Interview Q&A | “What Are Your Greatest Professional Strengths and Weaknesses?”

strong woman

As an interviewee, you’d probably be thrilled to never have to respond to these seemingly clichéd interview questions ever again, but alas, they are almost definitely here to stay. So rather than wing it when one of these questions comes your way, map out a professional and honest response. Here’s how to be prepared to tackle these questions while avoiding the more common clichés and self-deprecating responses.

What are your greatest professional strengths?

While you may have a long lists of strengths—professional and otherwise—that you’re quite proud of, you’ll want to be sure that you choose two or three that relate to the position for which you’re interviewing and that if asked, you could speak to at length. Here are some of the strengths you’d want to highlight depending on the type of role you’re going for:

  • Development/fundraising: Good with numbers, negotiator, relationship builder, connector, organized
  • Management: Motivator, giving actionable feedback, collaborative leader
  • Marketing/communications: Creative, communicator, able to bring teams together from across an organization
  • Direct-service/people person: Put people at ease, energized by the work, relationship builder, team player

You get the idea. You wouldn’t want to highlight your knack for teamwork if you’re interviewing for a job you know full well sits in a bit of a silo just as you wouldn’t necessarily mention affinity for coding if you’re trying to land a role in community outreach and organizing. Of course, a strength is a strength, but if it’s unrelated to the job at hand, it won’t quite check the box for an interviewer and you’ll leave them with more questions than answers about whether you’re really a fit.

What are your biggest weaknesses?

Let’s get right to it. Your favorite, well-intentioned humblebrag—“I’m a perfectionist”—holds a coveted position at the top of many a hiring manager list of most-hated responses.

So, what to say instead? Let things get a little real.

Highlight something that you know needs a bit of work. The trick is to make sure it’s something that you’re actually working on. If you’re more comfortable with the details than you are with strategy, share that you’re detail oriented and working to find a balance between focusing on bigger picture items and the poring over the small stuff. Have you noticed that your meetings don’t always result in an action item or a next step? Hint at the weakness, but also share your action plan to address the issue. Are you watching webinars on meeting moderation? Are you reading a book about project management? Share what you’re already doing to address that weakness. Bonus points for a fix that you’ve already implemented with positive results.

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Get more tips from our Interview Q&A series.

What interview question stumps you every time? Share it here, tweet at us, or email us at careers@idealist.org and we’ll do our best to walk you through the perfect format for a killer response!

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As a seasoned communications professional with 15 years of nonprofit experience and 6 years of experience creating engaging content and copy, I love the idea that a thoughtfully crafted piece of content can spark social change. Here at Idealist Careers, I'm eager to offer job seekers, game changers, and do-gooders actionable tips, career resources, and "social-impact lifestyle" advice.
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Comments

    • Sally
    • April 20, 2018
    Reply

    Why do Non-profits seem eager to take my volunteer application and seem excited to bring me onboard, and then I do not hear from them for two months.? I had thought that only the federal government takes three months to process an application, but non-profits also take 3 months, even for a volunteer?? Why!

      • Alexis Perrotta
      • April 23, 2018
      Reply

      Hi Sally! Thanks for your question, and we totally hear you! Unfortunately, at many organizations, the answer to your question is usually a simple one: resources. Consider all of the things that must be done in order to adequately prepare for a volunteer … first, somebody has to review your application and consider whether you are a potential fit for what may be some very specific volunteer opportunities. Next, a volunteer manager needs to connect with you (these days, most organizations hold an interview process) for a meeting. Once accepted as a volunteer, the assignment in which you may be interested could be a seasonal or intermittent opportunity. If you want to volunteer to read stories at your local library, connect on a weekly basis with a homebound neighbor, or prepare holiday baskets, all of these projects require a close look at a calendar, scheduling, communication, and management. I think you get my point :). Please don’t be discouraged from volunteering though, even if you do experience a bit of radio silence! Also, you should feel free to be as persistent as you feel is necessary. Volunteering is different than applying for jobs in this way … you probably won’t get “dinged” for nudging a volunteer manager. Any volunteer managers out there want to add to, or disagree with this response?

    • Charles Bwalya
    • May 22, 2018
    Reply

    Hi,
    How do I impress the recruiter?

    • Kathryn Pomroy
    • May 24, 2018
    Reply

    Not sure I gleaned a great deal from the article. Guess I wanted more examples. Good questions though as they seem to always be asked at an interview, like people can really explain a weakness. I agree, it’s probably best to show you are working to correct a weakness, but reading a book or attending a webinar may help, neither will change behavior, especially if that behavior is a habit.

      • Alexis Perrotta
      • June 22, 2018
      Reply

      Thanks for your feedback, Kathryn. Feel free to share a bit about what kinds of specifics you were hoping for as we’re always striving to offer our job seeking community what they need!

    • Jay Mills
    • May 31, 2018
    Reply

    What am I doing wrong? I did an interview a couple weeks ago. Everything seemed great and they said someone would reach out to me by the end of the week. I sent my thank you emails and waited. A week passed I did not hear anything and I sent an email asking about the status , still nothing. It has been two weeks since I sent that email. Should I just move on?

      • Alexis Perrotta
      • June 22, 2018
      Reply

      Hi Jay, apologies for the delayed response here, but I wanted to check in and ask if you have heard anything back yet. While it can be challenging to be patient as a job seeker, I can assure you that in the world of hiring managers who may not be reaching out for any number of acceptable reasons (vacation, illness, awaiting approval from a supervisor or HR personnel, trying to coordinate scheduling for a second-round interview, etc.), two weeks is not enough time to give up and move on! If, however, it has been three or four weeks and you have yet to hear anything, that may be a different story. I’m wondering if anyone else in the community has waiting to hear from a job for more than three or four weeks and ended up getting the job (in my own personal experience, this has actually happened to me on two separate occasions).

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