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You’ve made it through the first few questions of your graduate job interview, such as why do you want to work for us? And the employer asks (perhaps the most dreaded question of all) – what are your strengths and weaknesses?
This can often catch graduates off guard, especially for those who haven’t come across it before in a graduate job interview – you will be tested on your level of self-awareness, your skillset, as well as your composure and communication skills.
To answer this interview question successfully, you first need to understand why the employer is asking it.
Scroll straight to the bottom to see a quick, summary video of how to answer!
While companies are on the lookout for top graduates, they do not want to hire a graduate oblivious of their weaknesses.
Instead, they want to take on and work with an employee who is not only aware of their weak points, but who also takes active steps to turn them into a strength.
The best way to tackle this common interview question is to firstly choose a genuine weakness that you have been proactively working on that has exhibited positive results.
Back this up with an example of how you have been improving this flaw including the results achieved so far. These examples can be drawn from all areas of your life whether it was from your summer paid placement, volunteering activities, or even during your university studies. Read more about how volunteering can boost your employability.
Similarly, the employer wants not only to judge how you perceive your own strengths, but also to see how confident and articulate you speak about yourself.
Back up your chosen strength with an example of how you demonstrated this, highlighting parts you’ve been proud of in the workplace or while at university.
Although this is a prime opportunity to sell yourself, striking the balance between being too humble and overly confident is the best way present yourself to the employer.
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Ultimately, the employer will want to know your weaknesses will not impact your performance in your graduate job. When applying for graduate jobs if you find that there are skills and personality traits that are mentioned in job descriptions, that you think you lack in, then check out these free online courses to help you upskill.
Choose your weaknesses carefully and keep the graduate job role fresh in your mind by decrypting the job description beforehand to ensure you don’t make the mistake of referring to something fundamental to the role.
Employers want to hire high-achieving graduates whose strengths match up with what the company is looking for in an ideal candidate, so this will give you the opportunity to illustrate how you stand out from the competition.
Selecting a strength that is one of the main skills of the role is the key to success.
After expanding on your example, directly linking to how this would relate to the graduate job is an excellent way of illustrating to the employer how well-suited you would be for the job role.
Employers will also be assessing how well you handle this tricky question under the heightened pressure of a graduate job interview setting, and if you can keep a level-head when faced with tough tasks.
Nerves can run high during an interview leading you to ramble, so take a moment to collect your thoughts, combat those nerves and regain composure. Check out our recent blog for more tips on how to relax before a job interview. Employers will not penalise you for asking for a minute or two to mentally prepare your response and compose yourself, and how you articulate your answer will make you stand out from the competition.
"I would say my greatest strength is my ability to pick things up very quickly, I am a fast learner and very keen to acquire new skills.
This has meant that I have always been very willing to take on extra responsibilities as I see it as an opportunity to learn more.
Throughout University I have taken on many additional roles including becoming a mentor, writing weekly articles for the University newspaper as well as volunteering to help at various open days and events held on campus.
This has helped to build my confidence and strengthen my communication and time management skills."
"One of my weaknesses is that I can be quite forgetful at times. Particularly when I am required to juggle multiple tasks, I have noticed that if I am asked to do something, if I do not write it down straight away then I will forget to do it.
I therefore began to make a conscious effort to write everything down, even the smallest of tasks.
Since I started writing everything down and making more ‘to do’ lists, I have noticed that I have become more organised and it has enabled me to prioritise tasks more effectively – I haven’t missed a deadline since!"
There is nothing worse than coming across as arrogant in an interview, so don't lie or exaggerate your strengths and abilities. On the other hand, it is also important not to be too humble and modest, you need to get the balance right as you are still trying to sell yourself at the end of the day!
When asked "what are your weaknesses" be careful not to focus too much on these negative personality traits. You need to avoid being too critical of yourself or describing a weakness that sets off a red flag to the interviewer! As a general tip, try to stay positive even when answering a more negative question.
Answers such as ‘I’m a perfectionist’ or ‘I work too hard’ are considered cliché answers, and your interviewer will have heard them a million times before. Thinking and planning your answer to this interview question in advance will ensure you avoid sounding just like every other graduate they've interviewed!
Not only does this not answer the question but it also suggests a real lack of self-awareness and will make you seem unprepared for the interview. Try to think of 3-5 really well thought out strengths and weaknesses, with examples of each.
The employer will not be interested in points which don’t relate back to the job role, so answers like 'i'm really good at doing the washing up' would not be appropriate - unless you are applying for a role as a pot washer! Check out our advice on how not to ramble during an interview.
Tip: Change the playback speed in the settings at the bottom right corner, to suit your learning requirements!
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Read our complete guide to Interview Questions!