Sometimes the most straightforward interview questions are the most difficult to answer

Although you can never fully anticipate what questions you'll encounter in your job interview, there are a few go-to classics, including “What are your greatest strengths?” and “What is your biggest weakness?”.

At first glance, they may seem like no-brainer questions you can easily answer on the spot. However, they carry a lot of weight – and it's the perfect opportunity to really impress the interviewer and showcase the value you can bring to the role.

In this article, we show you how to talk about your strengths and weaknesses in an interview. Instead of getting caught unprepared, you can use our examples as inspiration to help you craft the perfect answer.

Why do interviewers ask about your strengths and weaknesses?

Understanding the why behind an interview question can help you to formulate the best response. Chances are, when an interviewer throws out the “What are your greatest strengths?” and “What is your biggest weakness?” interview questions, they want to understand:

  • If your strengths align with the job requirements

  • How your strengths will play with team members

  • That you can strike a balance between overly humble and arrogant

  • That you're able to self-reflect

  • Whether you can turn a weakness into a lesson to turn things around

Because these are such common interview questions, you might hear different variations of them, including:

  • What makes you the best fit for this position?

  • What would your references say is your best quality?

  • What would your previous supervisor say is the hardest challenge you faced?

  • What sets you apart from other candidates?

  • What will you bring to our company?

  • What is your greatest accomplishment?

  • What strengths will you bring to this position?

  • How did you turn a failure into an accomplishment in your past?

Once you answer the question, the interviewer might ask you a follow-up question. For instance, they might want to hear about a time you really showcased a specific strength or how that strength helped you to achieve one of your greatest accomplishments.

How to determine what strength to highlight

Figuring out the strengths you want to highlight in your interview can be difficult. To start, here are some examples of strengths you may have:

  • Analytical thinking

  • Versatility

  • Communication skills

  • Motivation

  • Leadership

  • Problem-solving

  • Writing skills

  • Self-awareness

  • Detail orientation

  • Customer service

  • Work ethic

If you're not sure where to start, grab a copy of your resume and highlight the hard and soft skills you included. If you're a recent grad or are changing careers, focus on your transferable skills that move with you from role to role and industry to industry.

With that, you don't want to just blindly choose which strength to showcase. When you're preparing your answer ahead of time to this question, study the job description; you'll want to make sure your answer aligns with the role's requirements.

You'll also want to think about the skills that might set you apart from other job candidates. If you're applying to a programming role that requires you to know Java, then it's already given you have that skill if you're called in for the interview. Instead, talk about your ability to work well under pressure or meet deadlines.

How to answer the “What is your greatest strength?” question (with an example)

When an interviewer asks this question, they're not looking for a one-word answer. You'll want to explain why this is a strength of yours and how it's benefitted you and your company in the past.

Once you pinpoint a couple of your greatest strengths, think about an example of a time you used those strengths and what the outcome was. How did your skills and talents help your team and, ultimately, your company?

Consider any concrete results – it can really make your answer shine. If you need help thinking about these scenarios, use the STAR method:

  • Situation: Briefly talk about a situation or event where you used your strengths. This should be just a couple of sentences - clear and concise.

  • Task: Outline the task at hand and what exactly you were responsible for.

  • Action: Highlight what steps you took to ensure the tasks were completed. Use these action items to show off your strength.

  • Result: What was the final result of the situation? Talk about your ultimate accomplishment. If you can, find ways to quantify your success with numbers.

Strengths for interview: example

“One of my greatest strengths as an Administrative Assistant is my organizational skills.

(Situation) For example, I played a key role in facilitating a major, last-minute move at my previous company.

(Task) We only had a month to move our headquarters across town, and a few of my key responsibilities included ensuring the new space was adequately prepared, scheduling the moving logistics, and acting as a point person for our 150-person team.

(Action) This required a lot of juggling phone calls and schedules and answering questions. In order to stay organized, I created a spreadsheet in Google Drive. Here, I kept an exact timeline of what needed to be done. I also kept a running list of important contacts involved in the move. I was able to share this information with our team, so we could all be on the same page.

(Result) There was a lot of pressure to complete our move on time, but because I was so organized, we were able to accomplish just that. We actually got out of our old space a day early, which helped the company to avoid thousands of dollars in late fees.”

It's worth noting you don't have to focus on just one strength. In this example, the candidate also highlights their communication skills. You might also tie other experiences into your answer. For instance, you could add that you were given this job opportunity because you had experience coordinating a large project at a previous company, which shows you've used your chosen strength throughout your career.

In order to strike the balance between arrogant and overly humble, stick to the facts – just talk about what you did, how you did it, and the final outcome.

How to prepare to talk about your weakness

It's also worth noting that interviewers often pair the greatest strength question with the greatest weakness question, so make sure you prepare for that as well.

No, the interviewer is not trying to trick you into talking about something that will weaken your candidacy for the role. When you're asked, “What is your biggest weakness?” the hiring manager wants to know how you overcome problems. 

Let's face it, everyone has challenges at some point – even the interviewer. Don't let this question overwhelm you. Instead, walk into your interview prepared with an answer – an honest answer.

Being honest really is the key, too! Many people will try to make something that's actually a positive sound like a weakness. For example, by saying, “I'm a perfectionist and have a hard time delegating tasks because I feel they won't be completed properly.” 

Any hiring manager worth their salt will know this isn't completely true and that you're trying to skirt around the question. Don't do this. 

How to properly answer “What is your biggest weakness?”

The first step in giving a good answer to the weakness question is preparation. It's not going to be as easy as identifying strengths, though, because you probably haven't mentioned weaknesses in your resume. 

But first, reflection 

This is a time for some serious self-reflection. 

Just like with talking about strengths in your interview, you want whatever weakness you talk about to be aligned with the job description. So, as you comb through your career, educational, and volunteer history, think about things you've overcome or lessons you had to learn to complete a task.

Ask yourself a few questions:

  • Have there been any major changes in my knowledge or abilities? 

  • How did those changes occur?

  • What is something from my career that I'm really proud of? What was going on? What did I do about it? What was the result?

  • What are a few things I do that make me the best? How did I get to that point?

  • Is there something that I wish I knew more about?

  • What was something that I failed at? How did I turn that situation around?

As you answer these questions, make a list of weaknesses that you can use to craft your response. Which one of the weaknesses from your list will impress the hiring manager? Remember, you need whatever you talk about to be something that will let the interviewer know you have what it takes.

If you need some help, here are some sample weaknesses you might be able to use:

  • Trouble saying “no”

  • Time-management

  • Overly self-critical or lack of confidence

  • Public speaking

  • Impatience

Curate your answer

The good news is that there is a formula you can use to put together your answer to “What is your biggest weakness?”.

  1. Say what your weakness is, “In the past, I've found that I was not very good at speaking in crowds.”

  2. Provide an example, “For example, when we had staff meetings at ABC Corp, I'd have a really hard time getting my ideas across to the group because the idea of speaking in front of a room full of people would put knots in my stomach.”

  3. Talk about what you did or are doing to correct the issue, “I realized that I couldn't go on like that, and there would be times I'd have to speak in front of people. So, I took some speech classes at the local community college to help me get over my fears.”

  4. Say what the results are, “Now, after successfully completing 3 such classes, I can competently get up in front of a group, no matter how big or small it is, and share my thoughts. A wonderful side-effect of those classes is that my ability to articulate complex concepts to all types of audiences has also improved.”

While you're telling a short story in response to this question, you want to avoid droning on forever. Refer back to the STAR method to support your response, so that what you say is concise and in alignment with what the interviewer will want to hear. 

Practice, practice, and then practice again

As you iron out your responses, you'll want to practice your sample answers aloud. Everything you've ever heard about looking in a mirror to practice your responses to interview questions is true! Doing so helps you to make note of nonverbal cues that you may need to correct, because body language is just as important in an interview as the words coming out of your mouth. 

Also, grab a friend or family member to help you, or recruit a professional interview coach for expert feedback. When you practice in front of a fellow human being, they can help you to correct any tics and assist you with how the words flow, ensuring that you end up with a succinct answer that will wow the hiring manager.

Get it right, get the job

Preparing for an interview can be challenging, but when you take the time to figure out the answers to common interview questions – including, “What are your greatest strengths?” and “What is your biggest weakness?” – you'll be sure to impress the interviewer and get that coveted job offer. 

Want some more professional insight on how to best answer this interview question? Enlist the help of one of our expert interview coaches today. 

This article was originally written by Carson Kohler and has been updated by Marsha Hebert. 

Recommended reading:

Related Articles: