Chances are you've probably been asked these interview questions so often, it might elicit an eye-roll (hopefully not in front of your interviewer).

Questions like:

  • "Tell my about yourself."
  • "Where do you see yourself in three years? Five years? Ten years?"
  • "Why should we hire you?"
  • "Why did you leave your last job?"
  • "Why do you want this job?"

And then you get the two most often asked questions on the planet, but you're still unsure how to go about answering them with confidence. And yes, they matter. A lot. They are:

  • "What are your greatest weaknesses?"
  • "What are your greatest strengths?"

Here's how to pull them off with great success.

"What are your greatest weaknesses?" 

For years we've been taught that the proper answer to nail this question is to choose some hypothetical weakness and disguise it as a strength. And let's be honest, how many of us have actually embellished or even made up stuff that really isn't true, just to tell the interviewer what he or she wants to hear? 

The best approach when facing this question is to pick an actual weakness that you're working to overcome. This will speak volumes about your honest self-assessment and desire to grow. It leaves no room for doubt in the interviewer's mind that you're a person of integrity since you came clean.

To prepare ahead for this question, know the role or position you're applying for and remember to pick out an example relating to either a skill/habit or personality trait that ties in with that job. Go over the job description a few times to find clues on what may matter most for this specific role.

Here's a quick reference guide to follow. It would help to rehearse this in front of a friend or a mirror:

  1. State your weakness.
  2. Add context with a specific example of how your weakness has limited you. 
  3. End your story with some insight into how you've addressed (or are addressing) your stated weakness. This lets your potential employer know that you have self-awareness, and you're committed to self-improvement and growing as a person.

For example, here's what you'd say if interviewing for a position in a strong team setting but your natural tendency is to work alone and problem-solve by yourself: 

"I tend to revert back to thinking I can solve problems on my own. It's worked well in the past because I know I can trust myself to do good work, but in many cases, it's held me back because I wasn't able to figure everything out. I've realized now that strength comes in numbers -- I need to ask my colleagues for help especially if the problem has reached critical mass. In one instance at my last job, I was overseeing a large project with a lot of moving parts. It didn't dawn on me until after we delivered it to the client successfully how close we came to not pulling it off on time and on budget. That's because I was trying to manage everything 'lone ranger' style from start to finish and not asking for help. After a lot of processing and self-reflection, I've realized I need to trust my coworkers and their abilities to perform. Ever since, I've committed to being more intentional about identifying a few 'go to' teammates who can dive into a problem with me. It's also brought me a lot closer to my teammates and they trust me more in return.

"What Are Your Greatest Strengths?"

As with weaknesses, look at the job description to clue you in to what strengths you need to highlight.  

When offering context for your stated strengths, pick out a specific trait or skill that qualifies you for the job or position and speak into it. But do it with the proper balance of humility and inner confidence (not cockiness).

Here's a quick reference guide for the strengths question to rehearse:

  1. State your strength(s).
  2. Add context to address the specific strength(s) that qualify you and sets you apart from other candidates. Remember, avoid coming across as arrogant. 
  3. End your story with a statement of commitment to the path you're on; also sneak in some gratitude by complementing someone else (or your team). 

Here is an example of what that might sound like for someone interviewing for a leadership role:

"People have always told me my biggest strength is to lead others. With over ten years of experience managing high-performing teams, it's landed me three promotions in six years. When I look back at my successes, I can honestly admit that I would have never reached this stage if it wasn't for the talent, expertise, and diversity of some amazing people I recruited and helped develop. They made me look good! I'm proud of my ability to motivate and get bright minds moving in the same direction to achieve [state a significant accomplishment or business outcome]. But I'm even more proud of having made a difference in the lives of others, meeting their needs, and setting them up for success. I know continuing to develop my leadership skills and making an impact is something I want from my next role."

In closing, always remember a few pointers as you prepare for these two most often-asked questions: Make certain your strengths support the job description and distinguishes you as a candidate; have a proper balance of confidence and humility; and, for both questions, be specific with clear examples of strengths and weaknesses in your responses.