You’re sitting across from a hiring manager, or even worse, a group of people interviewing you for a role, and the dreaded question comes up…
"What are your weaknesses?"
You spend what seems like an eternity battling inside your own head, "Do I tell them I’m occasionally late or that I take things too personally?" before settling on a response that makes you groan: "I just care too much and I work too hard."
While that question isn’t likely to be left off the interview checklist anytime soon, you know it’s likely coming and can spend some time in self-reflection before your next interview, so you can answer it truthfully and respectfully. Its sister question, "What are your strengths" is coming as well, so it’s best to be prepared ahead of time.
What are strengths and weaknesses?
Strengths are a set of skills or character traits you possess that assist you in carrying out your duties in a productive and efficient manner and make you an excellent candidate for a job. Weaknesses are characteristics or shortcomings that when left unchecked, may hamper your ability to do your job well.
It can be difficult to toot your own horn during an interview. Even more challenging, is finding a balance between being honest about some of your shortcomings, without turning the hiring manager off to the idea of hiring you.
Take some time before each interview (and ideally before you apply) to determine what your strengths are and weaknesses are. This is best done in the beginning as self-reflection, however, you may at some point want to enlist the help of people close to you. This can be asking friends, family, or someone you've worked with in the past for feedback.
You can create a list of your strengths and weaknesses, and, when it’s time to apply for a job, tailor your responses to its specific qualifications. You can also spend some time researching the company itself, understanding its culture, and determining which of your strengths would be most highly valued.
Thankfully, you don’t have to reinvent the wheel when it comes to your strengths and weaknesses. There are a number of common (and relatable) characteristics that you can share with potential employers.
Strengths and Weaknesses List
Don’t know where to start? Take a look at these strengths and weaknesses examples, and determine which best describes you. Keep in mind that this is a list of "soft skills" which can pertain to any industry and role. Depending on what position you’re applying for, you may also need to share your knowledge of specific software programs and on-the-job experience.
Blunt and brazen communicator which can turn some people off
Extremely critical of self
Need time to adjust to change
Perfectionist (which sometimes make it hard to delegate responsibilities)
Slow to develop rapport with coworkers or subordinates
Shy in new situations
Stressed under pressure
Too sensitive to the needs of others which sometimes allows others to manipulate you
Leadership Strengths and Weaknesses
While there are many similarities, leadership strengths and weaknesses cover a wide range of skills. Consider the different responsibilities you will have as a leader, mainly motivating and managing employees on a daily basis, rather than being responsible for just your own work. Consider some of these common strengths and weaknesses examples for leaders and managers.
Passionate about their work.
Able to understand the needs and emotions of others.
Excellent self-management skills.
Top-notch communication skills (including listening).
Able to motivate and inspire others to do their best work.
Comfortable making decisions quickly.
Willing to be held accountable for their decisions and their actions.
Taking feedback personally.
Too focused on the end goal that employees’ needs go unheard.
Overly concerned with being liked.
Unable to delegate responsibility which leads to burnout.
Disrespectful attitude towards employees.
Poor communication skills.
Afraid of making the wrong decision, which leads to making no decisions at all.
If you see yourself in any of these weakness examples, it may be time to seek mentorship or training, and do some soul searching to determine why you lack in these areas.
How to Share Your Strengths and Weaknesses During a Job Interview
Now that you’ve reviewed many popular characteristics and decided which ones best reflect who you are, it’s time to dig deeper. Ask yourself a very important question… "Why?"
Potential employers don’t want a list of fancy words, they want to get to know you by understanding how these characteristics have served you in your previous work experience. For example, instead of saying, "I have excellent negotiation skills," say, "I’ve used my excellent negotiation skills to work with new and existing vendors to cut our raw material costs by 52%."
Paint them a picture of your skills in action and tell them a (true) story they’ll remember well past the last interviewee has left the building. When telling a story, remember to include:
What "life" looked like before the inciting incident.
The problem you faced.
Different attempts you made to fix the problem.
What eventually worked.
How life looks after the incident.
This doesn’t have to be an epic novel, just a quick description of what was going on and how you had the strengths to persevere.
Of course for some, you may be reaching for a new role with new responsibilities. If you know you possess the strengths they are looking for, but haven’t had the opportunity to use them in your current job, be honest. You could say, "I haven’t been able to use this skill in my previous employment, however, I look forward to using it more if you decide to hire me."
You also have the option of sharing a story from your personal life in which you used this skill. Just make sure to keep it professional, appropriate, and relevant to your desired position.
When it comes to communicating your weaknesses, potential employers want to know that you recognize your shortcomings and are actively working to become a better version of yourself. You’ll want to be honest and forthcoming while creating context around your weaknesses and showing:
How you are working to improve in this area.
How this weakness will not impact your performance in the proposed job.
Like we discussed earlier, you’ll also want to avoid stating a humble brag rather than a weakness. "I’m just so fast at my job that it makes others feel intimidated around me and so it’s difficult for me to connect." This is false modesty and you won’t be doing yourself any favors.
So there you are, face-to-face with an interviewer and being asked, "What are your strengths and weaknesses?" Rather than panic, know that you’ve taken the time necessary to provide a solid answer (with supporting evidence) to this question.
Originally published Apr 8, 2022 7:00:00 AM, updated April 08 2022