One of the favorite questions of interviewers across industries and job positions is asking candidates to name their personal and professional strengths and weaknesses. An applicant’s ability to identify their areas of excellence and improvable traits demonstrates critical thinking skills, higher level analytical ability and on the spot conversational know how.
While these are all positives from the interviewer’s perspective, being on the firing line of these types of queries can be a curveball to even the most seasoned of job searchers. Most people dislike talking about themselves in even social scenarios, much less with a career opportunity on the line. For a prepared interviewee, however, there’s no need to fear which is why we’ve compiled some simple exercises, questions and prompts to help you tackle this pivotal portion of the interview with ease.
Take a Personal Inventory
The first step in preparing for your job interview involves an exercise in self-analysis. Grab yourself paper and pencil or a handy, high-tech device, and compile a simple list of strengths and weaknesses. At this point, you won’t be looking for traits with a specific career or employment bent, only the areas in which you believe you excel or need improvement.
If you find yourself at ease in crowds, add “sociable” or “great conversationalist” to the pros list. If you’re often distracted when you set on a specific task, throw “focus” on the con side. In addition to personality traits, list skills that you’ve acquired through your education or prior experiences such as advanced certifications, knowledge about specific programs or systems and more.
During this list-making exercise, it’s important to be as honest as possible. It’s not like you’ll be sharing this list with your mom, after all. A frank analysis is an important first step and withholding less than desirable traits because of personal embarrassment only lessens the effectiveness of your interview prep.
Let’s Talk About Those Strengths
While talking about your positive traits may seem like a walk in the park when done in a crowded bar with your latest Tinder date, pitching your attractive qualities to a prospective employer is another monster altogether. There’s a fine line between confidence and boastfulness and crossing that invisible mark can mean the difference between a job offer and a career version of a dear john letter.
Analyze your list of strengths and compare with the listing for the job you’ll be interviewing for. Choose several traits, some obvious and others more nuanced, that you believe help make you an excellent fit for the company and position. It may also be helpful to peruse the company’s website for a list of their institutional values or history to find other areas where your skill set may be applicable.
When crafting your list of strengths that you’ll be offering up during the interview, think about ways to word your answers that come across as humble but confident. Know your strengths but don’t pitch yourself as the best candidate that ever lived. This approach may not only hurt your job chances, it can also set unreasonable expectations for when you do end up landing the gig.
We All Have Our Weaknesses
Next, you’ll want to tackle that list of weaknesses, because no one can come up roses all the time whether in life or in their careers. The ability to spot areas where you may need improvement is a valuable trait to a prospective employer as it indicates that you have an open mind and the ability for personal and professional growth. Most employers are looking for employees that will stick with the company long-term and these skills are critical to identifying the best candidates for the job.
While it’s easy enough to point out negative traits and communicate them in simple terms, the best candidates have the ability to turn frowns upside down when it comes to their personal and professional weaknesses. Identify traits that while seemingly negative, have the potential to be upsides when harnessed or developed fully. Tenacity can be a negative when it means you focus on one task past its usefulness but can also be a positive when looking for innovative solutions for tough problems.
When the interviewer asks for your weakest traits, pick out these grey area characteristics. Be sure to mention how their negatives can often be frustrating but how you’re working on pulling back or harnessing these skills to improve or become more accomplished in your career path.
Overall, when answering questions about your strengths and weaknesses, keep in mind that your new employer is more interested in your skills and accomplishments that may make you a good employee and less about traits that have you leaving your bed unmade or make you an excellent gardener. Be honest with your self-analysis, do plenty of prep work for the actual interview and you’ll be acing these tricky questions and that much closer to landing an offer for the job of your dreams.