As a job candidate, if you’re asked the question, “What are your strengths and weaknesses?” in an interview, it’s important to emphasize what you’re good at, and minimize—but be truthful about—what you’re not.
Let’s say two candidates—we’ll call them Francine and William—have job interviews for a customer service manager position. As always, one of the interview questions they’ll be asked is about their strengths and weaknesses.
First up is Francine. When she’s asked, “What are your greatest strengths and weaknesses?” Francine responds, “My strength is that I’m a hard worker. My weakness is that I get stressed when I miss a deadline because someone else dropped the ball.”
This answer is unimaginative, a no-brainer. Most people think of themselves as hard workers—who would actually admit to not being a hard worker? Also, Francine’s weakness is technically not a weakness, plus she passes the buck: Someone—not her—drops the ball, which causes her to get stressed.
Now it’s William’s turn. He also has difficulty with the question. “I really can’t think of a weakness,” he begins. “Maybe I could be more focused. My strength is probably my ability to deal with people. I am pretty easygoing. I usually don’t get upset easily.”
This answer leads with a negative, and then moves to vague words: maybe, probably, pretty, and usually. William isn’t doing himself any favors.
So what is the best way to answer this common interview question?
Let’s get the hard part out of the way first—your weaknesses. This is probably the most dreaded part of the question. Everyone has weaknesses, but who wants to admit to them, especially in an interview?
Some examples of weaknesses you might mention include:
- Being too critical of yourself
- Attempting to please everyone
- Being unfamiliar with the latest software
The best way to handle this question is to minimize the trait and emphasize the positive. Select a trait and come up with a solution to overcome your weakness.
Stay away from personal qualities and concentrate more on professional traits. For example: “I pride myself on being a ‘big-picture’ guy. I have to admit I sometimes miss small details, but I always make sure I have someone who is detail-oriented on my team.”
When it comes time to toot your own horn, you need to be specific. Assess your skills to identify your strengths. This is an exercise worth doing before any interview. Make a list of your skills, dividing them into three categories:
- Knowledge-based skills. Acquired from education and experience (e.g., computer skills, languages, degrees, training, and technical ability).
- Transferable skills. Your portable skills that you take from job to job (e.g., communication and people skills, analytical problem solving, and planning skills).
- Personal traits. Your unique qualities (e.g., dependable, flexible, friendly, hard working, expressive, formal, punctual and being a team player).
Some examples of strengths you might mention include:
When you complete this list, choose three to five of those strengths that match what the employer is seeking in the job posting. Make sure you can give specific examples to demonstrate why you say that is your strength if probed further.
Write a positive statement you can say with confidence:
My strength is my flexibility to handle change. As customer service manager at my last job, I was able to turn around a negative working environment and develop a very supportive team. As far as weaknesses, I feel that my management skills could be stronger, and I am constantly working to improve them.
When confronted with this interview question, remember the interviewer is looking for a fit. She is forming a picture of you based on your answers. A single answer will probably not keep you from getting the job, unless, of course, it is something blatant. Put your energy into your strengths statement—what you have to offer. Then let the interviewer know that although you may not be perfect, you are working on any shortcomings you have.
This article originally appeared on Monster and is reprinted with permission.