistence, and time management.
Pitfall #3- Keeping Strengths Static
Even if you’re good at something, that doesn’t mean you should stop there. What are you doing to make yourself better? How are you trying to build upon your current skill set?
Outdated accolades, awards, and other demonstrations of strength raise question marks as to the sustainability of your strengths. Provide evidence that you continue to improve upon your strengths and raise the bar.
No Experience? No Problem!
It’s true that experience trumps all in the hiring game. But this doesn’t mean that recent graduates automatically lose out.
Instead, it means that you have to find creative ways of linking your off-the-job experience with real-life, on-the-job situations.
Volunteerism and academic experience are great ways to demonstrate relevant skills and experience. The key here, again, is to provide strengths from your volunteer and academic experience that directly relate to the job you’re interviewing for.
For most entry-level positions, you likely can learn to do the job with or without experience. However, interviewers can’t take the risk of hiring you without some demonstrated ability to perform. Structure your limited experience in a manner that makes it easy for them to consider you.
How to Answer If You’re Changing Industries
Use your strengths to impress upon the interviewer that your previous experiences will translate to you doing a good job and being a good fit for this new role.
This signals to the interviewer that you’ve done your research and that you know the value you can bring to the position and to the company.
How to Answer “What Are Your Weaknesses?”
It’s hard enough to talk about your strengths, but most people find it even more challenging to answer the dreaded weakness interview question.
Your response to this question provides insight into your personality and how well you’ll fit at the company and in the position. Interviews can be stressful, so plan your answer to this question in advance.
How to Talk About Your Weaknesses
When answering the weakness interview question, provide a response that shows you have done some introspection. Demonstrate that you’re aware of the areas you need to work on and, most importantly, that you’re taking steps to address and correct your indicated weaknesses.
This is an opportunity to show that you’re proactive in tackling your problem areas. We recommend the following:
Speak briefly on the specific weakness that you have identified. Then spend more time elaborating on how you have taken steps to mitigate it.
Choosing the Right Weakness
When deciding what to say in response to, “What are your weaknesses?” remember that the right weakness:
- Doesn’t diminish you in the eyes of the interviewer.
- Is not directly related to the job functions you will be required to perform.
- Is not a true personal deficiency that you struggle with.
Instead, choose a weakness that you’re actively working on that can stand up to probing. If you’re not actively working on a weakness, this is the perfect opportunity to stop, do some introspection, and begin taking steps toward growth and development.
It’s not pleasant to talk about weaknesses, especially during a job interview. But remember: The interviewer already knows you’re not perfect. If you answer this question well, you can use your weakness to make you an even stronger candidate.
Sample Answers for “What Are Your Weaknesses?”
Let’s look at some strong responses to the “What are your weaknesses?” question.
Answer A (Data analyst position)
“My greatest weakness is that I don’t always express myself, even when I’m feeling strongly about things. I’ve recognized this, though, and it’s something that I’m working actively to change. I’ve joined my local Toastmasters Society and have been actively participating. It’s helping me to feel comfortable saying what’s on my mind and expressing myself to others.”
Answer B (Event coordinator position)
“I occasionally have a hard time asking for help. This sometimes works out, but it can be detrimental when I do need extra support in pulling off a big event or managing challenges beyond my control. Last year, I coordinated an event for one of our top clients. There were many small details and several setbacks along the way, but I was determined to handle it all on my own. The event was a success, but afterwards I realized how easily it could have gone wrong. I took the time to reflect, and I’ve been intentional in reminding myself to ask for help when it’s needed. My top priority is client satisfaction, and sometimes that means getting support, insight, or resources from others.”
Both of these responses outline weaknesses that are not detrimental to the job function. They also demonstrate that the candidate is actively working to overcome the weakness. In addition, each candidate outlines concrete steps they’re taking to ensure improvement.
Anyone can say that they’re working on something without actually doing anything. Show the interviewer tangible facts to back up your responses. Don’t worry about talking too much. If you’re answering the question without straying too far from major points, take your time to explain.
Common Mistakes in Talking About Weaknesses
Pitfall #1-Choosing a Weakness That’s Detrimental to Performing Job Functions
The question did ask for your greatest weakness, and you want to be an honest, upstanding candidate. But don’t do this at the expense of actually getting the job.
While you want to include a true weakness, choose one that cannot be construed as preventing you from effectively performing the job you’re interviewing for.
Here’s an obvious example:
If you’re interviewing for the post of receptionist, don’t say your weakness is a fear of talking to new people!
Pitfall #2- Disguising a Strength as a Weakness
Many candidates attempt to avoid this question by disguising a strength as a weakness. They may provide answers like, “I’m sometimes too helpful,” or, “I can be too much of a perfectionist.”
Unfortunately, these answers aren’t fooling anyone. Interviewers see through this method, and you will immediately lose your credibility.
We all have weaknesses. Instead of attempting to dodge the question, discuss a weakness that won’t impair your ability to perform the job in question.
Examples of weaknesses (if they aren’t related to the job) include patience, organization, public speaking, being overly sensitive, delegating tasks, or specific programs. (It’s easy to take an online course and get better at a program.)
Pitfall #3- Passing Yourself Off as Perfect
Perhaps the most detrimental of all mistakes that candidates can make is to say anything along the lines of, “I don’t really have any weaknesses,” or “I can’t think of any weaknesses right now.”
To the interviewer, this indicates that you lack self-awareness. Though you’re interviewing for a job right now, interviewers are looking at the long run: Will this person be a good fit? Will this person actually stay with the organization?
Most likely, interviewers will see the inability to provide a carefully considered weakness as a bad sign.
How to Answer If You Have No Work Experience
Pinpoint specific things you’ve noticed about yourself in academic or volunteer settings that may need improvement or, even better, areas you’ve actually made steps to address.
I find that I don’t know enough about current events, so I’ve subscribed to newsletters and YouTube channels that focus on these issues, and I also read relevant material online daily to help keep me up to date.
Demonstrate to the interviewer that you’re a self-aware individual who is looking to grow and improve.
How to Answer if You’re Changing Industries
If you’re interviewing for a job outside of your current field, don’t despair. Use weaknesses that demonstrate insight into your new industry. Show off all the research you’ve undoubtedly done.
If you’re an HR practitioner moving into marketing, you can choose a weakness like your creative writing skills needing improvement, then mention what you’ve been doing to address this.
The fine line here is that creative writing is not so critical a skill for marketing that it would prevent you from getting the position. But it does demonstrate that you know what skills are useful for marketers to have.
So, what are your greatest strengths and weaknesses? How can they set you apart from the competition? Don’t wait until you’re in a room full of interviewers to think it through!
Check out our other “How to Answer” interview question articles: