So, what are your greatest strength and weaknesses?
I’m a people person. I’m a good communicator. I do too much by myself. I can’t quit until the job’s done.
Yes, interviewers still ask that question. It should have been retired long ago—it’s become a cliché that invites cliché answers.
To stand out, move away from the cliché and toward introspection. Lucky for you that you know the question’s coming and don’t have to self-examine on the fly. A desire to see how applicants think on their feet was actually the origin of the question, and it was a great idea until it became so routine that the element of surprise was gone.
You can still surprise interviewers, though, by finding opportunity in this mundane question.
Inject your personality and point of view.
Use it to highlight soft skills that aren’t obvious on a resume.
Here are five tactics we love:
The “work in progress” approach
“My strength: I’m an eager learner who’s always looking to upgrade my skills. That’s why I’ve been taking classes on databases on my own time. I know I need to improve.” Bonus points if you can tie this answer to a skill you know the interviewer is looking for that isn’t currently on your resume.
I’m a great “fill in the blank” learner
Describe your own learning style and present it as the strength. It’s a smooth upgrade on the “I’m a good communicator” answer. “I’m a great auditory learner, which is why I usually retain things I hear at seminars or meetings. It took me a while to understand that not everyone is that way. Now that I do, I’m learning to present important information in a variety of ways so it reaches everyone.”
I’m a great trouble-shooter
“I’m usually quick to see potential problems in ideas or plans. The challenge was in learning to present those as delicately as possible so people don’t become defensive. Phrasing a concern as a question is good, particularly in group settings.” It’s a definite skill to be able to overcome the initial wave of enthusiasm and magical thinking and pinpoint possible pitfalls. Businesses need this even if they don’t realize it.
It depends on what your definition of “is” is
“If you define weakness as ‘something I’m not very good at,’ there are a ton of things. I’m a horrible ‘Call of Duty’ player, and I have no interest in getting better. If you define weakness as ‘things I’m working to get better at,’ then I’d say understanding SEO and better using web content as a marketing tool. That’s my greatest strength. When I see a skills gap, I work to fill it.”
My greatest strength is, I know my weaknesses
This response could draw a chuckle because it sounds like a dodge. Be prepared to back it up. “I know my biggest challenge is procrastination, so I’ve set up an elaborate system of interim deadlines to stay on track. That’s helped me become a better manager, too, because it scales to group projects.”
A few warnings: Many interviewers will know you’re expecting the strength/weakness question. That’s why they’ll rephrase or press for detail to try to elicit more-honest answers: If I call your current supervisor, what will she say are your biggest strengths and weaknesses?
On weaknesses in particular, admit to enough that it won’t sound like a copout but not enough to raise a red flag. You don’t have to drag out your dirtiest laundry. “My greatest strength is that I’m incredibly organized and amazingly thorough, which is why the police have never found all the bodies I’ve buried. My greatest weakness is a hair-trigger temper.”
Yes, the “strength and weaknesses” question has become a cliché. A job applicant who can think creatively, though, can use the cliché as an opportunity to highlight off-resume skills or to hone their pitch.