How to answer “what are your strengths and weaknesses?” in interviews

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How to answer “what are your strengths and weaknesses?” in interviews

Welcome back to our interview series. Last week, we kicked things off with one common interview question, “Why did you apply for this role?” This week, we are wading into another frequently asked question—and the topic of the most-read article on Coursera—“What are your strengths and weaknesses?

Strengths and weaknesses is a classic behavioral interview question, and like all behavioral interview questions, interviewers ask it in order to learn more about who you are and how you work. Broadly, these questions may touch upon the way you organize, communicate, make decisions, take initiative, and work with others. They are typically phrased in a way that requests or allows you to recall a specific example to illustrate your past behaviors. For example:

  • How do you manage competing demands?
  • What was a difficult decision you had to make in the last year? What made it difficult?
  • Tell me about a time when you identified a problem and came up with a solution.

Behavioral questions tend to be related to your workplace skills—they’re less about the technical aspects of what you do, and more about the way you go about doing your tasks. So to prepare, think about how your workplace skills have made you a better, more effective colleague. (For inspiration, revisit our issue on the top skills of 2023.)

Now let’s explore how you may go about answering behavioral interview questions with one that is frequently top-of-mind:

“Tell me about your strengths and weaknesses.”

Interviewers ask this to learn more about what you think about yourself. Think of it as an opportunity to share what you’re most proud of and ways you hope to keep growing.

For strengths, review the job description and see if you can identify one or two responsibilities that align with things you do really well. Then, provide a real-life example and try to back it up with a measurable result. In your answer, touch upon two points:

  • In what ways are you good at this strength?
  • How does this strength help you at work?

Here’s an example of someone who excels at collaboration:

“I’ve always enjoyed working cross-functionally—I actually consider it one of my strongest attributes. In my current role as a marketing research analyst, I held several focus groups and synthesized the results of that user feedback to stakeholders across my company’s product, design, and marketing departments. My abilities to communicate clearly with other teams and collaborate to ensure accurate deliverables ensured that we launched an effective product that better addressed user needs.”

For weaknesses, talk about an area where you’d like to grow. The key here is to pair self-awareness with action and results. Be sure to touch upon these two points:

  • What have you been doing to improve?
  • How has that improvement had a positive impact on your work?

Here’s an example of someone who is working on their public speaking skills:

“I am a naturally shy person, so presenting in front of others has been a challenge. A few years ago, I led a big project and was asked to present my findings to the company’s leadership team. I was so nervous. But I wanted to move past that fear, so I signed up for Toastmasters as a way to practice public speaking. Not only did this help get me through that first presentation, but it also helped me feel more confident as a leader.”

Sharpening your workplace skills

After reflecting on the way you show up in the workplace, a helpful next step may be proactively seeking self-improvement opportunities. You can always revisit all of our course recommendations for the top skills of 2023, or consider these picks:

To explore a range of in-demand workplace skills, try IBM’s People and Soft Skills for Professional and Personal Success Specialization. Here, you’ll take a closer look at techniques to improve skills like collaboration, presentation, and problem solving.

To practice answering interview questions, try the University of Maryland’s Advanced Interviewing Techniques. In this course, you’ll get tips for answering behavioral interview questions—including discussing your weaknesses.

To find courses related to a specific weakness, type your desired area of growth into the search bar on Coursera. Use filters on the left sidebar to narrow your results, and take a look at the course ratings and reviews to see how other learners felt about the course.

If you need help finding a course or just want our recommendation, let us know what you’re working toward in the comments and we will see what we can find!

Next week, we’ll continue this conversation with an issue on situational interview questions. See you then!