Interview Question: “What Are Your Strengths and Weaknesses?"

Woman and man in an interview
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During job interviews, there are certain types of questions that employers tend to ask, regardless of the position and company. One of the most popular interview questions is, "What is your greatest weakness?," which is often preceded or followed by, "What is your greatest strength?"

Just because interview questions are common doesn’t mean they are easy to answer.

Questions about strengths and weaknesses can provide an opportunity to show how your skills are a perfect match for the job – or they can be a trap. Give the wrong answer, and the interview might go south in a hurry. 

What the Interviewer Really Wants to Know

You may hear these questions phrased in different ways, but the underlying reason employers ask remains the same. They want to know what you see as your strengths and weaknesses and also observe how you respond to a challenging question. 

The interviewer is looking for honesty, self-awareness, and the ability to learn from mistakes. So, don’t give a cliched answer like, “I’m a perfectionist!” Hiring managers hear that one a lot, and they’ll assume that you’re either not aware of your actual failings or that you’re not willing to share them. 

How to Answer "What Are Your Strengths and Weaknesses?"

Strengths and weaknesses are different for almost every job. What could be a strength for one job applicant may be considered a weakness for another candidate. In general, there are some strengths and weaknesses you should – and shouldn't – mention during a job interview.

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Some Suggestions for Answering "What Is Your Greatest Weakness?"

Examples of the Best Answers 

When answering questions about your strengths and weaknesses, always keep the job description in mind. Remember that these questions are essentially the same from different angles: the employer wants to know that you have the skill set, experience, and attitude necessary to get the job done.

These kinds of questions are also an opportunity to demonstrate self-awareness. The best employees are the ones who tackle their deficiencies head on and keep learning throughout their career.

Frame your answer in a way that emphasizes the qualities the hiring manager is looking for in a candidate.

Show that you’re the best person to solve their problems and achieve their goals. These sample answers can help you make your case:

Sometimes, I spend more time than necessary on a task or take on tasks personally that could easily be delegated to someone else. Although I've never missed a deadline, it is still an effort for me to know when to move on to the next task, and to be confident when assigning others work. In my recent position, I implemented a project management tool that allowed me to easily oversee the progress of all the tasks I assigned, which helped me feel much more comfortable delegating work.

Why It Works: This answer is honest and reflects a real weakness, unlike an answer like, “I’m a perfectionist!” It shows self-awareness and the ability to learn and grow, but emphasizes that the candidate has always prioritized what is important: hitting deadlines.

I have extremely strong writing skills. Having worked as a copy editor for five years, I have a deep attention to detail when it comes to my writing. I have also written for a variety of publications, so I know how to shape my writing style to fit the task and audience. As a marketing assistant, I will be able to effectively write and edit press releases and update web content with accuracy and ease.

Why It Works: Not only does this answer mention a skill that (presumably) appeared in the job description, it ties the skill directly to what would make the candidate successful in the role. The way the reply is phrased also invites the interviewer to imagine the candidate in the job.

I've previously used Microsoft Word processing and presentation software exclusively, and haven't used Google's online equivalents. Although I'll have to learn a whole new set of keyboard shortcuts, I'll devote time to reading blog posts that walk me through the differences between the two types of software, and I'll watch online tutorials.

Why It Works: While not misrepresenting the candidate’s skill set, this answer shows that they’ve used similar software before – and more importantly, that they know how to learn new skills.

Tips for Giving the Best Answer

Focus on strengths you have that are required for the job. For example, if a job requires a lot of work on team projects, you might say one of your strengths is that you are a clear communicator who can work with diverse groups of people.

Put a positive spin on your answer. When asked to present a weakness, find a way to emphasize the upside. For instance, you might say that you’re working to improve a particular weakness or explain how a weakness might be considered a strength (if you are a bit too detail-oriented, you can explain how this actually helps you produce quality work).

Be honest and sincere in your response. Don’t pretend to be perfect or claim to have skills you don’t possess.

What Not to Say

Don’t share a universally disqualifying answer. For example, you should never tell an interviewer that you’re chronically tardy. Your friends might find that endearing, but time is money to a business. Don’t give the impression that you’re going to waste their resources.

Avoid weaknesses that would make you unfit for the position. For example, if the job requires a lot of technical skill, don’t say that your weakness is technology.

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
  • When was the last time you were angry? What happened? – 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
  • What was your biggest strength as a student? – Best Answers
  • What strength will help you most to succeed in the job? – Best Answers

Key Takeaways

  • FAMILIARIZE YOURSELF WITH THE JOB REQUIREMENTS: Know which skills and qualifications are most crucial for success and shape your answer accordingly.
  • CREATE A POSITIVE SPIN: Even weaknesses can be strengths if presented appropriately.
  • BE HONEST: Don’t claim to have strengths or skills you don’t (yet) possess.
  • SHOW PROFESSIONAL GROWTH: Demonstrate that you can learn and improve.