“What are your strengths and weaknesses?” That’s a question that many struggle to feel confident answering.
When I coach people to answer this question, I remind them that when they hear the question about strengths, they should know that the next question will be about their weaknesses.
So when answering the question about strengths, try to connect your answer to the job description from the firm you are interviewing for. For example, if you are interviewing for a position that requires someone to be detail-oriented yet with proven experience satisfying a demanding constituency, pause to make it seem like you are thinking and then respond by saying, “Hmm (a short pause). I think one of my strengths is that I am thorough (detail-oriented) while working well with demanding people to satisfy their requirements and help them feel heard and satisfied. If you draw a blank with connecting the dots, you can talk about your determination, that you care about doing good work, you work well with others, and are good at facilitating change.
Be prepared for a follow-up question that will let you tell a story about how you’ve done that in the past.
And when they switch to weaknesses, my preferred answer (and the one that requires people to practice saying it) is “There was a time in my career when I spent a lot of time and effort fixating on my flaws. When I made a mistake, I really beat myself up. I would read books, ask for advice, sit in meetings and try to learn from others to try to get better. Over time, I learned there were certain things I was not good at.
For example, I am not good at coding an app. I just don’t have that mindset. Over time, I’ve learned to play to my strengths. That’s because when I focus on my weaknesses, there’s always going to be better than me. I’ve found that it takes a lot of energy for me to get better at my weaknesses, but few will be better than me for my strengths.”
What I’ve done is transition the question to answer it about your strengths from your weaknesses (coding an app), tell them few people are going to be better than you at them, and avoided the weaknesses answer.