How do you talk about your strengths without sounding like you are bragging? And how do you list your weaknesses without raising red flags with interviewers? For both types of questions, you need to be careful about how you respond.
Get advice on how to navigate these sticky questions and how to provide a strong answer that will further your candidacy.
What the Interviewer Really Wants to Know
Interviewers get a lot out of your response to this question, including:
- Your self-awareness: How well do you know yourself as a worker? Your answer reveals whether or not you understand where you need to improve, as well as an awareness of your particularly strong qualities.
- Your understanding of the role and the company: Your answer can also reveal whether you know what the company is looking for in a candidate. The most powerful responses will mention a strength that's core to the role.
- Your ability to improve: The most tactical way to talk about a weakness in an interview is in terms of improvement. For instance, if you're not skilled at hitting deadlines, you can talk about how you now break projects up into tasks with milestones to avoid procrastination.
How to Answer "What Are Your Strengths and Weaknesses?"
The trick in answering these questions is really to understand how one’s strengths and weaknesses often arise from a single character trait; one’s weaknesses are the “shadow” side of one’s strengths.
If you can confidently label the personal characteristic responsible for both your successes and failures—be it perfectionism or optimism or determination or competitiveness—you will be able to demonstrate a self-awareness and maturity that will impress your interviewers.
Similarly, highlight weaknesses that are not dealbreakers. Do not disqualify yourself from the position. You should be honest—but strategic—in your response. If you dread late-night emails, but the role requires them, do not list this as your weakness. When you share a weakness, make sure to discuss how you're working to improve it.
Examples of Best Answers
Here are sample sales interview answers about strengths and weaknesses.
My greatest strength is my organizational ability. I like to plan out the sales cycle to the letter and follow it through. My greatest weakness is related to my greatest strength because when my plan needs to change, I can be a little bit inflexible.
Why It Works: This does a nice job of pointing out an important strength (organization) while noting its flipside weakness (lack of spontaneity). If the role does not require a lot of flexibility and it prioritizes consistency and follow-through, this is a strong answer.
My greatest strength is my competitiveness, which is why I also excelled as an athlete in high school and college. Nothing invigorates me like a race to the finish; I love the challenge of trying to consistently earn an annual ranking in a company’s President’s Circle. I’ve learned, though, that no one becomes a top achiever without the help of the rest of the team. My weakness is that I’ve sometimes judged other team members when we’ve fallen short of a goal, so now I try to focus on motivating and supporting my team rather than just expecting them to follow my lead.
Why It Works: Note that this response talks about working to improve a weakness. That's a good strategy when you have to point out a flaw. This answer also makes it clear that this strength is part of the candidate's core personality.
I would say that my greatest strength is my ability to follow through. In sales, I have found that I am most successful when I pay attention to every piece of the sales cycle, from the first contact to the “thank-you” at the completion of the sale. The shadow side of this strong detail orientation is my tendency to overthink a situation, which is probably my most serious weakness. I sometimes take too much time to strategize on a sale and find, in the end, that my initial plan was the one that was the best.
Why It Works: This answer does a nice job of relating the strength back to the work involved in sales. And, again, the candidate mentions the negative side to the strength, but in a brief way.
Tips for Giving the Best Answer
Don't be afraid to sell yourself: As a salesperson, selling is your skill! When you're asking about strengths, do not shy away from talking about why you'd be an asset in the role. Make sure you mention relevant strengths, too (the job description offers clues about what the employer will value).
Avoid boasting: That said, bragging isn't very appealing or likable. Make sure you do not sell too aggressively or cross the line into bragging.
Be honest: Do not say that you don't have any weaknesses. Everyone has weaknesses. And don't go too far in describing a strength as a weakness (e.g., "I'm just too much of a perfectionist."). That can come off as disingenuous.
Be specific: Don't just use a string of adjectives. Give an example of a time when this strength was helpful. Or talk about why you're so motivated to turnaround a weakness. Specificity makes answers sound meaningful instead of clichéd.
Talk about improvement strategies: When you're answering a question about weaknesses, it can be helpful to talk in terms of how you're working to improve this area.
What Not to Say
Don't disqualify yourself: If there is a core skill needed for the role, do not list it as a weakness. Similarly, do not say, "I'm always late" or "I'm not very responsible" or "I don't work well with others." These responses paint you in a poor light regardless of the position.
Don't fail to answer: You do have to give an answer, even though this question can be tricky.
If you're struggling to respond, just keep it simple and short.
Unless you state a disqualifying weakness, mentioning one less-than-stellar attribute won't make the difference between you landing the job—or not.
Possible Follow-Up Questions
- Tell me about something you would have done differently at work. – Best Answers
- What do people most often criticize about you? – Best Answers
- What do you find are the most difficult decisions to make? – Best Answers
- What is the biggest criticism you received from your boss? – Best Answers
- How will your greatest strength help you perform? – Best Answers
- What strength of yours will help you most to succeed in this job? – Best Answers
- What can we expect from you in the first 60 days on the job? – Best Answers
More Tips on How to Ace Your Sales Interview
Be aware that the interviewer will be observing your communication skills to determine if you’re the kind of person who will be able to close deals with the company’s customers. At the same time, the interviewer will be asking questions to learn more about your sales track record and professional accomplishments.
Most sales interviews also rely heavily on behavioral interview questions, and this means that the hiring manager will want to explore your ability in the key areas needed for success in a sales job, such as your ability to persuade, your presentation skills, and your persistence, etc..
Remember that a sales interview is a golden opportunity to both sell your skills and talents and also to learn more about the company you have approached for a job. With the right interview preparation and follow-through, you will be ready to rise above your competition and land the job that is perfect for you.
BE HONEST: Everyone has some weaknesses. Go ahead and mention one of yours, but don't dwell on it.
DON'T DISQUALIFY YOURSELF AS A CANDIDATE: Make sure the weakness you mention wouldn't prevent you from performing the role at hand.
GIVE EXAMPLES: If you're not sure how to respond to a question about your strengths without boasting, try giving an example of a time this strength was important in a previous role.