Part 2: What are your strengths and weaknesses?

If you’ve been interviewed more than once, chances are, you’ve been asked this common interview question every single time: “What are your strengths and weaknesses?” Trust me; you’ll hear it again. Recruiters, talent acquisition leaders, human resources professionals, and hiring managers will keep asking this common interview question during interviews.

Why? It works. It allows employers to see whether you know yourself well (or not), and it demonstrates your ability to respond to tough personal questions without including a lot of clichés which drive employers crazy. In Part 1 of this two-part series, I explained how to provide great examples of your strengths. Now let’s talk about how to provide examples of your weaknesses. This is often the part job seekers feel more nervous and uncomfortable about during mock interviews and interview prep sessions. A little preparation goes a long way; this article should help you work out the kinks and avoid stumbling over your words and thoughts during your next job interview.


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Before I share three primary tips with you for responding to this question, let me share one additional freebie. Do not, for the love of recruiters everywhere, attempt to spin a strength as a weakness. Don’t say something like, “Well, I’m such a perfectionist that it really ends up making it tough for me to stop working sometimes, and that can keep me from moving on to the next project.” No. That is a very 2007 way to respond to this question. I say this because a) I responded to this question in this exact manner in 2007, and b) I advised college students when I worked in career services at that time to respond in that manner. It was okay then. We know better now. So don’t do it.

Here are some general guidelines you can follow when preparing to respond to interviewers about your weaknesses.

  1. Share fewer weaknesses than strengths.

Unless the interviewer specifically asks you to list a certain number of strengths and weaknesses, list fewer weaknesses than strengths. A 3:2 ratio is fine. Don’t be self-deprecating by going on and on about areas of weakness, defects of character, or faults you’ve discovered about yourself. It’s not a sign of great self-awareness. It’s a flaming red flag to employers reading, “Do NOT hire this person.”

  1. Focus on weaknesses you can work on.

List hard skills/technical skills which can be trained or taught. Do not mention soft skills.

Soft skills are, by definition, a combination of talent and ability. If you share that you’re lacking a soft skill, employers start wondering how much you can possibly grow in the talent portion of that soft skill. Even though you can certainly take courses in communication skills, leadership, and problem-solving, employers understand that there will always be that zone of “talent” with every soft skill, and that some candidates will shine and bring more to the table in those areas than others. If public speaking simply isn’t your thing, do not—ever—point that out to an employer during a job interview.

Instead, before your interview think about three hard skills/technical skills in your career field you could share as weaknesses or areas of potential growth/improvement opportunities. Software programs, courses you’d like to take to improve your knowledge in a certain area, and joining professional organizations in order to connect with mentors are all areas of improvement for many of us. We could all do more to become better connected, more knowledgeable, etc.

When you share weaknesses like these, you’re expressing a desire to grow, and you’re admitting that you are not the end-all, be-all SME (subject matter expert). That’s refreshing to employers because no one wants to hire an egomaniac.

  1. Explain your plan for improvement.

Express your desire to take action to improve yourself and to grow. What’s your plan to improve in this areas of weakness? Share it as you wrap up your response to this common interview question.

“I am not the best at editing photos and just haven’t had much experience in previous positions with this task. Even though it’s not a primary task in this position, I’d like to take a course online in PhotoShop to improve my photo editing skills. Then I feel I’d be better suited to help edit photos when needed and be a better contributor to the design team.”

Providing interviewers with your plan for improvement eases their minds. It lets them know that if they hire you, you’ll be a proactive, self-motivated employee. Who wouldn’t want to hire someone like that?

Need more help with interview preparation? Reach out to me to schedule a mock interview/interview prep session.

Branding yourself with gratitude

When your coworkers mention you—when you’ve stepped out of the room, or when you didn’t join them for lunch—what do they say? Are you mindfully branding yourself in the workplace in hopes they’ll be lifting you up, not tearing you down? When former supervisors and colleagues respond for requests for references during a job search, what characteristics and values will they attribute to you?

Consider working to develop an attitude of gratitude; it can benefit your relationships with colleagues, supervisors, and clients. It can also improve your outlook on your current position within your organization, even if you’re not working in your dream job.

Let’s talk about how the practice of gratitude improves your behavior, transforms your attitude and outlook, and sharpens your branding and networking skills in the workplace (and even your job search).

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How did I become an expert on gratitude? I learned this lesson the way I learn many lessons—the hard way. I had an incredibly cynical, negative attitude at one point in my life. I allowed my circumstances to drag me down, particularly related to my job at the time, which I still contend was “the worst job of all time.” My mentor instructed me to begin sending her a daily gratitude list via email. I had to document three unique, specific items each day, and I couldn’t repeat items on the list. I included things like, “I’m thankful today that when I merged onto the interstate, I remembered to put my coffee in the cup holder first because I was cut off, and otherwise it would have spilled onto my white pants. So I didn’t have to worry about removing stains, stopping to buy new pants before my meeting, or anything like that. Yay!” Over time, my mind began identifying positive moments more easily; I completed this assignment for over 1000 consecutive days.

It changed me. This habit has become second nature to me. In the workplace, it’s a game changer. I’m now less likely to identify problems and pick them apart. I want to help identify solutions instead. And trust me, this isn’t my personality type. I’m less disgruntled and discontent. Don’t you think this makes me more pleasant to work with? Don’t you want to be more pleasant to work with? I promise you every employer wants to hire pleasant, kind employees.

It’s important to remember this: gratitude is more than simply saying thank you. It’s a way of life. It’s a result of taking actions regardless of circumstances. We choose to behave as if we were thankful even when we don’t feel like it. In the workplace, this isn’t always easy, but if we choose gratitude over grumbling, we feel better about ourselves at the end of the day, and we build better relationships. This means we brand ourselves as people who are kind, generous, thoughtful, considerate, humble, joyful, and inclusive.

How can you practically practice gratitude in the workplace?

  1. When interacting with clients, customers, patients, students, or the public, treat them well. Make them a priority; they do matter, you know. Remember to greet them with a smile and a handshake. Invite them into your place of business (virtually or otherwise). Share a freebie. Create a welcoming atmosphere. Try to cut down on wait time. Improve your response time online. Say goodbye and ask them to return again soon. Remember, your clients may not remember what you say, but they’ll remember how you treat them. Word-of-mouth is your best advertisement. Treating your clients as if you were thankful for them—even if you’re having a bad day or feel rushed—is key to a successful business/organization, and it’s also key to living a life you feel proud of when your head hits the pillow at night.
  2. When serving on teams or committees at work or in the community, attempt to smile and serve with a positive attitude. Many times, we don’t approach these tasks with gratitude. We forget that many people are unemployed and underemployed and would love the opportunity to sit in our chairs, listening to our coworkers discuss upcoming events or debate about seemingly trivial matters. Keeping the big picture in mind can help you find gratitude even in your least favorite tasks at work.
  3. Display willingness to serve. Clean up after meetings without being asked. Tidy up the breakroom if you have a few extra minutes. Bring a dozen doughnuts on Friday. Donate your time to help another team when they put out a call for help via email rather than refusing to respond. Volunteer for events and activities as time permits. Expressing willingness can demonstrate gratitude for your part within the organization. When you’re grateful, you give back.
  4. If you’re a supervisor, regularly thank your employees. Host a recognition day or reception. Keep it simple to conserve costs, but make the effort to ensure people feel appreciated. There are fun and affordable ways to extend kudos for contributions. Consider doing a social media shout out on a regular basis. Who doesn’t love that in this day and age?
  5. Express gratitude to everyone, not just people who can promote you. Does the maintenance crew regularly empty your trash or clean your office? Leave them a gift with a note on your desk at night. Bag the trash for them occasionally to save them a step. When you visit the on-site deli or café, purchase a gift card for the administrative assistant anonymously.

Do things for fun and for free, expecting nothing in return. Taking these actions—and expecting nothing in return—will transform you individually. When you become a better person, you’ll behave differently. When you behave as a more thoughtful, more considerate, more joyful, and more productive employee, you will gain attention from colleagues and supervisors. This is the heart of branding, but all terminology and self-promotion aside, it’s really the heart of being a decent human being.

And that’s what really matters.

Let me help with your branding, networking, and other career coaching and workplace communication needs. For more pointers on your job search and workplace relationships, follow me on LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.