What is your biggest strength? Tell me your greatest weakness? Answering the strengths and weaknesses questions in an interview can be difficult, especially when they catch you off guard. I am not convinced about the value of these questions in job interviews, but since my responsibility is to help people prepare for interviews, this is often one of the areas we’ll spend time on.
Unfortunately, these types of questions still exist, and applicants come across them. For whatever reason, hiring managers like to put candidates on the spot with these. The good news is that these questions are easy to predict, and with practice, you can have reliable answers.
What is your biggest strength?
First- listen to the question. How many strengths does the hiring manager want? If they ask, “What is your greatest strength,” you only want to provide ONE. Please don’t talk about 15 talents if the hiring manager only asked for one. Rambling about your multiple skills will come across as overly confident and is a huge turn off for hiring managers.
The best strategy is to pick a strength that relates to the job posting and then provide a brief story that shows those behaviors in a positive light. The more you can demonstrate the strength, the more believable it becomes to the hiring manager.
What is your greatest weakness? How does it manifest at work?
The weakness question is a bit trickier. For years the advice has been to pick a weakness that is actually a strength, like “I take on too much work,” or “I can’t say no.” Bad news, hiring managers are on to this trick, and they’ll keep asking for weaknesses until they’ve gotten you to cop to a deep dark secret, or they’ve written you off as a candidate.
I tell my clients to choose a real weakness, not one that is career-damaging, like an accountant with poor attention to detail, and go with it. Hiring managers are looking for a couple of things: first, can you acknowledge your weaknesses? What have you done to help mitigate them in the workplace? To help clients find this weakness, I’ll often ask them what they’d tell a friend over coffee. They tend to think that these weaknesses are too personal for an interview (hint, rarely they can be), but more often than not, they are the best ones for this type of question. A word of caution, however, don’t disclose any protected information (relationship status, religion, sexual preference, children, political beliefs, etc.) in the interview. There are, of course, exceptions to this rule, but generally, you want to avoid triggering any unconscious or conscience bias with the interviewing panel.
Finally, practice your answers. Anticipate Strengths and weaknesses questions at every interview and know what you’re going to tell the hiring manager. That way, you’re far more prepared and equipped to be successful. As always, please reach out with any questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.