When attending a job interview, you need to be aware of common interview questions (like the dreaded "what are your strengths and weaknesses?") ahead of time so you can answer with confidence.
To get any job, you need to stand out in the pack of applicants and shine at the interview. It can be stressful — even unnerving — but it doesn't have to be with the right preparation and a little confidence.
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The biggest piece of advice I offer my clients is to use the job posting as a guide to what's valuable to an employer and anticipate the most common interview questions.
Some questions will come out of left field, but other questions are expected.
One of these will be some variation of "Tell me about yourself" and "What are your strengths and weaknesses?"
There isn't a right or wrong answer to these questions. But, many interviewees stumble through their answers and some even try to bluff their way through them, hoping to paint themselves as the picture-perfect confident candidate.
As tricky as they can be, they force candidates to take a more in-depth look at themselves and assess their own strong points and growing edges. This way, the interviewer gets a bird's eye view into who you are, your thought processes, and whether you’re a good fit for the job.
For you to succeed in the interview, it helps to not only learn how to be confident but also know why the questions are being asked and how to cater to your audience based on that.
Be the candidate who truly understands these questions and delivers a stellar response.
Here's how to best answer the dreaded questions about strengths and weaknesses and stand out among other applicants.
1. "What are your greatest strengths?"
Also known as: "Why should we hire you?"
What the interviewer is looking for in your response: Objectivity, self-assuredness, and humility.
First, outline your best 3 assets, such as problem solving, adaptability, and leadership skills. Then, share situations that you were involved in where you clearly demonstrated that strength and how it contributed to the outcome.
Make sure the strengths you choose are vital to the job and highly respected by the organization. The best way to know is by researching the company's values and carefully reviewing the job posting.
What is the description telling you is essential to the job? Look for keywords throughout the posting, especially in the qualifications section.
If you have trouble talking about your strengths for fear of being boastful, reconsider your perspective. You’re there to get the job and you’re against possibly 200 other people who want that job, too. Don't sell yourself short. You can be humble and factual at the same time.
Some people feel more comfortable with saying, "My employees and clients tell me that empathy is my greatest strength. I really understand their problems, and support them in their development, like the time when…"
Keep your answer short and sweet, confident yet humble, and on target with the company's needs and you will impress the interviewer time after time.
2. "What are your biggest weaknesses?"
What the interviewer is looking for in your response: Self-awareness, honesty, and learning agility.
You might be tempted to try to sidestep the issue or lighten your nervous mood and jokingly state, "I don’t have any" but I'd advise against that. Denial, lies, or inappropriate attempts at humor will get you nowhere.
And, while the interviewer is looking for a forthright answer, there is no reason to get too personal and share what your partner thinks is your weakness or what your narcissistic boss told you. Say positive and don't sabotage yourself with any big reveals, please!
The same goes for bringing up anything directly related to the job requirements. If the job posting specifies the need to take calculated risks and aggressively grow sales and these are not your strongest suits, you probably shouldn't say these are your biggest weaknesses. Instead, reconsider if this role is for you!
Remember that you’re trying to get the job while being candid. So, avoid clichés like "I'm a perfectionist" or "I work too much."
Alternatively, demonstrate your self-awareness by talking about when you realized you needed to improve something, what you did differently, what you learned, and what the impact was on your performance.
For example: "I have a bias for action, and I've learned that I can save myself some work by thinking through a problem more upfront, or by bringing in someone who is naturally more cautious early on. On my few projects, I sat down with a colleague and bounced my ideas off before diving into the project. She posed some great questions to me, and I ended up going down a different path, that in the end, worked out so well. I've learned the importance of collaboration and now take every opportunity to balance my strengths with others'."
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As scary as 'the weakness question' can be, the great thing about it is that it has the potential to show your biggest strengths through the sharing of your weaknesses. Take this opportunity to demonstrate what you've been able to overcome, and how you've grown your career with your conscious and deliberate action.
There are bonus points to you if you prepare responses to these questions, which are variations on the same theme:
- What has been your biggest disappointment or failure?
- What would your boss/previous boss say are your weaknesses?
- What would you have to work hard to succeed in this job?
When you're reflecting on these inquiries, show yourself some compassion. You're human. You've made mistakes, and you have things that you're not as good at — just like everyone else.
And since I don't actually believe in weaknesses, as an interviewer myself, I ask instead, "What have you been focusing on for your personal development and why is it important?" Get ready for that question, too.
No amount of charisma will do it when it comes to interviewing with a good interviewer.
You can't wing these questions, so anticipate and plan. To be fully prepared, write out your responses to these questions in advance.
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If you're coming up empty, try these tactics:
- Go through your old performance reviews, e-mails, or any other documentation that you have containing feedback from your current or previous managers, peers, and clients. Look for themes and make some notes on situations.
- Ask your colleagues, mentors, or anyone else — even friends and family in this case — for feedback on what you do well and what skills you could sharpen. You'd be surprised what insights this can trigger!
- Take a psychometric assessment. There are many instruments that can give you valid and reliable feedback about your personality traits, values, interests, and skills. You'll not only walk away with a greater awareness of your strengths and weaknesses, but you'll likely get confirmation that the job is a good match for you and how you can develop yourself and your career further.
Practice makes perfect and to increase your comfort with your answers to these challenge questions, practice saying them aloud.
That way, if you get nervous during the interview you'll be more easily able to recall your thoughts. Better yet, do a mock interview with a trusted friend, mentor, or coach.
But, regardless of ability or preparation, being in an interview can trigger panic in a lot of people.
If you find yourself getting anxious during the actual interview, slow down and take a deep breath or sip some water (always have a bottle of water with you). It will buy you time and calm you down. It's better to take some space to get ready to give your finest answer than to rush it and flub it.
Preparation, relevancy, confidence, and authenticity win the day when it comes to bringing your best self to the interview.
If you connect your strengths to what the organization needs, you'll get in the door. Then, if you show that your values are lined up with theirs, and the interviewer can picture you in action in their open position, in their company, you'll get much closer to getting that job offer you want so much.
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Lisa Petsinis is a certified Career and Life Coach and former Human Resources Leader who works with resourceful individuals to create a career and life they love. Contact Lisa to learn about her services and an insider's view into the job search process, and make meaningful progress in your career starting today.