How to answer strengths & weaknesses interview questions

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Strengths and weaknesses interview questions are some of the most common interview questions you're likely to come across. But how do you answer these tricky, and sometimes counterintuitive-seeming questions? Here are our top tips on how to answer the greatest strengths and weaknesses questions in an interview.

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What’s your greatest strength?

When an interviewer asks this question, they are trying to determine several things. Firstly, they’re looking for evidence that you fit the role specifications. Secondly, they want to know that you understand the scope of the role and can pick a competency that’s relevant. Additionally, they’re testing your confidence and ability to prepare. Learn more about what leading communications expert Gwyn Day has to say about this key competency question.

Other ways this question might be phrased

  • “If I asked your project supervisor, what would they say is your greatest strength?”
  • “What special quality can you bring to this organisation?”
  • “Why are you a good candidate for this role?”

How to handle the strength question

  • Pick a quality that you’re particularly strong in (if you’re not sure, ask someone who has taught or employed you).
  • Give some concrete proof that you’re good at it. What have you been recognised or rewarded for? What’s given you a feeling of pride?
  • Explain why you think it’s relevant to the role.

You should prepare several strengths. Before each interview, you can choose which of your options best matches the role you're interviewing for. If there’s a clear role description, it should list several core competencies for you to choose from.

Examples of strengths might include:

  • Honest
  • Focused
  • Creative
  • Flexible/adaptable
  • Respectful
  • Innovative
  • Committed
  • Driven/passionate
  • Collaborative
  • Results-orientated

What not to say

  • Don’t give a long list of strengths – it suggests you don’t have the ability to analyse the situation and choose the most relevant answer.
  • Don’t pick anything irrelevant to the role (again, check the role description).
  • Don’t be self-effacing. Nobody likes to boast, but this is a time where you need to emphasise that you have something other candidates don’t.

Sample answer

“My greatest strength is my ability to deal with the unexpected. When a member of our debating team dropped out at the last minute, I volunteered to take on her role. With help from my teammates, I used the journey to research and prepare. Although I could have done better with more time, the key result was that we didn’t forfeit and still managed to gain several places in the standings. I know this role will involve unexpected situations where I’ll be expected to adapt and respond quickly, so I think I have a lot to offer.”

Potential follow up questions

Don't get caught off guard by only preparing to answer with one strength. Particularly savvy interviewers will often throw in a follow-up question to ensure they're getting the full picture and not just a pre-prepared speech. Some common follow-up questions include:

  • "What’s your second greatest strength (and third, fourth)?"
  • "Can you give me an example of how you’ve used that strength in the past month?"

Learn about strengths with Bright Network Academy.

What’s Your Greatest Weakness?

This is the one people really dread – it seems so counterintuitive to admit weakness when you’re trying to impress. But if you’re prepared it’s actually not too difficult to answer and isn't too nasty of an interview question. The interviewer doesn’t really want to know about your weakness and isn’t expecting 100% honesty. They are far more interested in how you approach the question. Done right, your answer can demonstrate key positive qualities: self-awareness and proactivity.

Other ways this question might be phrased

  • “If I asked your boss/project supervisor, what would they say was your greatest weakness?”
  • “In what areas do you most need to improve?”
  • “What do you think is the biggest challenge to your success?”

How to handle the weakness question

  • Pick one of your qualities that needs work (if you’re not sure, ask someone who has taught or employed you).
  • Explain why it’s a weakness and what kind of effect it’s had on your work.
  • Explain how you’re addressing it.
  • Talk about what you want to achieve in the future.

You should have at least three of these prepared - one should be an overarching quality and one a practical skill.

Examples of weaknesses might include:

  • Lack of confidence speaking in public
  • Not detailed-orientated enough
  • Competitive
  • Delegation
  • Self-critical
  • Insecure
  • Don't take enough risks
  • Not confident asking questions
  • Procrastination
  • Lack of expertise in a particular skillset

What not to say

  • Avoid the transparent tricks – talking about a weakness that’s really a strength (“I work too hard”) or saying you have no weaknesses. This is a common interview mistake a lot of graduates make. Take a look at some other common interview mistakes to make sure you're up to speed. 
  • Don’t pick any core competencies of the role (check the description!) or anything that could legitimately prevent you from doing your job.
  • Don’t pick a weakness that’s irrelevant (“I can’t cook”).

Sample answer

“I sometimes have problems knowing when to ask for help. For example, when I was doing my biochemistry research project I tried out an unfamiliar technique and ended up making a mistake. If I had asked for a demonstration from my advisor beforehand I’d have saved myself some repeated work. I’m glad to be a person who takes initiative, but since then I’ve been much more careful about judging when I need to stop and get advice. I know I’ll have a lot of individual responsibility in this role, so it’s really important to me.”

Potential follow-up questions

  • "What’s your second greatest weakness (and third, fourth)?"
  • "How do you think that weakness would affect you in this role?"
  • "What could we offer you to help you overcome it?"
Preparation is key - learn more about the interview process with Bright Network Academy

Learn more about mastering the interview process with the Bright Network Academy application processes module and further your application skills before your next interview.