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

Second Interview style

Congratulations – you’ve got a second interview. Now what are you feeling? Relief, fear or maybe both? Jacky Carter of Hays Personnel provides her expert tips for clearing this final hurdle.

Those first few moments after you’ve heard that you’ve secured a second interview can be filled with an extraordinary array of conflicting emotions.

The first wave of happiness, relief and general self-congratulation slowly ebbs away leaving you with the realisation that another and bigger hurdle must now be faced.

Ultimately, you might find the news completely daunting, especially if the interview is with a prestigious company for a role that you really want.

First interview versus second interview: what is the difference?

The Human Resources department normally conducts the first interview. They are checking out your academic background, skills base and experience to see that they tie in with your resume.

A second interview could follow one of a few different formats and it is important to try and find out which one before attending that all-important meeting.

You may be meeting with one person such as your direct report. Or you could be meeting several staff members in a panel interview or even in a series of one-to-one interviews.

Preparing for a second interview

Walking into an interview knowing you’ve done your homework will give you confidence, as you’ll know there is less chance for any surprises.

Your preparation should concentrate on all the practical and intellectual aspects of the interview.

Practical aspects include:

    • Finding out the names and titles of the interviewers prior to meeting with them.
    • Check when and where the interview is and make sure you know how to get there.
    • Remember to take all relevant phone numbers in case your plans change unexpectedly.

Pay attention to grooming and dress sense as first impressions count for so much. Always wear a suit unless the environment is particularly informal.

  • Take with you a copy of your resume and a pen and paper. Don’t assume the interviewer will have a copy of your resume from your first visit.
  • Make sure you pick up business cards of those interviewing you so that you can write thank you letters.


Intellectual aspects include:

  • Building on the information you researched first time around about the industry, the company and your potential role. You can do this by reading industry publications, news articles, the company’s web site and annual report.
  • Get to know the company by reading about its mission statement, goals, business philosophy and management style.
  • Learn about what your potential employer needs from the role on offer so you can relate your skills, interests and experiences in a way that meets those needs.
  • Speak to anyone you know working in the same industry – especially anyone familiar with the company. The knowledge you glean from such conversations and the fact you have gone to this trouble often impresses employers.
February 18, 2003

Second interview style continued

Lines of questioning

Think back to your first interview. What main areas did they concentrate on? Be prepared for the focus on these areas to be even more intensive this time around.Look at the information given to you – brochures, presentations – and be prepared to answer questions based on what you have absorbed from them.

Reflect on what questions were asked during the first interview and which ones you found difficult. Be prepared to answer the same questions again.

Advanced preparation produces stronger responses, even to the traditional questions like: “Why should we give you the job?” and “What can you offer us?” This helps you to show off your communication skills.

General interview tips

Think about what the interviewer is trying to find out from asking a particular question and how you might formulate your answer.

Remember to answer the questions consistently as the interviewer will be making notes.

A second interview gives you the chance to express your ideas rather than simply talking about your skills and experience as you did in the first interview.

Also, be fresh – think of new examples and information when talking about your achievements rather than just providing the same ones again.

Do not let yourself become distracted. Focus and listen carefully to the interviewer at all times.

Other second interview tips include:

  • Remain calm. It’s okay to take a moment or two to think about a question. Don’t get flustered and blurt out the first thing that comes to mind
  • Be brief and to the point
  • Be positive and enthusiastic
  • Know your skills and strengths and express them in a confident way.

Don’t miss Part Two of this essential guide to second interview style – coming soon!

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:

February 18, 2003

How to Ace an Interview

Your resume has landed you a job interview and now you must make the most of a “face-to-face” meeting to secure the role.Being as prepared as possible is vital.


Visit the prospective employer’s website and browse through the “About Us”, “employment”, “our people” and “media” sections. A large reference library will be able to provide newspaper clippings and an annual report so you can find out what’s really going on. If you are going through a recruitment firm, your consultant will be only too happy (and impressed) to help you do your homework.


This may sound silly but rehearsing with a friend or family member is a great way to sooth pre-interview nerves. It will also help you get your thoughts straight. Your rehearsal partner can tell you if you’re speaking too quickly, if your sentences are too long or your answers hard to follow. Rehearse again and again until you feel your answers are flowing. Oh, and don’t get mad at your rehearsal partner when they point these things out, they’re just trying to help.

Pre-interview check

Find out before the interview, the name and title of each and every person you will be meeting with. Memorise the names. Again, your recruitment consultant will be happy to help. If you are dealing directly with the company, it’s perfectly acceptable to ask its HR department to provide these details.


Take extra care with your appearance. Ensure your clothes are clean and well ironed. Check for stains, stray threads and loose buttons. Avoid visual distractions such as loud ties, chipped nail polish, heavy make up, sheer fabrics and unwashed hair.

Feeling good

On the morning of the interview, go for a walk or spend some time doing stretches. You will breath deeply, which will help you relax, have better posture and therefore look the part of the successful candidate. On the way to the interview, walk tall and smile. Strangers will smile back at you and the receptionist at the interview firm will be nice to you By the time you hit the interview, you’ll feel good.

During the interview

    • Don’t say anything negative about a past employer.


    • Don’t interrupt anyone.


    • Keep your answers relatively short and to the point. If the interviewer wants more information, he or she will ask for it. By the same token, try to avoid answering with just a “yes” or “no”.


    • Maintain good eye contact. If there is more than one person at the interview, talk to both or all of them – no matter how junior or incidental.


    • Prepare something for when you are invited to ask questions.


    • Think carefully before accepting a drink. You might find yourself in a chair without arms and out of reach of a table balancing a coffee, tea or glass of water throughout the interview.


  • Smile – whenever appropriate of course.

Look out for the next CareerOne column which will focus on how to handle “second” job interviews.

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:

February 11, 2003

Interview Q & A: Are you a CEO or a CU-Later?

Interviewer: “See this pen, sell it to me.”

You’d respond:

How many would you like?┬áThere’s a discount if you buy a dozen.
I didn’t think this was a sales position.

Why would I want to sell you a pen? You’ve already got one.

“How do you cope with stressful situations?”

I try to turn stressful situations into a challenge.

I never get stressed.

I go home and drink a bottle of wine, smoke a pack of ciggies, and cry.

“Are you planning to have a family soon?”

I know you are looking for someone who can give you 100% commitment and I can assure you of that.

No, absolutely, definitely not.

No, my partner ‘shoots blanks’. Let me tell you about it…

“What kinds of people do you have difficulty working with?”

I generally work well with most people. I do have some trouble though when people complain without offering solutions.

I’ve never had anything but excellent working relationships in the past.

Men, usually.

“What is your greatest weakness?”

I’m a bit of a perfectionist, which I see as a weakness and others see as a strength.

I work much too hard (accompanied by a winsome, apologetic shrug) but none other than that.

You know, I really hate it when people ask this question.

“Where would you like to be in 5 years?”

I would hope to have been promoted to x position (several steps higher than the one being offered.)

In your chair.

I’d like to win Lotto and live in the Bahamas.

How did you score?

Mostly a

You’ve shown intelligence and poise with just the right amount of sass and savvy. You have displayed honesty in a clever way and revealed enough ambition to show your keenness to rise up the corporate ladder. Congratulations you’ve got the job!

Mostly b

You’re on the right track but in trying so hard to impress, there’s bullshit everywhere. You’re projecting confidence but may come across as being too aggressive so tone it down one notch; you need to remember that the person interviewing you may be a boss who’s insecure about their position. You may still get the job, however.

Mostly c

You’re very honest but that won’t get you the big corporate pozzy, as refreshing as it may be in such a ‘political’ arena. People in other fields may snap you up, however, an advertising creative director, for example. An original and outspoken individual, you have probably already been sacked from a few jobs, and your refusal to talk-the- talk makes you well suited to being self-employed.

January 28, 2002

Best Career Tips Ever!

Whether you’re just thinking about a career change or are in the middle of a major job hunt, tips from the experts are always useful. The SheSaid career guru is here to help. Brush up on your interview techniques, write a better resume, be prepared with some intelligent questions at your interview.

Company research

Interview preparation

Dos and don’ts at the interview

Questions you may be asked

How to answer questions professionally

Questions you should ask

At the end of the interview

Company research

Research the company that you are interviewing with. With the amount of information readily available over the web, you should be able to find out all you need to know. Alternatively, if the company is a listed company, call their head office and request the latest copy of their annual report (they are obliged to send it to you). If you need information on stock market performance, the world’s stock exchanges have extensive reference information available.

Useful sites: (Australian Equities) (US Innovative stocks) (US mainboard listing) (UK mainboard stocks) (UK innovative stocks)

If you are using the services of a recruitment company, make sure that they supply you with information on the company, or at least direct you to where you can find the relevant information.

Interview preparation

This is your big chance to make a lasting impression. You have no excuse for not being fully prepared and organised. Chances are, if you’re not, the next person will be!

Make sure you know what you have written on your CV. Interviewers will ask you about it.

Have the correct time, location and pronunciation of the person’s name that will be interviewing you. Allow yourself plenty of time to get there do not be late!

Prepare a list of questions that you would like to ask, and don’t hesitate to take it out from your bag to read from the list. We all get nervous in interviews, and it is horrible to remember when you’ve left that you forgot to ask something critical. Asking questions shows the interviewer that you have prepared for the meeting.

Wear your most businesslike and appropriate outfit. Make sure your shoes are clean and well heeled, and that your jewellery is appropriate. Remember: it is easy to be quirky once you actually have the job.

Dos and don’ts at the interview

Always remember that you are being interviewed because the interviewer wants to fill a vacancy.

Do fill it out any application forms neatly and completely

Do greet the interviewer by name

Do shake hands firmly. (This is so important. A weak handshake can take the whole interview to overcome.)

Do wait until you are offered a chair before sitting. Sit upright in your chair, look alert and interested at all times. Be a good listener as well as a good talker. Smile!

Do be enthusiastic – nothing is more attractive.

Do look a prospective employer in the eye when you speak – very important!

Do follow the interviewer’s lead, but try to obtain a full description of the position and duties expected early on so that you can relay your appropriate background and skills.

Do keep in mind that only you can sell yourself and make the interviewer aware of the potential benefit you could be to the organisation. Think like the interviewer: what would you want to hear?

Do keep in mind that there may be more than one role on offer in the organisation. Remain positive throughout the interview.

Don’t smoke, even if the interviewer smokes and offers you a cigarette.

Don’t answer questions with a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’. Always give an example as it helps to reinforce what you are saying.

Don’t lie. Answer questions truthfully, frankly and as much to the point as possible.

Don’t make derogatory remarks about your present or former employers.

Don’t ask about salary, holidays, bonuses, etc. at the initial interview unless you are positive the interviewer is interested in hiring you.

Questions you may be asked

There are some questions that invariably come up at interviews. You look professional and polished if you can answer them intelligently instead of trying to think on your feet (or more likely your backside!)

Why did you choose a career in this particular industry?

What do you know about our company?

What do you know about this particular job?

Why would you like to work for our company?

What interests you about our product/services?

What style of management gets the best results from you?

What have you learned from some of the jobs you have held?

Which did you enjoy the most, and why?

What have you done that shows initiative in your career?

What are your major weaknesses and what are your strengths?

What do you think determines a person’s progress in a good company?

Are you willing to relocate?

What are your hobbies?

What does “teamwork” mean to you?

What do you want to be doing in your career five years from now?

How to answer questions professionally

On a general note, keep the answers to these questions short and professional. Nobody likes to interview someone who rambles on. Where possible, give an example, as it helps to anchor what you have just said in the interviewer’s mind.

What style of management gets the best results from you?

“I like a participative style of management. In my current role, my boss and I have a meeting every Monday morning, and together, we determine the priorities of the week. Each afternoon at 5pm, I update her as to the events of the day, and what goals have been achieved. As such, we find that we work as a very productive team more than achieve the targets we set on Monday.”

Alternatively, “I like a fairly hands-off style of management. In my current role, I am given a task and when it is completed I let my boss know. Using this approach together we have successfully delivered four projects on time …”

Be careful of strengths and weaknesses questions, and again give an example. ‘Weaknesses’ is one area where if you don’t prepare beforehand you may tell your interviewer what they really are! Instead, the trick to this question is to think about a weakness that could just as easily be considered a strength.

“As I like everything to be correct, when under situations of extreme pressure I tend to not delegate as effectively as usual. However, I am aware of this situation, and am consciously trying to overcome this situation.”

Which, in reality, probably means you become a control freak when stressed! However, what the interviewer hears is that you ‘like everything to be correct’, and that only in times of extreme pressure do you operate less effectively. But who does? The interviewer will also appreciate it that you know of this perceived ‘weakness’ and are trying to improve on it.

Remember: don’t lie! Just be smart, but not a smart-arse!

Questions you should ask

Looking and sounding prepared is important. Don’t be afraid to refer to a notebook during the meeting.

Is there a detailed position description available?

Why is the position available?

How would you describe the culture of the company?

In you opinion, what are the company’s best-selling products or services?

Why do you think that is?

What kind of training will I receive?

What kinds of people have done well within the organisation? Why?

What is the company’s strategy for the next year? Where are they trying to position themselves in the market?

What value are you expecting me to add to the team?

What do you see the career progression for this role being?

At the end of the interview

Ask what the next step is from here. Let the interviewer know you are interested in pursuing the opportunity further, without being overbearing. If you are offered the position and you are comfortable and happy with everything discussed, including salary, accept the position on the spot, subject to receiving the offer in writing. If you wish time to think it over, be tactful in asking for that time. Agree on a definite time when you will come back with your answer. NEVER resign from a permanent role without a written offer from your ‘future’ employer.

Most interviewers will not make an offer in the interview. Don’t let this discourage you. It is all part of the process. The general line is: “I am interviewing other candidates…”

Always remember to thank the interviewer for their time and consideration. Let them know that you hope to hear from them soon. Remember to shake the interviewer’s hand and smile. Walk away knowing you have done all you can do.

August 1, 2000