The Dreaded “Strengths and Weaknesses” Question

By April 15, 2016 No Comments

Maybe you’re preparing for next job interview by rehearsing answers to oddball questions like, “If you could be any animal, which one and why?” or, “In a fight between Spiderman and Batman, who would win?”

As interview questions go, there are some real doozies out there.  But don’t neglect preparing for one of the most serious and important questions of all.  As an executive recruiter, I always ask some version of it, and your next potential employer will, too.

“Tell me about your strengths and your weaknesses.”

We ask this question not only for the content of your answers, but for the style in which you tackle the query.  Take it seriously, as the self-assessment of your response reveals key things about your work experience, your value system and your communication skills.

Your Strengths

This is your chance to give yourself an endorsement, but don’t waste time on trite assertions that you’re a “team player” or a “people person.” Rather, craft a response that is very specific – and back it up with specific examples.  Like this:

  1. Describe a skill, an interest or a personal quality you have that is directly related to the interviewing company’s industry or goals.
  2. Then, describe a time when this quality in you was called upon.  Give me a specific example of how it was needed by your team and how you demonstrated it. When did you save an account, land a big deal, impress a client or head off a crisis, etc.?
  3. Go deeper by telling me, in measurable terms, how your action impacted your company or team.  Tell me what the result was in revenue gained, time saved, disasters averted, etc.
  4. Bonus points if you can tell me how your peers or your employer recognized your contribution.  A promotion? An award?  A permanent change in company policy?
  5. Now here’s how you bring this one in for a landing: Wrap up by telling me how you plan to use your superpower to benefit the new company once you’re hired.

Your Weaknesses

You already know that in describing a weakness you must express it in a way that demonstrates an opportunity.  In other words, you’re not going to shoot yourself in the foot by saying something like, “Unfortunately, I’m a chronic procrastinator.”

The key is to answer this question in a way that shows you’re self-aware, with a dash of humility, but also that you’re a change-embracing optimist.

Tip: keep in mind that an interviewer might pose this question in a tricky way.  Examples:

•  If I called your current/previous manager, what would he/she say that you need to work on?
•  Tell me about a development goal that you have set.
•  If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?
•  What do you most want to improve in the next year?

  1. Take the question seriously.  Simply saying, “I’m a perfectionist” won’t cut it. We’ve heard that before and it doesn’t work.  Dig a little deeper.
  2. Obviously, take the opposite approach from the “strengths” question.  When you describe the skill you lack, make sure it’s not essential to the job you’re interviewing for.  If public speaking won’t be part of your new position, for example, it’s probably safe to admit that these skills aren’t in your arsenal.  Be honest, but tread carefully.  While it’s OK to admit that giving a speech to hundreds of people makes you nervous, it’s not OK to say you’re shy and have trouble speaking up at staff meetings.
  3. Talk about things you’ve done to improve. With the public speaking example, you could mention you’ve taken classes, practiced or that you regularly watch TED Talks to glean tips from the masters.  Whatever it is, demonstrate that you acknowledge the weakness and are taking steps to improve.


Maurice GilbertMaurice Gilbert is Managing Partner of Conselium Executive Search, which specializes in placing Compliance Officers and Legal Counsel for clients in the U.S., Europe, Latin America and Asia Pacific. Maurice is also CEO of Corporate Compliance Insights, a worldwide publication devoted to governance, risk and compliance issues. Maurice can be reached at maurice@conselium.com or maurice@corporatecomplianceinsights.com.

Published by Conselium Executive Search, the global leader in compliance search.  

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