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What’s the hardest job interview question to answer? If you said answering questions about strengths and weaknesses we are a lot alike. At least, those questions are hardest for me. I’m usually pretty good about discussing my weaknesses, I live with them every day after all, but I find discussing my strengths difficult.
And yet, it’s essential that you learn to answer questions about your strengths and weaknesses and get comfortable giving these responses. You can even use these questions as a way to impress potential employers, highlighting your problem-solving abilities and self-knowledge. Skirt the issue and you’ll lose out on an opportunity to showcase your skills, career growth and ability to learn from your mistakes.
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Why Are Questions About Strengths and Weakness So Hard?
First, there’s razor’s edge problem: boast too much about a strength or be a little too honest about a weakness and you can torpedo your interview. Next, I consider myself a multipotentialite, a jack-of-all trades or a “utility player.” Us multipotentialites might do a lot of things well, but don’t feel like we do any one of the skills at an expert level. Sometimes it’s hard for us to see that it’s the combination of strengths that makes us stand out. Weaknesses are way easier for me–with a caveat. It can be easy to dwell on mistakes and fail to capitalize on the opportunity to show forward career momentum.
How Should You Talk About Your Weaknesses in a Job Interview?
The key when talking about weakness is to do it in a way that doesn’t torpedo your interview. That means talking about weaknesses that most (or at least, many) people have, discussing how you’re learning from analyzing your weaknesses and telling a story that shows humility, growth and the ability to change.
Crucially, the weaknesses that you list should not be essential to the job. No matter how good a storyteller you are, you’ll find it hard to come back from admitting to a weakness that undercuts the primary responsibilities of the role.
Instead, pick a weakness that doesn’t relate to the duties outlined in the job listing or enumerated by the interviewer. This can be something that you’ve already conquered or an issue that you’re in the process of working on. Just be sure it isn’t essential to success.
So, if you’re applying for a sales position that involves cold calling, don’t say that you hate the phone. A better choice would be something that isn’t a key feature of the job description–for example, you might say that as a people person, you don’t do well in environments where you don’t get to connect with others.
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How I Talk About Weaknesses:
Here are a few examples of weaknesses I deal with and how I talk about them in a professional context:
- I have imposter syndrome. Imposter syndrome is basically a feeling that you aren’t the expert that people think you are. You tend to think there are other people way more qualified than you to be in a position. Research shows that about 80 percent of people experience imposter syndrome at some point in their lives. Some of the world’s most successful people are on the list of sufferers, including Serena Williams, Albert Einstein and John Steinbeck. The reason you know their names is that they continued to show up anyway, despite their feelings of inadequacy. I tend to talk about this issue in the context that it drives me to be detail oriented and always hungry to better myself. I’m never complacent. If you’re a fellow sufferer, use your imposter syndrome to demonstrate your ability to stick with a problem through thick and thin.
- I’m a slow burn–meaning, I tend to make large decisions slowly. I’ve worked on making smaller decisions more quickly by using Eisenhower’s Matrix. In professional situations, I can use this example to show that I can problem-solve–even when the problem comes from within.
- I can be overly skeptical. This helps me avoid mistakes but sometimes makes me miss opportunities. When discussing this weakness, I talk about how I’ve learned to use my skepticism to fuel due diligence, or play devil’s advocate in a team setting. This balance has greatly helped teams I’ve been on.
How Should You Talk About Your Strengths in a Job Interview?
Again, strengths are the tough question, as far as I’m concerned. It’s not just that it’s hard to brag about yourself, although that’s often true. It’s that it can be difficult to gain the perspective necessary to understand why your strengths are strengths.
How I Talk About Strengths:
When I’m preparing for a meeting in which I’ll need to talk about what I do well, I do the following:
- Use a Google form to ask friends and colleagues for feedback. You don’t need to get into the details here. In fact, the more open-ended the question, the better. You might be surprised by the things your colleagues value about you most. Alternately, LinkedIn recommendations can be another reminder of your positive qualities.
- Find a way to talk about your strengths that doesn’t come off as boastful. Being able to quantify results is especially useful here. If surveys show that you boosted customer satisfaction by 35 percent, well, that’s just the numbers talking.
- Use specific examples. Examples where people have specifically come to you for help or advice work best because the strength is conveyed through a story from someone else’s point of view.
- Practice. The more you talk about anything, the more comfortable you’ll be. Practice your pitches and interviews until you feel secure.
Now that you know how to approach talking about your strengths and weaknesses, you are ready to tackle your next interview. Are you ready to impress the hiring manager with your strengths and ability to learn from your experience? Polish your resume with the help of a resume writing service and find top job opportunities that capitalize on your skills at ZipRecruiter.