If your answer to that question (in your head) is “answering this question”, then you’re not alone.
The strengths and weakness questions, in addition to interview questions like “tell me about yourself”, are never easy to answer.
They’re designed to be tough, and they’re designed to expose your vulnerable underbelly to a hiring manager.
These type of questions do several things: they test your maturity level, they test your critical thinking skills, and most of all they test how well you understand the position for which you are interviewing for.
Your answers sends signals to the hiring manager. They give insight into your commitment level, insight into your beliefs, and insight into your level of competence.
When asked “tell me about yourself”, most people give some sort of brief narrative about their personal and professional life.
“I grew up in Hawai’i, I love my dog, and when not working, I binge watch Netflix”.
When asked about strengths, most people fail to use anecdotal stories to back up their claim.
“I’m extremely organized.”
(A much better reply would be “I am very organized; I once took the initiative at work to catalog and inventory 25 years worth of library wine”.)
And the biggest stumbling block of any interview is when asked “what’s your biggest weakness?”.
If you’re like most job seekers, then you’ve likely heard that it’s good to give an answer that you can then spin into a strength.
“I’m an overachiever” or “I am a perfectionist” are common answers to the whole weakness question, but the hiring manager can see through these answers from miles away.
Make it About Them
If you read my last email, then this is not new. Just like your cover letter should be more about how the employer would benefit by hiring you, you should answer these tough interview questions with the same “them” mentality.
In my book Apply Yourself, I share a great example to the “tell me about yourself” question:
Rather than just tell the employer that you like to ski, share a story about your ski trips and how all the top restaurants in the ski towns that you visit carry the beer that you represent and sell.
Tell the employer about yourself in a way that also shows them what kind of employee you’d be and how they’ll benefit by hiring you.
Same goes for the strengths and weaknesses questions.
If you’re really organized, back it up with an example that the employer can relate to.
And share a real weakness. Make it unique to you (not just “I’m a perfectionist”), and figure out a way to show the employer that you are either working to improve it or how it affects / doesn’t affect your performance.
Here’s an example from my own life and interview experience.
Here’s a truth: I can royally botch words and phrases. I bet you have heard of both phrases “the icing on the cake” or “the straw that broke the camel’s back”, but have you ever heard “the icing on the straw?” Probably not. Or have you heard of my favorite Guns N Roses song, “Living in the Jungle?”
These may not seem like weaknesses in a work environment, but when your job is to pitch high-level clients and negotiate large contracts, you want to sound articulate and smart.
My friends, family, and colleagues refer to these as “cindyisms”.
And I always manage to come up with at least one “cindyism” when in an intense work situation. So this is (to me) a weakness.
But, as many have pointed out, my phrasing mishaps usually have a way of breaking the ice and making others giggle and laugh, which is always a benefit during a sales pitch or negotiation. So there’s that, I guess.
My point in telling you this story is that the above is my real weakness. I can explain it using storytelling, this weakness is non-threatening, it has relevance to the workplace, and there is a positive spin on it that can be made.
Be genuine, and relate to the employer and the job you’re applying for, and you’ll do fine.