You want to be forthcoming. You learned (in the military) to be direct. You were told to be upfront about your challenges, shortcomings and obstacles. But should you really share details about your strengths and weaknesses in a job interview?
Interviewers sometimes ask the question, "Tell me about your strengths and weaknesses," to see what traits you call out about yourself, how self-aware you are and what others might say about your work style.
Employers also find other creative ways of learning what you can offer to the company and the job, and where risks or barriers might be present by asking behavioral interview questions, performance-based questions or opinion questions, which can also reveal strengths and weaknesses.
Sharing Your Strengths
While you might be tempted to share every compliment you've received from your mother and your commanding officer, you need to be focused. My tips for sharing your strengths in a job interview:
1. Be specific.
Avoid using vague jargon such as, "I give 100%," or, "I think outside the box." Instead, list specific strengths you possess that directly relate to the job. If the position requires team building, for example, highlight how your leadership and active listening skills empower you to work well across job functions, enlist buy-in and support, and create tangible results.
2. Offer examples.
If your experience is primarily military-related, convert those into a civilian example. Instead of saying, "I can train new enlisted recruits to perform at combat optimal levels," share an example as a civilian might explain it: "One of my strengths is clearly outlining the goals to the team, then ensuring everyone is on board. For example, in one situation, I had a team of direct reports who had dissimilar backgrounds. I worked to lay a common foundation for the project and communicated clear goals, and then met with each of them to ensure they were aligned with the objectives."
3. Show humility.
Avoid the mistake of sharing strengths that are grandiose, such as, "I'm the top go-to person on any team because I'm simply always the best." If you want to talk about accomplishments but fear that could come off as arrogant, phrase them as feedback, offering, "I've been told by others that I'm the most empathetic leader they ever reported to."
Talking About Your Weaknesses
There was a time when it was acceptable -- and even humorous -- to answer "chocolate" when asked what your weakness is. That is no longer the case. Today, employers expect you to be clear about where you fall short and show how you address those challenges. When discussing your weaknesses, consider:
4. Avoid offering reasons not to hire you.
One recruiter told me a candidate answered that question by saying, "I get angry quickly. I'm working on it, but my ex-wife would tell you it's scary." Don't offer anything in a job interview that would immediately disqualify you from contention.
Other examples include, "I get bored easily. That's why I've changed jobs a lot." Or, "I've been told I'm not a good team player. I think that's bunk. They're all just jealous."
5. Show what you're doing to address the weakness.
If your weakness is that you're better working on the implementation and tactics of a project rather than the strategy, explain how you've learned to overcome this challenge if it's a required part of your work.
Similarly, if your weakness is that you don't have strong credentials in a particular field, you might offer that you're taking night classes, doing online learning and earning certificates to shore up that part of your skill set.
6. Turn your weakness into a positive.
What if you don't have a desire to lead? It may seem like employers today want to hire leaders. If you can turn this perceived weakness into a positive, you can help the employer see your candidacy differently.
Offer, "I believe the world needs leaders and followers. In the military, I learned to do both. Today, I'm more focused on helping to ensure the work -- and mission -- are completed, and I take direction very well."
Talking about your strengths and weaknesses can feel awkward and challenging. Be prepared in advance with ways to address your candidacy that put you in control of what you'll share and how, instead of being caught off guard in a job interview.
-- The author of "Success After Service: How to Take Control of Your Job Search and Career After Military Duty" (2020) and "Your Next Mission: A personal branding guide for the military-to-civilian transition" (2014), Lida Citroën is a keynote speaker and presenter, executive coach, popular TEDx speaker and instructor of multiple courses on LinkedIn Learning. She regularly presents workshops on personal branding, executive presence, leadership communication and reputation risk management.
A contributing writer for Military.com, Lida is a passionate supporter of the military, volunteering her time to help veterans transition to civilian careers and assist employers who seek to hire military talent. She regularly speaks at conferences, corporate meetings and events focused on military transition.
Want to Know More About Veteran Jobs?
Be sure to get the latest news about post-military careers, as well as critical info about veteran jobs and all the benefits of service. Subscribe to Military.com and receive customized updates delivered straight to your inbox.