Working Wise: Explaining your strengths and weaknesses

Dear Working Wise:

I was asked during a recent job interview to explain my greatest strength and weakness. How do I talk about my strengths and weaknesses in a positive way without bragging or making myself look bad? Signed Uncomfortable

Dear Uncomfortable:

If you haven’t interviewed in a while, talking about your strengths can feel like boasting and talking about your biggest weakness can seem like a trap.

Keep the big picture in mind when you answer these questions. The interviewer wants to know if you can do the job, if you’ll fit into the organization, and why you want the job.

Your Strengths – Prepare for your interview by scanning the job posting for key requirements.

Think ahead about your most relevant strengths and be prepared to talk about them.

Don’t just list your strengths. Stand out by telling a story and offering an example. Choose a strength that’s needed for the job, and describe a situation you handled that shows how you have used it. The idea is to showcase the positive results of your efforts.

Your Weaknesses – In the old days, the advice was to offer an answer where the weakness could be perceived as a strength, such as, “I’m a bit of a perfectionist.” But most interviewers today will see through this.

Instead, choose a real weakness that is unlikely to cause major problems at this particular job, and add how you have worked to improve it. This second part is key, because it shows you have self-awareness and the motivation to improve. It reassures the interviewer that your weakness is unlikely to cause any issues on the job, and may even make you a better employee.

For example, you could say that sometimes you work so intently that you lose track of time, but you’ve started using a smart phone app that helps keep you on track, and you’ve never missed a deadline.

Skilled interviewers may try to uncover your weaknesses by asking an indirect question like “Tell us about a conflict you had and how you resolved it.” Take a moment to think about the question from the interviewer’s perspective. The interviewer is likely looking for the weakness that caused the original conflict. In this situation, you would try to think of a conflict that you did not create, but did help to resolve.

Everything you say in an interview should communicate why you are the right person for the job:

Be prepared to describe your most important abilities and personal characteristics in terms of results.

Don’t hesitate to be direct about why the company should hire you. This is not the time to be modest.

Project a positive attitude, even when discussing your weaknesses.

For more tips, read the How do I best explain my strengths and weaknesses in an interview? article on the alis website at alis.alberta.ca.

Do you have a work-related question? Send your questions to Working Wise, at charles.strachey@gov.ab.ca. Charles Strachey is a manager with Alberta Community and Social Services. This column is provided for general information.

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