We’re creating a series of content to provide tips and tricks for job seekers to answer common interview questions.

As part of our series of content providing tips and tricks for job seekers to answer common interview questions, we’re focusing on the question the majority of seasoned job seekers have probably faced at least once. How to answer: ‘What are your strengths and weaknesses?’

At what stage of the interview is this question likely to be asked?

This question is likely to be asked towards the middle or end of an interview, once the interviewer has asked you questions about why you want the job and your specific experience and goals.

How might the question be phrased and what are interviewers looking for in an answer?

The question – ‘what are your greatest strengths and weaknesses?’ – has become as clichéd as some of the answers to it, so there’s a chance it will be worded in a different manner by the interviewer e.g. ‘what skills do you feel you’d like to develop the most’.

Mahesh Odedra, Resourcing Business Partner at Osborne, illustrates this point nicely:

“We generally tend to ask this in another way by trying to identify what areas of development they believe they have, and what they are doing to upskill or improve in that area. This shows that you have both a good level of self awareness, and also the drive to want to improve.

“In terms of strengths we like to discover what someone believes they do well and then how that translates across to what the requirements are for the role.

“It’s really important that responses to any questions are relevant to that position and not too generic.”

How to avoid answering the question poorly
There are some great ways to respond to this question and some not-so-great, dare we say even generic answers, that play out like this:

Interviewer: “What’s your greatest weakness?”

Interviewee: “I’d say my biggest weakness is that I’m too helpful and that colleagues often say I make them feel inferior because I never make mistakes”

We’ve exaggerated slightly to make a point, but you can bet your bottom dollar that if you answer in the manner above, the interviewer will either be struggling to hold back laughter, or straining not to visibly cringe.

Sarah Walker, Marketing Manager at insurance advisors, Future Proof touches on the importance of avoiding cliché answers and the likely response you’ll get if you do plump for the answer we’ve all heard before. She also gives some great advice on how to answer the question well and impress, every time.

“Never ever say my greatest weakness is that I’m a perfectionist. It’s just cringe and employers have heard it all before. At best you’ll receive an eye roll at worst be dismissed for not really trying or asked to try again!

Be honest and match your answer to the role requirements

“Be honest, say what you find difficult / dislike, but also say that you are working on that weakness and mention how.

“Make sure your weakness isn’t part of the job role you are applying for, else it’s a red flag to the employer that you shouldn’t be applying for that job!

“Strengths? If you can match your strengths to the role requirements then that’s a big plus”.

Take the opportunity to highlight your skills and areas you’d like to improve further within the role

Linking into a point made in our previous article on How to answer: ‘What attracted you to apply for this position’? it’s not a weakness to highlight some skills you’d like to develop further. A job should be a two-way street, one where if hired your skills help the company to deliver their products / services successfully, but that also helps you become the best you can be.

Before the interview, think about your existing skills and note down a couple of areas – as applicable – where you see the role helping to develop you as an individual. Use these as weaknesses, but phrase it as areas where you could develop further.

This forethought and desire to get even better at what you do over time, is highly appealing to employers, as they know you’re unlikely to get the job and simply go through the motions, so to speak.

Good luck with your job search.

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