Tough interview question: “what are your strengths and weaknesses?”

Questions interviewers ask about weaknesses are among the most publicized tough interview questions. Your answer to the tough interview question, “What are your strengths and weaknesses,” won’t be taken at face value. That’s because job interviewers know you’re not going to discuss a personal weakness. They also know you’ve rehearsed the answer. This means you’ll be judged on your presentation.

How to respond to the strengths and weaknesses question

You can start talking about the strengths that contribute to the accomplishments in your resume. That’s what interviewers look for. They want to hear a well-prepared answer to that question. So when asked,” what are your strengths and weaknesses,” name several of your top strengths.

If I asked you right now to name your top three skills, could you rattle them off without needing to think about it? When you need to think twice, you’re not prepared to handle the strengths and weaknesses question. So get three or four of your top strengths firmly in mind so you can rattle away at the next interview.

An example of how to handle the strengths and weaknesses question

I would respond to the interview question, what are your strengths and weaknesses, this way: “I consider my strongest skills career counseling, seminar design and leadership, and written communications.”

After presenting your strengths, maintain silence for a few moments in hopes your interviewer will move on to the next topic without asking about your weaknesses.

However, if the interviewer insists you also talk about a weakness, refer to a past weakness as “an area I’ve targeted for improvement.” You need to avoid using the word “weakness.” Instead, talk about what your boss wrote in your annual review under the category “to be improved,” and explain what you did to improve it.

Or you can discuss a skill you know will not be required for the job you’re interviewing for. Then you can answer, “An area I’ve targeted for improvement is learning Power Point. Although I understand this program isn’t required for the job we’re discussing, learning it will enable me to enhance the proposals and reports that are required. So I plan to enroll in a Power Point class this month.” Here, you’re showing your commitment to keeping your skills current.

Another answer to the weaknesses question can be this: “From what you told me about the job, Mary, I know I won’t be required to use a weakness.”

Keep interview converssations focused on your strengths, not weaknesses

As mentioned above, nobody expects you to give a brutally frank answer to tough interview questions about weaknesses like, “I have a problem with anger.” There’s no need to volunteer a real weakness. This is why answers like “an area I’ve targeted for improvement,” or discussing how you want to keep your skills current, shows you’re a self-assured, sincere, and committed job candidate.

Bottom line on weaknesses—never volunteer a weakness for which an interviewer would not hire you if he knew about it.

Help readers of Your Career Service by posting comments below

Tell us about interview questions you’ve had issues with and I’ll respond.

How to answer the toughies and strategic questions you should ask

You’ll learn how to answer all the important tough interview questions that can be thrown at you along with strategic questions you should ask in my book, “Your One-Minute Job Finding Coach.” Order now.

Copyright ©2016 by Ransom (Randy) Place

About the Author

RANDY PLACE IS A JOB-FINDING and executive coach, writer on career topics, broadcaster, and host of For twenty-three years, he helped thousands of employees who had been let go from JPMorgan Chase find jobs. And he coached executives at CBS Television, Pitney Bowes, and major outplacement firms in New York on job-finding techniques, communications skills, and selling strategies. An accomplished seminar leader and speaker, Randy has designed and presented workshops on interviewing, telephoning techniques, job-search writing, and sales training nationwide. Randy's groundbreaking nationally syndicated radio series, Your Career Service, has been heard on over two hundred radio stations across the United States. And his articles on career topics have appeared in the Wall Street Journal's National Business Employment Weekly. A former broadcast journalist in New York, he has also been a commercial spokesperson for an array of national and regional advertisers. In addition, Randy was a sales executive at NBC Radio and the New York City sales manager for syndication at Wolper Productions. He holds a Bachelor's in Sociology and Broadcasting from Syracuse University, and a Master's in Journalism from New York University.