What Are Your Strengths and Weaknesses?

Don’t you just hate that moment in a job interview when you’re asked to reveal your strengths and weaknesses?As if you are going to answer truthfully. “My strengths include being a really good party host and my weaknesses include the fact that my mind often wanders to thoughts about my next party when I am supposed to be adding up figures.” Yeah right.

I know a sales consultant who told her interviewer point blank: “You don’t really expect me to tell you my weaknesses?” She got the job.

However, when interviewing with experts such as a recruitment consultant or a human resources professional using humour or candour is unlikely to get you anywhere but onto the reject pile.

Graham Smith of Heritage Recruitment said asking a candidate about their strengths and weaknesses is an important way to test his or her suitability

for a particular role.

“You are trying to see if the person has a sense of his or her own limitations,” he said. “You also want to know what the person is good at and

how that might fit into the role you are trying to fill.”

“The interviewer wants to make sure the candidate has the right ‘behaviours’ and skills for the job. After the interview, the interviewer will then verify that the candidate has the skills they claim to. For example, is the person good at problem-solving? Will they work well in a team? Do they have an eye for detail and are they a self-starter?”

Both Mr Smith and Nicole Gorton, Australian branch manager of OfficeTeam, said it was very important that candidates provide specific examples to demonstrate their “strengths”.

September 16, 2003

What Are Your Strengths and Weaknesses?(contd)

Known as “behavioural interviewing”, this is where the candidate is asked:

“Tell me about a time when you ….” So make sure you have specific examples to back up everything you relay in the interview. To do this you must

prepare for the interview and rehearse with a friend or family member. It works.A sales consultant who said a strength was the fact he or she was “driven by results” should follow with an example of a time when he or she achieved, let’s say, 110 per cent of their monthly target in three weeks.

Someone in retail or hospitality could be “passionate about customer service” and recall a time of going out of their way to fulfil a customer or guest’s request. Make sure your examples are truthful and can be verified by your referee.

Okay, now for your “weaknesses”. Simon Tobin, a director of Michael Page Finance and Ms Gorton both said you should relate “weaknesses” that were

really strengths and not to use the word “weakness”.

“Start the sentence with, ‘my area for improvement is’,” said Ms Gorton.

Also, nominate a skill you don’t actually need for the job like languages. Being able to say you are actively trying to change your weakness into a

strength is also a good idea.

For example, “My area for improvement is public speaking and I have just enrolled in a toastmaster’s course.”

My stock standard one is: “I’m too focused on work and need to develop some after hours hobbies.” Nauseating right?

Mr Smith has a different view.

“I ask. ‘Give me an example of a situation when you were not successful, what you did, and how you felt about it?”

“I want to know that someone can encounter a knock back and be robust enough to cope with it and get on with the job,” he said.

Story by Kate Southam, editor of CareerOne. Go to for more career related articles. Job hunting and workplace questions can be directed to CareerOne by emailing:

September 16, 2003

Preparation vs Personality – And the Winner is…

An international survey of employers has revealed that when it comes to hiring administrative staff, preparation, not personality, wins the day.

Employers in Australia and eight other countries said the top candidate moves that impress were:

  • Researching a potential employer thoroughly before attending a job interview
  • Asking informed questions at the end of the interview
  • Neat appearance and arriving with all appropriate documents well prepared.

Good manners were rated by a small five per cent of managers as a job winner and only one per cent cited personality as a major influence in giving a candidate the job.

The Workplace Survey relied on data collected by a research firm for recruitment giant Robert Half International in nine countries including Australia. The other countries included Belgium, the Czech Republic, France, Germany, Ireland, the Netherlands, New Zealand and the United Kingdom.

The survey involved 1,550 managers in charge of recruitment from human resource staff to finance directors. OfficeTeam, a specialist recruiter of administrative personnel and a division of Robert Half, released the results in Australia.

Nicole Gorton, Australian branch manager of OfficeTeam, said the survey results showed how important it was for candidate’s to do their research. “In today’s competitive environment, anyone who wants to succeed in interviews has to do their homework and appear committed to the vision of the company,” said Ms Gorton.

“Getting through the interview may only be the first step to career success but it is the time when you are meticulously judged and it is true when people say first impressions last,” she said.

OfficeTeam have also released the findings of a survey of candidates that asked what areas of their career get the creative treatment during an interview.

  • 33 per cent of respondents ‘enhanced’ the content of their former jobs
  • 22 percent expanded on their management skills
  • Only 5 per cent exaggerated their salary
  • 51 per cent of interviewees found it difficult to talk about their weaknesses
  • 23 percent preferred to avoid discussing the reasons for leaving their last job.

Story by Kate Southam, editor of CareerOne. Go to more career related articles. Job hunting and workplace questions can be directed to CareerOne by emailing:

August 5, 2003