The Personal Interview – Strengths and Weaknesses

The next question we should examine is “What are your strengths and weaknesses?”

Again, let’s look at this question unemotionally. It is very tempting to say “my strength is my sincerity” (or hard work, or determination, or any other standard prized quality). But it is quite likely that the examiner will counter this by saying “So you mean to say all the other candidates are not sincere?” for which there is no good answer! Or even worse, that the examiner will just ignore the answer filing it as “standard cliché, no point questioning further”.

The thing is, the examiner is not really asking “what are you good at?” If he were, you could well answer “I am good at eating – I do it thrice a day without any particular effort” or “I am amazing at breathing, I do it all the time!”. What the examiner really means is, “what are you better at than most of your competitors?”

Accordingly, you need to introspect and figure out what strength you have that you can defend with examples from your life (preferably genuine ones). If you want to claim that you are good at managing people, you will have to provide anecdotal proof of the same. If you state that you can handle pressure, you would need to show examples of how you have faced a pressure situation and overcome it. And you will also have to think about the repercussions of your answer – for example if, wishing to demonstrate the quality of hard work, you explain how you worked harder than anyone else for your CAT, the examiner might well foil this by saying “So how come you didn’t score higher than the others then? Are you more stupid than them?”

A weakness is an even more fraught question. I notice that many people try to present a strength masquerading as a weakness. As an interviewer, when a candidate comes up to me and says “My weakness is that I am a perfectionist” I frankly feel like doing a facepalm. Being a perfectionist is not a weakness, folks. If it makes you behave in an unacceptable way towards your colleagues, then that behaviour could be a weakness, yes (Virat Kohli, I’m looking at you here).

So why is the examiner asking for a weakness? Why shouldn’t you just reply “Sir, I have no weakness!”? The problem is that in the (justified) opinion of the typical interviewer, everyone has weaknesses. So if you claim not to have any, the only conclusion that would be drawn is that you have no self-analysis skills. So you would definitely be expected to identify some reasonably genuine weakness. The next logical question is, what is the point of identifying a weakness? To improve it, of course!

And hence, when choosing a weakness to present, you need to preferably identify a weakness about which you can present anecdotal evidence about (a) how it has cost you in the past and (b) what you are doing to improve yourself in that area. Whether you choose to claim to be short-tempered, prone to procrastination, or unable to stay focussed doesn’t matter – the key is how you choose to elaborate on your choice.

To sum up, both in strengths and weaknesses you need to identify something where you can give examples from your past to illustrate the point you are trying to make; you need to find a way to make your answer relevant and memorable, while at the same time being consistent with the overall picture of yourself you are trying to present.

5 thoughts on “The Personal Interview – Strengths and Weaknesses

  1. Excellent post. Had a question though – can we list knowledge of a niche management subject as a strength? or does it have to be only personality traits? Because I don’t know, but saying “One of my strengths is my interest and knowledge in the subject of XYZ” sounds a bit odd to me. What do you think?

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