Private Equity Job Interviews and Handling Strength and Weakness Questions

July 18, 2011

They’re among the questions you’re most likely going to face in your private equity job interview, especially in the early rounds. What are your greatest strengths? What is your biggest weakness?

Avoiding pat answers and putting some meaningful thought behind these two predictable questions can go a long way toward separating yourself from other candidates, according to the folks over at Bradley’s CVs, the UK-based resume-writing consultancy.

For example, there is an art to answering the “what are your greatest strengths” question without seeming conceited. The key is to identify the strengths from your resume that are most directly related to the job at hand. Think broadly about your strengths. It could be a professional skill, a personal quality that resulted in a positive benefit, a glowing reference from a supervisor or co-worker, or a unique skill gained outside the industry that can contribute to this organization.

One of the best ways to answer this question, of course, is to let others do the talking. In other words, to mention what others have said about a particular quality you have.

In addition, use a strength-example-result formula in relating your strengths. Mention what you or someone else perceives as a strength, then tell of an example where you used this strength to accomplish a specific result. This paints a picture and leaves a lasting impression in the interviewer’s mind.

Bradley’s suggests that you should also have at least three “strength scenarios” well prepared for any interview. This gives you a chance to substitute or leave out an example if you suddenly realize it isn’t relevant.

As for dealing with the question, “What is your biggest weakness?”, try to avoid the pat answer of turning some positive quality into a weakness, such as “I’m too much of a perfectionist.” You need to be especially prepared for this question, so as to not give a trite answer or blurt out something that could actually damage your chances of landing the job.

The interviewer is simply trying to get to know you better. In particular, how self-aware you are, and how well you understand your own shortcomings and are open to improvement.

Never, ever say “I don’t have any weaknesses that will affect my ability to do the job,” says Bradley’s. It’s not true for anyone and seems evasive. Instead, find a weakness that is minor and will not impede your chances of getting the job. Something that shows self-awareness. And then describe how you are working to improve in this area.

The fact that you’ve prepared an intelligent answer to this “weakness” question will also speak volumes to the interviewer about your approach to your work.

Have you faced “strength and weakness” questions in a recent interview? What advice would you offer? Add your comments below.

{ 1 comment }

Ken July 18, 2011 at 1:16 pm

Do you have examples of types of strengths and weaknesses to refer to when asked?

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