I love helping share different interview tips and tricks with others!
So you have an interview coming up? Great! That means you’ve made it through the first door. The bad news is that jobs aren’t offered like lollipops at the doctor’s office. You actually have to do something once your resume does its job.
So what is the purpose of the interview? Many people think that the interview is just a means to disqualify people, or to give you the boot before you can even show them what you’re capable of doing. And even though the interview may seem that it’s a one-way street—the prospective employer being the one in power—it is actually a way in which both of you can get to know whether you are a good fit for each other.
Think of an interview as a first date. Yes, it’s nerve-wracking and you can’t help but wonder if this is “the one.” You both hold the power to say no, and you know that you won't be the only one doing the scrutinizing. At the end of the date, he may like you, but you thought he was a complete loser, so even if he calls back, you probably won’t be answering.
The same thing happens in an interview. Your prospective employer will be asking questions to find out whether you’re right for the company or not. You will also be wondering whether this job is right for you and your life.
If you think of an interview as a two-way street, it will be less nerve-wracking and you will be able to be yourself, whether that’s a good thing or a bad thing.
The interviewer also needs to know that you know what you’re getting into. Maybe the job entails more than the job description cared to acknowledge. Maybe this job takes someone with a certain personality, and the interviewer doesn’t want someone that will quit as soon as the skies get gray. Interviewing is actually time and resource consuming, so when they hire someone, they want to make sure that the person is in for the long run and they won’t have to be interviewing someone for that position for a very long time. They are as interested as you are in having someone in the long run.
Depending on the company and the interviewer, you will get a different set of questions, but you always get some sort of variation of these two dream-haunters:
- What are your strengths?
- What are your weaknesses?
Even if they don’t ask those questions directly, they will be listening to your answers very closely to see what are your strengths and weaknesses. So be prepared. Never show up to an interview without a proper answer to these questions.
What Are Your Strengths?
This is the moment to brag about yourself in a modest, yet powerful way. The interviewer wants to know what you can bring to the company and how you view yourself.
But before you go bragging about how many grapes you can fit in your mouth, make sure you know what the job in question entails. Your strengths need to be applicable to the job you're interviewing for.
To make things easier on you, go back to the job posting and see what strengths they're looking for. It's like they're giving you the answer right there!
How to Answer
For example, some job post might say:
"Looking for someone with great interpersonal and organizational skills. Must be an upbeat, positive and energized person."
There's your answer. When they ask about strengths, you can simply say:
"One of my strengths is organization. I am extremely organized and neat."
Or . . .
"I am a very upbeat person. I always try to look for the positive in the negative. Even when things look bleak, I always find a way to turn things around."
Whenever you mention one of your great skills, DON’T BE VAGUE. Anyone can say they’re great organizers and multi-taskers, but not everyone can give a direct example of how they show it at work or in their everyday life. Mention a time in your career in which this skill was necessary and how you were able to use it in favor of the company.
Before your interview, make a list of your strengths and weaknesses. You may find somethings that you didn’t even know about yourself.
Here’s a list of things you can look for to get you started:
- Knowledge-Based Skills: These are the skills that you get from education, such as knowing certain computer programs, computer skills, degrees, etc.
- Transferable Skills: These are skills that can be applied in more than one job, such as planning and communication skills.
- Personal Skills: These are the skills that make you, you. These are the natural skills that you were born with or you developed because of your awesome personality, such as being a team player, being flexible, being calm, turning negatives into positives, etc.
What Are Your Weaknesses?
This is where things get a bit trickier. When we hear this question we instantly think that the interviewer just wants to find a way to trip us and a reason to deny us the job. We start getting self-conscious and become scared about revealing a flaw that may cost us the job.
Relax! The reason a hiring manager asks this dreaded question is not because they want you out. No, they know we all have more flaws than we are willing to admit, especially during a job interview. What they want is for you to tell them HOW you have dealt with difficulties in the past. They want to know how you deal with failure. They want to know you're not conceited and that you are well aware that there are areas in which you can improve, and not only are you aware, but you also take steps to improve.
This question will reveal much to them about your personality and your character. This question can make it or break it.
Never say that you have no weaknesses. That is the worst answer because that is just simply impossible. The hiring manager will know right away that you are full of it and that you are conceited.
How to Answer
Now that you know what they're looking for, give it to them.
Don't just state your weakness and leave it at that.
As soon as you reveal your weak point, also reveal what you have done to turn it into a strength.
Tell them of a time you messed up, and then tell them how you fixed it.
Hiring managers want to know how resilient you are to criticism and failure. Since no employee is perfect, there will be a time in which you will have to receive criticism from your employer, and they want to make sure that you wont go haywire and start attacking everyone. They want to make sure that you can receive and accept advice, and more importantly, that you’re willing to act on that advice to become a better team member.
What You Shouldn't Say
Here are a few examples of things you shouldn't say, even if you've been working on improving them:
- I have a bad temper.
- I get sick a lot.
- I can't work with other people.
Don't Know Your Weaknesses?
Let's be honest. Most of us are pretty well aware of our weaknesses. The problem isn’t that we don’t know our weaknesses. The problem is knowing which ones to reveal.
If you need some help in that area, head on to Google, and take a personality quiz. These are usually pretty good at telling you where there's room for improvement.
Once you have found your weakness, think of ways of improving on them, or think about times in which you have fixed a situation in which your weakness represented an obstacle.
For example, one of my weaknesses is trying to fix things that are not broken. I remember a time in which I tried to fix the program that we use at work. I knew I could make it better, but I didn’t know how. That didn’t stop me from trying, and I rendered the program useless. Not the outcome I was hoping for! Of course, I didn’t walk away from it. I stayed as late as necessary to get that program running again, which I did, but I didn’t get much sleep that day, and needless to say, I learned my lesson.
In other words, my weakness is thinking I can do better, and therefore I don’t like delegating responsibility, and I’m constantly trying to fix other people’s work, even if it may not need to be fixed. I know, not very attractive. But I’ve been working on it. I try to see the best in everyone’s work, and will only act on this negative impulse when completely necessary.
Only reveal weaknesses that are easily fixable. Don’t say “my weakness is my thirst for blood,” because there’s no way you’re coming back from that one.
Don’t get too personal, either. “I don’t like to shower,” is never a good weakness to reveal, even if it may be true. (Heck, showering during winter is hard, I get it. But the interviewer might not . . . )
Go back to the job posting, and imagine yourself working for the company. What can you see would be difficult for you?
When you talk about your weaknesses, stick to things such as:
- I get nervous around people.
- I may take too long with a task because I want to make sure I do it right . . . (Even though you’re basically saying you’re a perfectionist, don’t actually say the word “perfectionist.” It’s overused, and the interviewer will not take it very seriously, so find a way to reword it.)
- I tend to take criticism personally, but I’ve been working on it by . . .
Stick to things that you can turn into positives. Don’t mention weaknesses that can’t be resolved without therapy.
I hope that interview goes well!
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.
Kristen Howe from Northeast Ohio on May 22, 2015:
Silver Q, this was useful for those who need to refine their interview skills. Voted up!