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How to answer the all-important ‘what are your strengths and weaknesses?’ question…

From talking to candidates over the years, I’ve found that one of the questions that can strike fear into the heart of an interviewee is the archetypal ‘strengths and weaknesses’ question.

‘How do I come across as confident, but not arrogant, when talking about my strengths?’

‘How do I come across as competent for the role when I’m talking about weaknesses?’

This question isn’t asking you to demonstrate your depth of technical experience for the role; rather it seeks to delve into the aspects of your personality, attributes and general approach to work which have an impact on whether you’re a good cultural fit for the team, and whether you have what it takes to succeed and flourish in the role.

Let’s deal with the strengths part of the question first, as this is more of a straightforward opportunity to showcase why you think you would be a good fit for the role in question, above and beyond the specific relevant technical experience that you have.

Some of the ideas I’ve found most useful here include –

  • Come up with a short list of around 3 or 4 key strengths which you genuinely possess
  • Be honest with yourself and don’t claim to have a specific strength which in reality is still a ‘work in progress’
  • Have strong examples of how you’ve demonstrated a particular strength, to back up your claim, and relate them to the role that you’re interviewing for
  • Start with a strength that is absolutely crucial to your success in the role, and back it up with at least one example
  • Follow it up with a couple more key strengths that will also add value, providing examples of how you’ve demonstrated those strengths  and are continuing to develop those strengths
  • Do your homework on the firm and the opportunity and avoid wasting the opportunity by talking about a key strength that is not particularly important for this role
  • Examples of key strengths include client relationship & retention skills, determination, attention to detail, strong prioritisation skills, the ability to remain calm under pressure, excellent problem-solving skills, effective communication skills, patience, leadership skills, focussed analytical skills

When it comes to the weaknesses section, some of the ideas I’ve found useful here include  –

  • Keep this section of the answer a bit shorter, so that the interviewer has less time to dwell on it, but be honest & precise and not vague
  • Keep it to a couple of examples, and make sure that they are weaknesses that are not critical to the role. For example, if you’re interviewing for a role that requires you to handle a volume caseload, don’t suggest that your biggest weakness is procrastination and an inability to prioritise your work
  • Choose a genuine weakness, and give an example of how it has affected your performance or caused you to struggle in a previous role, or earlier in your current role
  • Discuss what you have done so far to overcome the weakness, which highlights your sense of self-awareness and your ability to accept constructive criticism and keep growing as an individual
  • Demonstrate that whilst this is still an area of learning and growth for you, you have made substantial progress and you know how you can overcome it
  • What you may have put in place to help you overcome your weakness could also be something outside work. For example, if you have a fear of public speaking or contributing in meetings, you may have taken it upon yourself to join a local drama group, which is helping to build your confidence
  • Remember that however far through your career you are, everybody has areas that they want to improve on, but by following up with how you are overcoming these weaknesses, you will demonstrate that you’re self-aware, capable, and committed to continuous growth.
  • Examples of weaknesses include too details-focused, prone to too much multi-tasking, too self-critical, procrastination, impatience, or a tendency to silo mentality

And finally, a couple of general tips –

  • Consider answering with your weaknesses first and then moving on to your strengths – that way you’ll end the question on a resounding positive
  •  Always have a couple more examples of each up your sleeve in case the interviewers ask for more
  •  Tell a story about your strengths and weaknesses – you’ll come across as more genuine and more human
  • Never, and I mean never, tell the interviewer that your greatest weakness is that you’re a perfectionist, unless you want the interviewer to think that you’re a walking cliché!!

Here at BCL Legal, we will always go through a thorough interview preparation with you and can act as a sounding board for you to test out any pre-prepared answers, letting you know what works and what doesn’t. For further interview tips on our website, click here.

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