It’s often reported that when interviewing potential job candidates, some bosses take just 90 seconds to decide if they want to hire someone.

The silver lining? By preparing for tough questions and then answering them clearly and succinctly, you up your chances of nailing the interview and being asked back for another.

While some women looking to reenter the workforce focus on explaining the gap , or highlighting their volunteer experience , Carroll Welch, a career coach focused on career development, transition, and reentry, says one of the most common – and difficult to answer — questions you’ll get focuses on your strengths and weaknesses.

“For many, the question that provokes the most anxiety is some form of ‘Tell me about your greatest strength and your worst weakness,’” she says. “The pitfalls of responding seem huge.  Should you be honest?  Tell them what you think they want to hear?  Should you disguise a strength as a weakness, as in ‘I’m such a perfectionist!’?  With thought and preparation, you can (and should) address these questions sincerely and authentically, but in a manner that will position you favorably and enhance your candidacy for the job.”

Prepare And Reflect

Rule #1: Don’t go into an interview thinking you can talk about your strengths and weaknesses on the fly. Much like you would for an exam, “take the time to reflect and take stock about these things,” says Welch. “If you’re not sure, ask friends or colleagues who know you to provide honest and objective feedback on what your strengths and weaknesses are.”   

Understand The Job Description

You’re confident in your abilities, and consider yourself to be goal oriented, organized, a team player or a great writer.  You’re also prone to procrastinate, or sometimes short with people that make mistakes. Which of these strengths and weaknesses do you identify?

“Start by understanding the position for which you’re interviewing,” says Welch.  “What skills and strengths are most valued in this role?  Read and parse the job posting or description very carefully.  If it’s a project manager role that requires reporting to several very busy team directors, stating that you take feedback extraordinarily well would be a great asset to highlight.  Conversely, for that type of role, when asked about a weakness, stating that you tend to be stubborn and prefer to do things ‘your way’’ is not optimal.”

When Highlighting Strengths, Offer Examples

Specificity is key here, as you want to convey as much positive information as possible in a brief amount of time. A great way to do this is anecdotally, by clearly showing ways you demonstrated that strength and the impact it had. The key is offering specifics on how you’ve used your strengths to add value.  

“For example, ‘My greatest strength is that I am extremely diligent and thorough about my writing, and take a lot of pride in it,” says Welch.  “I wrote a legal brief at my last law firm in support of dismissing a contract case against our client, and not only did the senior partner say it was one of the best he’d ever read, but we won a dismissal of a $2 million suit against the client.”  

When Discussing Weaknesses, Tell A Story

The good news: When an employer asks you to disclose your worst weakness, they’re unlikely to judge you on the basis of your answer.  Rather, they want to see how you respond to a question that might throw you off.  By having a prepared story about a weakness that you’ve overcome, you demonstrate a compelling sense of self-awareness, problem solving and motivation.

“Managers like employees to be engaged,” says Sharon Jautz, Director of Talent Acquisition at Sandow Media, “concerned and open to solutions to solve issues at hand.” 

To convey this, “choose a weakness that is ‘fixable’, and tell how it was an obstacle that you’ve worked on — with great results,” says Welch. “For example,  ‘I tend to be overly critical of myself. In my last role at a nonprofit, my boss, who was also my mentor, saw this trait as an impediment to my supervising younger colleagues and pointed it out.  I worked on some strategies to address this and subsequently was asked to run the training program for new hires.”

In the end, it’s important to remember that you’ve already got a leg up on the competition by being asked in for an interview. How you handle it next is in your hands.

“Your skills and resume got you the interview,” says Jautz. “Your fit with the company will get you the job.” 

 

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