It’s Time To Rethink Asking About Strengths And Weaknesses In Job Interviews

It’s Time To Rethink Asking About Strengths And Weaknesses In Job Interviews


Job Interviews in an office - Your People Partners
It’s Time To Rethink Asking About Strengths And Weaknesses In Job Interviews

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As a hiring manager or recruiter, one of the most common questions you may ask candidates in a job interview is, “What are your strengths and weaknesses?” It’s a classic question that has been ingrained in the interview process for decades. However, it’s time to rethink this approach and consider why asking candidates about their strengths and weaknesses may not be the most effective way to assess their suitability for a role.

The Problem with Asking About Strengths and Weaknesses

When candidates are asked about their strengths and weaknesses, they often provide rehearsed and generic answers. They are well aware that this question is commonly asked in interviews, so they come prepared with responses that they believe the interviewer wants to hear. As a result, the answers tend to lack authenticity and fail to provide meaningful insights into the candidate’s true capabilities.

Additionally, asking about strengths and weaknesses can put candidates in an uncomfortable position. It forces them to focus on their shortcomings and highlight areas where they may not excel. This can create a negative atmosphere during the interview and may not accurately reflect the candidate’s overall potential.

The Search for Self-Awareness

Instead of asking about strengths and weaknesses, it’s more valuable to assess a candidate’s self-awareness. Self-awareness is a crucial trait that indicates an individual’s ability to recognize their own strengths and weaknesses, as well as their impact on others. By understanding their own limitations, candidates can actively work on improving themselves and adapting to new challenges.

A Better Question to Ask

Rather than asking candidates about their strengths and weaknesses, a more effective question to explore their self-awareness could be,

“Tell me about a time when you faced a challenge or made a mistake. How did you handle it, and what did you learn from the experience?”

This question allows candidates to reflect on their past experiences and demonstrate their ability to learn and grow from setbacks. It encourages them to share stories that showcase their problem-solving skills, resilience, and willingness to take responsibility for their actions.

The Benefits of Focusing on Self-Awareness

By shifting the focus from strengths and weaknesses to self-awareness, you can gain valuable insights into a candidate’s adaptability, willingness to learn, and ability to handle challenging situations. Here are some benefits of this approach:

1. Authenticity

Candidates are more likely to provide genuine and honest responses when discussing their past challenges and mistakes. This authenticity allows you to get a deeper understanding of their character and how they approach setbacks.

2. Problem-Solving Skills

Candidates who demonstrate self-awareness can effectively analyze problems, identify their own role in the situation, and develop solutions. This is a valuable skill that can contribute to their success in the role.

3. Adaptability

Self-aware individuals are more open to feedback and constructive criticism. They are willing to adapt and make changes to improve their performance. This adaptability is crucial in a dynamic work environment.

4. Emotional Intelligence

Self-awareness is closely tied to emotional intelligence. Candidates who are aware of their own emotions and the impact they have on others are more likely to have strong interpersonal skills, making them effective team members.

How to Assess Self-Awareness in Candidates

To assess a candidate’s self-awareness during an interview, consider incorporating the following strategies:

1. Behavioral Questions

Ask candidates to provide specific examples of challenges they have faced in the past and how they handled them. Look for answers that demonstrate self-reflection, accountability, and a growth mindset.

2. Role-Play Exercises

Engage candidates in role-playing scenarios that simulate real-life situations they may encounter in the role. Observe how they navigate challenging interactions and whether they demonstrate self-awareness in their responses.

3. Reference Checks

Speak with the candidate’s references to gather insights into their self-awareness. Ask specific questions about their ability to handle feedback, learn from mistakes, and adapt to new situations.


Asking candidates about their strengths and weaknesses has long been a standard practice in job interviews. However, it’s time to move away from this generic question and focus on assessing a candidate’s self-awareness instead. By asking about past challenges and how they handled them, you can gain deeper insights into their problem-solving skills, adaptability, and emotional intelligence. This shift in approach will allow you to make more informed hiring decisions and identify candidates who have the potential to thrive in your organization.

Remember, it’s not about the strengths and weaknesses a candidate claims to have, but rather their willingness to be self-aware and continuously strive for personal and professional growth.

So, the next time you conduct a job interview, ditch the traditional strengths and weaknesses question and explore a candidate’s self-awareness for a more meaningful and insightful conversation.

author avatar
Helen Sanders Managing Director and Chief People Partner
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