Have a job interview coming up? Get ready to answer one of the most common questions: "What are your biggest strengths and weaknesses?
To nail this interview question, seek honest feedback
Most people think they have a good handle their abilities. But, due to self-serving bias, they tend to exaggerate their strengths and overlook any weaknesses.
If you want to craft a perfect response, turn to former managers and co-workers that you trust for feedback. Before you pick up the phone or write that email, however, you must first identify the top six skill for the position you're interviewing for.
Then say, "I'm very interested in this job, and these are the most important skills they're looking for in a candidate. It would really help if you could rank these based on what you feel is my strongest to least strongest. Since we've worked so closely with each other, I really value your opinion."
Providing specific information makes your question very clear, which in turn makes it easier for your former peers to answer in detail.
Once you've gathered enough feedback, do an honest assessment: What skills are repeatedly listed at the top? Which are at the bottom? Do you agree? What are some examples that illustrate your strengths? What have you been doing to improve your weaknesses?
Example #1: 'What are your strengths?'
Let's say you're applying for a marketing position, and based on the responses you received, your strengths are researching, writing creative copy and commercial awareness. Your weaknesses are social media management, graphic design and planning promotional events.
When asked about your strengths, here's what a great answer might look like:
"I actually asked some of my former peers and bosses about this, and many of them pointed out my ability to identify both problems and opportunities through my researching skills. Analyzing data to identify and define audiences is something I really enjoy. I also love staying on top of the latest trends; it keeps me informed and fuels my creativity, especially when writing copy for campaigns.
In my current position, for example, I found that millennials only made up 15% of our client base — which is significantly lower than our competitors. So I pitched a marketing campaign using blogs, email and social media to highlight success stories of clients who started investing in their 20s. Six months later, we broke even with our competitors — and we're now starting to trend ahead."
This response shows you care enough about your performance and career to solicit feedback from others. And having facts to back up your point is a clear indication that you walk the walk you talk.
Example #2: 'What are your weaknesses?'
When it's time to address weaknesses, don't be afraid to hold back; be as honest as possible.
Here's an example of an excellent answer:
"While my campaign ideas have helped grow and diversify our client base, I've had to lean on my co-workers when it comes to managing social media campaigns and designing graphics. These are two areas I really want to improve on. I've started working very closely with my colleagues in these areas to absorb their knowledge and gain experience. I also signed up for some graphic design courses that I'm super excited about."
When you acknowledge your weaknesses, you're basically saying, "I know I'm not perfect." This is a strength in itself. Also, talking about what you're doing to improve shows you understand the skills required to succeed in the job, and that you aren't easily discouraged.
I always tell people to take this question seriously and put effort into preparing for it, because not only will you boost your chances of getting hired, but you'll also learn a lot about yourself in the process.
J.T. O'Donnell is the founder and CEO of Work It Daily, an online platform dedicated to helping people solve their biggest career problems. She has more than 15 years of experience in hiring, recruiting and career coaching. For career tips, follow her on TikTok @jtodonnell.
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