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Answering One of the Toughest Interviewing Questions

Identifying Strengths and Weaknesses

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Out of all of the questions that interviewers ask, I find the toughest one that students dread the most is, “Please describe your strengths and weaknesses”.

When discussing “strengths” students often feel uncomfortable since they are not sure what the interviewer is looking for in an answer. In addition, students often feel like they are bragging about their skills and accomplishments when they discuss their strengths in a cover letter or interview situation. Understanding where the interviewer is coming from will make this question easier to answer.

First of all, it is most likely that the interviewer is interviewing more than one candidate. In that case, answers provided to these questions will be evaluated and compared to those of other candidates.

Tips when answering questions in an interview:

  1. Avoid the use of vague, negative, or unimaginative answers. Using vague words such as probably, maybe, usually, etc., are not productive in an interview.

  2. Be specific and give examples, whenever possible. Provide specific examples of previous coursework or work experiences that illustrate relevant skills based on the internship/ job qualifications or description.

  3. Assess your strengths by identifying your skills. Skills can be based on three areas: knowledge-based, transferable, and personal characteristics or traits. Knowledge-based skills include previous coursework or work experience that requires a certain level of expertise. These are skills based on learning, such as: language, computer, laboratory, technical, etc. Transferable skills are those that are useful in many work environments, such as: communication, interpersonal, problem-solving, etc. Personal characteristics or traits include personal values and work ethic. Individuals who work hard and complete their work based on their personal value system, establish a strong work ethic that is appreciated by most employers.

The “weaknesses” question is definitely the more difficult of the two questions to answer. The important thing to keep in mind is that the interviewer is looking for relevant information on which to base a hiring decision. Consequently, it’s important to find a way to turn the “weaknesses” question into a positive by first identifying the weakness and then illustrating specific strategies you have used to turn the weakness around. Providing examples of ways you have worked to overcome your weaknesses in the past provides employers with a sense of confidence that you will find solutions to the challenges and problems you encounter in a future internship or job.

Although the answer you provide to any one question in an interview will usually not be the deciding factor between getting hired or not (unless you make a huge blunder), maintaining a positive and can-do attitude will provide the employer with a positive impression of your skills and accomplishments and a sense of confidence in your ability to do a good job.

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