What Are Your Strengths and Weaknesses? How to Answer in a Job Interview

Woman writing on tablet.

Being asked about your strengths and weaknesses are two of the most common job interview questions you’ll encounter. Because these types of personal questions can be critical in helping employers determine who’s the person for the job, knowing how to answer questions like these could easily be the reason someone decides to hire you.

With the right approach, talking about your biggest strengths can help you put your application in the best light. From a similar perspective, talking about your biggest weaknesses can be just as productive, too. However, without proper preparation, it’s only natural to struggle to answer these deceptively simple questions in a meaningful way.

What to Focus on When Describing Strengths and Weaknesses

Answering interview questions about strengths and weaknesses requires some tact. Framing your answer in a particular light can guide your response in a more productive direction. For example, when talking about your strengths, it’s often useful to emphasize your transferable skills.

But don’t choose from among those skills at random. Focus on those which are most relevant to the job in question, which you can determine by properly researching the company to which you're applying. You’ll want to have the same focus when talking about your weaknesses. Rather than discuss personal weakness, each weakness should relate to the job.

Whether discussing strengths or weaknesses in an interview, it’s also important to maintain a general sense of positivity. Everybody excels at something, is weak in some areas, and works to improve in some way. Failing to identify deficits won’t convince an employer you don’t have any. Regardless of whatever deficits you identify, be sure to also mention the ways you’re working to address them.

Having identified a few traits to focus on, you’ll want to practice your delivery of a few talking points. Sometimes a strengths and weaknesses interview question will be phrased slightly different from what you might expect, which can throw you off if you’re not prepared. Practice helps ensure you can communicate your main points, even when it’s not possible to work from a prepared script.

What are Examples of Good Strengths and Weaknesses for a Job Interview?

In a popular episode of The Office, paper salesman Dwight Schrute ends up losing his job at Dunder-Mifflin and is forced to begin a job hunt. During his first interview, Dwight hands a prospective employer three separate documents. A professional resume, an athletic and special skills resume, and a Dwight Schrute trivia packet.

The punchline for this short scene is the employer’s overwhelmed facial expression as Dwight continues to pile on useless information. To avoid receiving a similar reaction during an interview, it helps to try to see things from the employer’s perspective.

Think about how the information communicated by your list of strengths and weaknesses in an interview helps to inform the employer about your qualifications. For strengths, most applicants will want to focus on their academic background and work experience. For weaknesses, the deficits you identify shouldn’t pertain to an essential job skill required for the position at hand.

Examples of Strengths for a Job Interview

Degrees and certifications are good examples of knowledge-based skills. For example, graduating with honors can demonstrate work ethic and consistency. However, your skills weren’t just acquired through your educational background. Prior employment, internships, and anecdotes from personal experience can be useful in helping employers gauge your abilities.

Even when those experiences aren’t necessarily in the same field as the one where you’re applying, they can be used to help demonstrate your transferable job skills. That might include mention of your communication skills, active listening skills, or problem solving ability. It may also include personal traits like flexibility or punctuality, provided those traits are relevant to the job.

Examples of Weaknesses for a Job Interview

Talking about your weaknesses in a job interview can be difficult. As with your strengths, it’s important to avoid personal qualities that don’t have a direct relationship to the job. The main difference is that you also want to mention how you’re working to address the problem you raise.

For example, suppose your weakness is that you tend to take-on too much responsibility. You might point out that you’re working to become better at planning, delegating, and coping with stress. If your weakness is perfectionism, you might mention that  you’re striving to improve on figuring out when the job you’re working on is “good enough”, or how that you’re working on improving your time management skills.

Wherever possible, avoid clichés and avoid the obvious. For instance, it’s usually not a good idea to mention “public speaking” as a weakness in an interview because that’s something an employer can safely assume is true of most people. The idea is to be helpful to the interviewer by introducing another aspect of yourself to the employer.

Strengths and Weaknesses to Use in an Insurance Interview

Seeing a few “what are your weaknesses” examples can be just as useful as having determined some good strengths to talk about in an interview.

Suppose you were applying to be an underwriter. You might emphasize that your strengths are attention to detail, communication, and analytical ability. You might mention you have limited interpersonal skills because you tend to be a reserved person, but you’re working on becoming more assertive.

If you were applying for an actuary position, you might emphasize your strengths in mathematics, an economics degree, and computer literacy. For weaknesses, you might mention you usually prefer working independently, but you’re taking a class to get better at working with a team. 

For an insurance agent position, you might emphasize strengths in communication, taking initiative and ownership of projects, and an ability to learn things quickly. For weaknesses, you might mention you’re not very good with data entry, but you’re practicing to improve.

Preparing for Your Next Interview

Practice makes perfect. Practicing the delivery of your strengths and weaknesses for your interview can help your claims come across as confident to your prospective employer -- even if you’re feeling a bit nervous during the interview. It also helps to have confidence in knowing which types of jobs to pursue.

If you need help determining what kind of career might match your experience, be sure to check out MyPath’s Career Wizard Quiz.