You'd think that a job interview is the time to showcase your skills, qualifications and talents, but recruiters and hiring managers want a balanced view of you to see how well you'll fit in their organizational culture. A balanced view means they want to know about your strengths, but they also want to know about your weaknesses. For many job seekers, telling a potential employer about their flaws seems to be one of the most difficult parts of an interview.
If you were on the other side of the desk, you'd appreciate getting to know a well-rounded candidate as much as you -- the interviewee -- want a complete picture of the job. One of the first things you hear people say about something that appears to be perfect is, "This is too good to be true." The same rings true for job applicants. An applicant who has only strengths and no weaknesses is too good to be true. Plus, an applicant who doesn't have some weaknesses probably doesn't exist.
When you're preparing for an interview, focus on presenting yourself as a well-rounded candidate instead of a superstar. You'll come across far more credible than someone who pretends to be the perfect candidate with absolutely no flaws. Take stock of your qualifications in as honest a manner as possible -- list the skills and traits that you're proud of and the things that you're not so proud of. Start with your strengths; it's an effective way to find weaknesses that you can share with potential employers.
Avoid confusing strengths with marketable skills and qualifications. Examples of qualifications include verbal and written communication skills, academic credentials and education, proficiency with technology hardware, software and Internet research. Strengths are professional traits and qualities, such as solid business principles and integrity, assertiveness and self-motivation. When you're describing your strengths to the interviewer, don't give her a laundry list of all the laudable characteristics ever attributed to you. Stick to three or four strengths for which you can easily provide concrete examples.
Weaknesses really are "too much of a good thing." Your strengths can easily become weaknesses if you're not careful, and for interview purposes, name one or two of what you consider your strengths and consider times when you've taken them to the extreme. For example, integrity is an admirable quality, but if you're such a stickler for rules that you're rigid and inflexible, that's a weakness. Likewise, an aggressive approach in many work environments is a weakness, but this is what happens when you let assertiveness get out of control.
The key is to reframe your strengths by turning them into weaknesses and you have a response for that inevitable interview question that you have previously had problems answering. It doesn't stop here, though. You'll probably need to explain your weaknesses by giving the interview examples of when your weaknesses have become problematic. In addition to your explanation, tell the interviewer what you're doing to improve your weaknesses, such as working on your interpersonal relationships through harnessing your tendency to be overly assertive or aggressive.
Ruth Mayhew has been writing since the mid-1980s, and she has been an HR subject matter expert since 1995. Her work appears in "The Multi-Generational Workforce in the Health Care Industry," and she has been cited in numerous publications, including journals and textbooks that focus on human resources management practices. She holds a Master of Arts in sociology from the University of Missouri-Kansas City. Ruth resides in the nation's capital, Washington, D.C.