Call it cliché, but interviewers love to ask the “strengths and weaknesses” question. It’s among the most common interview questions that job applicants in all fields are asked, nursing included. Why? Because it’s a direct way to get insight into how you view yourself, and it shows how well you handle some particular challenges (because everyone has challenges). Your answer to this question will be telling, so the way you respond is important.
To get some insight into the best ways to answer the “strengths and weaknesses” question, we spoke with several experts, including:
- Laurie G. Combe, MN, RN, NCSN, and president-elect of the National Association of School Nurses
- Stacy Doyle, Ph.D., RN, MBA, NEA-BC, FACHE, vice president of Ambulatory Services in the Department of Patient Care Services at Children’s Mercy Kansas City, and a member of the Society of Pediatric Nurses
- Nancy Freeland, MS, RN-BC, CCRN-K, a senior nurse educator for Adult Critical Care Nursing at the University of Rochester’s Strong Memorial Hospital in Rochester, New York, and a former member of the Board of Directors of the American Association of Critical-Care Nurses (AACN)
- Elizabeth Rochin, Ph.D., RN, NE-BC, and vice president of Nursing for the Association of Women's Health, Obstetric & Neonatal Nurses
- Sarah K. Wells, MSN, RN, CEN, CNL, Emergency Nurses Association member and president-elect of ENA’s East Bay chapter in California, an emergency department nurse in a community hospital in East Bay, and owner of New Thing Nurse, a professional and academic coaching company for the nursing community
Here are some suggested guidelines for discussing your strengths and weaknesses in a job interview.
How To Discuss Your Strengths
There are any number of personality traits you may choose to highlight as strengths. Monster.com suggests getting very specific and breaks the “strengths” answer into three possible categories:
- Knowledge-based strengths: Computer skills, languages, training others, technical abilities
- Transferable skills: Organization, problem-solving, communication style
- Personal traits: Hard-working, team player, trustworthy, calm under pressure
For nursing applicants, specifically, our experts said they’re typically looking for strengths like flexibility, a team player, extremely organized, multitasking, leadership abilities, creative problem-solving, an excellent communicator, or curiosity about learning new things.
Once you’ve identified your particular strengths, you’ll want to give an example of how you’ve used each at work. If you’re new to nursing, you might discuss lessons you learned from a previous experience during clinicals, as a patient care tech, or as a nursing assistant.
If you’ve worked in your field for a while, give a more specific response. For example, here’s the type of response you could give if you wanted to call out a knowledge-based strength: “I provide family-centered care in a variety of low- and high-stress situations.”
You could also say that one of your strengths is the value you place on the patient experience within the organization, and then provide more details with an example.
What NOT To Do When Discussing Your Strengths
1) Don't brag.
You’ll want to come across as confident and proud, but not as though you’re bragging. Declaring your strengths can often be tricky, especially if you’re modest. But a job interview is the time to be assertive while maintaining a level of humility and relatability.
- This is proud: “Today, I was able to provide family-centered care to my patient, his wife, and their children by teaching them about dietary choices they can make as a family that will best support my patient with his new diabetes diagnosis.”
- This is boastful: “I’m the leader in family-centered care. This is the only way nurses should be practicing, especially in high-stress situations. If your teams aren’t doing this, I’d be happy to teach them.”
2) Don't use personal experiences as qualifying factors.
Having once had a grandmother in the ICU doesn’t make you a top candidate for a role as an ICU nurse. Nor does having children make you a great school nurse. This kind of declaration will turn off your interviewer because parenting a child and caring for patients are two very different responsibilities, and one doesn’t prepare you for the other.
How To Discuss Your Weaknesses
Most people you meet won’t ask you to point out your shortcomings in everyday conversation, but on job interviews, it’s a standard topic. Fortunately, your interviewer won’t expect you to be too hard on yourself. Everyone has something they’re great at and something they’re trying to improve upon, and these areas of improvement are the types of “weaknesses” you can mention in your interview. Monster.com suggests you state the professional weakness but emphasize the positive and add your solution for overcoming this shortcoming — because all weaknesses are opportunities for growth.
Any time you mention a weakness, it’s wise to mention what you’re actively doing to overcome the hurdle. This shows that you’re eager to grow professionally and you’re solutions-oriented, which should make you an attractive candidate. This also will show your interviewer that you have the mindset to be willing to learn and change.
Examples of common nursing weaknesses our experts say they hear include:
- Paying too much attention to detail
- Wanting to do everything at once
- Spending too long on paperwork
- Having a lack of clinical experience (for new grads)
“I’d say I’ve been known to spend too long writing patient notes. On the one hand, my notes are thorough. However, I’m working on ways to better manage my time. In fact, I’ve recently started using a digital transcription program that allows me to be more efficient.”
What NOT To Do When Discussing Your Weaknesses
1) Don't malign yourself.
Although your interviewer may ask you to share some of your weaknesses, she isn’t asking you to ruin your chances of getting the job. You shouldn’t admit to being late to your shift regularly or spending time gossiping instead of looking after patients. You also shouldn’t admit to fears that would flag you as someone who wouldn’t be a good addition to the team.
Examples of what not to say:
- You’re scared to work with certain types of patients.
- You dislike handling bodily fluids.
- You try to avoid confrontation or stressful situations at all costs.
2) Don't blame others.
Once you identify a weakness, own up to it. It only makes you look bad if you blame someone on your team or management.
3) Don't skip your plan of action.
You’ll want to focus on the positive and how you’re working on growing to address the shortcoming.
Finally, it’s important that you play along when answering this question. Some people may not want to point out their faults, so they may describe their strengths and then say, “I have no weaknesses.” But if you do this, you’ll risk sounding pompous or, at the very least, not too self-aware. So, take this prep time to consider what career skills you’d like to improve and form a positive, professional response to this classic question.