1/15/14

Strengths and Weaknesses – What Should I Reply at the Interview?

A lot of candidates, especially those that are preparing for their first interview, ask the following question: "One of my friends has recently told me that during the interview the recruiter will ask for sure about my strengths and weaknesses. What do I reply? Can I prepare somehow for this question?"

Well, first of all, professional recruiters no longer waste their time with such questions that can be found in any recruitment and selection course for students. Professional recruiters prefer open discussions, case studies and of course ask the candidate to tell about specific situations where a certain skill could be found. For example, "Please tell me about a situation where you had a conflict in your team. What happened with your team members? How did you solve the problem?". If the candidate is a good manager, he would have solved the problem in an efficient manner without any further impact on the team. This kind of answer, with all the specific management details, is more valuable than the candidate just telling the recruiter he's a good manager. Answers to such well-known and expected questions like "What are your strengths and weaknesses?" can be prepared well before the interview, even found on the internet (some advisers may tell you what's useful to say and what's not) and the information offered to the recruiter by a shrewd candidate can easily deceive. Moreover, if the recruiter is following certain skills according to the job specifications and the candidate's answer is about others, then the time was completely wasted - better ask directly what I, as recruiter, am interested in.

Coming back to the question - there may still be recruiters who will ask you this question, so thinking a bit about it can't hurt. What should you reply? Clear strengths and weaknesses that are yours and not that you found in a book. Examples may be requested further on so don't lie. By the end of the interview, after several other questions, they will know you did. Also, remember that references can be verified, so additional information about you will be revealed for sure. If you say that you are always on time, but your former manager tells the recruiter during reference verification that you were late for work at least once a week, then you proved a liar and they won't care anymore about any other real skills you may have. 

Also, think about at least 3 of each. Some recruiters will insist that you tell 3 strengths and 3 weaknesses. In my opinion that's a waste of time, but you can prepare. Believe me, under the interview stress, you won't have any ideas, especially if you are a beginner on the market. You will hardly remember what you prepared at home; coming up with new ones will be even harder. Thinking a bit about it won't hurt as I said.

And last but not least, don't mention as weaknesses features that are in fact strengths - like "I am too ambitious". That will make the recruiter ask you to come up with one more and they will be really annoyed - trust me.

Now, what are strengths and weaknesses you may ask. Everybody talks about them but nobody tells you what they are. Well, strengths are positive features about yourself that can help you boost your personal or professional life - like being ambitious, smart, optimistic, organized, having good decision making skills, even knowing Java or Excel. Weaknesses are negative features that can slow you down - for example being impulsive (that's my main one). Being impulsive can affect your team work, can make you say or do things you can later regret. One more thing they may ask and you need to be prepared - how are you improving - think about what you do already or plan to do to make your weaknesses impact your life less, especially professional one - this is the one they are interested in. For example, if you don't know how to prioritize, a time management course can be helpful.

To sum up, you can think about this question and prepare something, but never come up with answers from the internet or details that in fact are not yours.

Take care and good luck with your interviews,
Geo

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