Interview Question: “What Are Your Strengths and Weaknesses?"September 12, 2019
At some point during the interview process, you may be asked to describe your personal strengths and weaknesses. Many job candidates are unsure how to approach this question. However, by establishing the appropriate context, you can give hiring managers an honest, thoughtful answer that highlights both your self-awareness and professionalism.
Preparing ahead of time for this question is a valuable use of your time before the interview. Even if you aren’t asked about your strengths and weaknesses specifically, scripting your response to this common question will give you a candid yet compelling description of what you bring to the job and how you wish to grow in the future. With these talking points at the ready, you’ll be able to confidently answer many popular interview questions.
In this article, you’ll find example answers, example strengths and weaknesses and tips on how to prepare your response.
“What Are Your Greatest Weaknesses?” Example Answers
You may be asked about your strengths and weaknesses in one question, or you may be asked about them in two separate questions. In the event that you are asked about strengths and weaknesses at the same time, discuss your weakness first so that you can end on a positive note.
When addressing your weaknesses, draw upon examples relating to either skills, habits or personality traits. You may want to choose which to focus on depending on the type of job you’re interviewing for. For example, discussing a skill or habit may be highly relevant for a technical position. For a sales or customer service role, your interviewer may be more interested in hearing about your personality traits. Neither choice is strictly right or wrong. Re-read the job description for clues on what may matter most for this specific role.
The formula for your answer is easy to follow: First, state your weakness. Second, add additional context and a specific example or story of how this trait has emerged in your professional life. That context will give potential employers insight into your level of self-awareness and commitment to professional growth. In the example answers below, you’ll see the weakness followed by context sentences in italics:
Example 1: “I can be too critical of myself. A pattern I’ve noticed throughout my career is that I often feel I could have done more, even if objectively, I’ve done well. Earlier in my career, this led to burnout and negative self-talk. One solution I’ve implemented over the last three years is to actively pause and celebrate my achievements. Not only has this helped my own self-esteem, it’s helped me genuinely appreciate and recognise my team and other support systems.”
Example 2: “I’m naturally shy. From high school and into my early professional interactions, it prevented me from speaking up. After being a part of a workgroup that didn’t meet our strategic goals two quarters in a row, I knew I owed it to my team and myself to confidently share my ideas. I joined an improvisational acting class—it’s fun and has really helped me overcome my shyness. I learned practical skills around leading discussions and sharing diverse perspectives. Now, in group settings, I always start conversations with the quieter team members. I know exactly how they feel, and people can be amazing once they start talking.”
Example 3: “I default to believing that I can solve any problem on my own. This works well in some situations, but in many cases, I need the help of others to overcome factors beyond my control. In one instance last year, I was organising a client event that had a lot of different components. It wasn’t until after the event that I realised how narrowly I had pulled it off. I was trying to manage everything from the strategic plan down to the tiniest details, like table settings. I did a lot of self-reflection afterward. Since then, I’ve been training myself to take a step back before diving into problem-solving mode and I identify people or groups that can be resources to me.”
Skills and Habits
Example 4: “I’m not familiar with the latest version of [insert name of non-critical software]. Instead, I’ve focused on [insert name of preferred software] because user-centric design has become a strong passion of mine. In my last few jobs, that’s where I’ve spent time learning and growing.”
Example 5: “I’ve always been a procrastinator. I used to think it wasn’t such a bad habit because I was only creating stress for myself. But when I was working for XYZ Company several years ago, I was on a group project where I could see how my putting things off to the last minute created stress for everyone else. It was a wake-up call. I started creating daily schedules that held me accountable to my team, and I broke the habit. It was hard at first, but using the Agile process was a real breakthrough in my workflow and mindset.”
Example 6: “I tend to be a perfectionist and can linger on the details of a project which can threaten deadlines. Early on in my career, when I worked for ABC Inc., that’s exactly what happened. I was labouring over the details and in turn, caused my manager to be stressed when I almost missed the deadline on my deliverables. I learned the hard way back then, but I did learn. Today I’m always aware of how what I’m doing affects my team and management. I’ve learned how to find the balance between perfect and very good and being timely."
Example 7: “Maths wasn’t my strongest subject in school. To be honest, as a student, I didn’t understand how it would be applicable in my adult life. Within a few years of being in the working world, though, I realised that I wanted to take my career in a more analytical direction. At first, I wasn’t sure where to begin, but I found some free online courses that refreshed the important basics for me. In my most recent job, this new foundation has enabled me to do my own goal setting and tracking. Actually, getting over the maths anxiety I had when I was younger has been incredibly empowering.”
Of course, you’ll need to personalise the above examples according to your personal weaknesses and the ways that you’re adapting and improving yourself.
Example List of Weaknesses
Because we all have weaknesses but rarely want to admit to them, it’s best to begin with a truthful answer and build your script from there. Select an answer that a hiring manager would not consider to be essential qualities or skills for the position as well as qualities that you are actively improving, such as:
- Self-critical or sensitive
- Perfectionism (Note: this can be a strength in many roles, so be sure you have an example of how perfectionism can be a problem to demonstrate that you’ve thought deeply about this trait)
- Shy or not adept at public speaking
- Competitive (Note: Similarly to perfectionism, this can be a strength)
- Limited experience in a non-essential skill (especially if obvious on your resume)
- Not skilled at delegating tasks
- Take on too much responsibility
- Not detail-oriented or too detail-oriented
- Not comfortable taking risks
- Too focused or lacking of focus
“What Are Your Greatest Strengths?” Example Answers
It’s surprisingly difficult for many people to talk about their strengths during an interview. It’s challenging to balance your humility with the need to project confidence. As with weaknesses, you can generally choose between skills, habits and personality traits. Use the job description as your guide as you select your strengths. Follow the same formula of strength plus context and story. When providing context for your strengths, address the specific qualities that qualify you for the job and distinguish you as a candidate. Here are some examples:
Example 1: “I’ve always been a natural leader. With over ten years of experience in finance and sales, I’ve exceeded my KPIs every quarter and have been promoted twice in the last five years. I look back at those successes and know that I wouldn’t have reached them if I hadn’t built and led teams composed of highly skilled and diverse individuals. I’m proud of my ability to get cross-functional groups working efficiently together. I’ve regularly honed my management skills through 360 reviews and candid discussion sessions with my team, and I know continuing to build my leadership skills is something I want from my next role.”
Example 2: “I’m very collaborative and have always preferred to work in groups. In the project teams I’ve directed, members work with a variety of people and are motivated by diverse creative tasks. Since I began managing my current team, I’ve increased productivity by 15 per cent and retention by 25 per cent over three years.”
Example 3: “I’m an empathetic person who’s skilled at relating to people and making them feel heard. In one memorable instance from earlier this year, I was on a support call with a customer whose contract we had terminated. Reinstating the service agreement would have increased her rates dramatically. She was understandably upset and felt trapped because she couldn’t be without car insurance for her and her family. It became clear very quickly that we couldn’t meet her needs but I wanted her to walk away with a favourable impression of the service we had provided. I talked her through some of her other options, even letting her know of other providers who might be able to offer her a lower rate so she could avoid a lapse in coverage. In the feedback survey from that interaction, she specifically mentioned that she would still be recommending our services to others. In my career in customer support, I’ve had many interactions like this—they are complex but end with the customer still feeling positive.”
Skills and Habits
Example 4: “I’m obsessed with the newest version of [insert name of new software]. I started pushing the boundaries of what it could do as soon as it was released. I’m excited about applying my passion and abilities to this position and utilising the best features of this program for your company.”
Example 5: “I’m thorough and tenacious. When I’m on a project, I keep track of the details. Because I have a comprehensive understanding of the components, I can spot the essentials and rigorously advocate for them to meet deadlines. I regularly see this reflected in my peer and management feedback.”
Example 6: “I never miss a deadline. I’m highly organised, and I’ve applied my natural skill for organising people and projects to all aspects of my work. After seven years of working as a project manager, I’ve had only one delayed product launch—we were one week delayed. From that experience, which took place three years ago, I learned a crucial lesson about trade-offs. I spent time addressing a crucial design need and that pushed everything else back. I wouldn’t trade the lessons I learned from that experience for anything—being sure to communicate to stakeholders about upcoming roadblocks is chief among them.”
Example 7: “I have extremely strong writing skills. I’ve worked as a copywriter for eight years in several industries, and am committed to both creative excellence and performance metrics when it comes to my work. I’ve had to learn how to find the perfect balance between creativity and analytics, and it’s a personal passion of mine to demonstrate what good writing can achieve for the bottom line—in advertising or otherwise.”
As with the weaknesses examples, you’ll need to adjust your strength choices and responses according to your personal experience. When you write your script, keep in mind a few additional tips:
- Don’t list multiple, vague strengths. Stay focused on one or two key qualities that relate directly to the role and support them with specific, relevant examples.
- Don’t make jokes.
- Don’t be arrogant, inflate your strengths or lie about your abilities.
- However, don’t be too humble or underestimate yourself.
- Be honest.
Example List of Strengths
If you aren’t sure about your strengths, ask some of your friends or colleagues what they see as your best qualities. Refer to any written feedback you’ve received in the past from peers or managers. Here are some example strengths to get you started:
- Flexible or versatile
- Enthusiastic, passionate or driven
- Disciplined or focused
- Committed or dedicated
- Attentive or detail-oriented
- Action-oriented or entrepreneurial
Remember, as you prepare your response to the “What are your strengths and weaknesses?” question, it’s important to:
- Ensure your strengths support the job description and set you apart as a candidate,
- Not be overly humble, and
- Be specific in your responses.
Even though this question is one of the most dreaded interview questions, when you take the time to prepare a thoughtful response, you can create a unique story about who you are and where you want to go. As you prepare your answers, turn weaknesses into challenges that you’ve overcome and strengths into the reason you’re a great fit for the job.