What is Your Greatest Weakness? A TWIG May Help Clients SOAR into the Job!

By Sean Lybeck-Smoak

For many, interviewing is stress-inducing, especially in the virtual environment that we find ourselves. Whether it is anticipating and preparing for the interview, the interview itself, or following up with thank you notes, the job of career service providers is clear. Career service providers offer clients resources, guidance, and strategies to reduce their anxieties and navigate the process with success.

SOAR & STAR Techniques

The SOAR (Situation, Obstacles, Action, Results) and STAR (Situation, Task, Action, Results) techniques are great tools for helping clients organize strategic interview stories. The intelligent use of acronyms describe straightforward, easy to remember strategies that help clients prepare for the interview. The acronyms tell clients exactly what they need to do in the interview.

  • Sell oneself
  • Demonstrate STAR candidate qualities
  • SOAR past the competition
  • Secure a job offer.

By remembering the four words of the acronym, clients can prepare stories that effectively market their value proposition, employability strengths, accomplishments, and approach to problem solving. With preparation and practice, clients may experience reduced stress as they gain confidence in telling compelling interview stories that come across as authentic and conversational (Kelley, 2017).

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SOAR and STAR are great techniques for many questions, but not necessarily for when clients are asked to “name weaknesses” during the interview. While it is possible to adjust the SOAR strategy, it lacks the natural fit with the “between the lines” intent of the interviewer. Namely, is a client self-aware and “open to admitting, taking responsibility for and learning from your mistakes” (Kelley, 2017). While there are easy ways to describe interview strategies to clients, it is difficult to find a similar acronym that is as memorable, on-point, and descriptive for the weakness question. A variety of interviewing resources describe cookie cutter-type answers and plenty of “don’ts and dos.”

Don’t share a weakness that would:

  • disqualify oneself by admitting something big;
  • use the word “weakness” (Kelley, 2017) or create negative sound bites (Kelley, 2017);
  • cast blame on others or talk bad about one’s employer;
  • give too many details;
  • make it sound like a cookie-cutter or memorized answer;
  • use clichés (Kelley, 2017);
  • claim one’s “weakness as a strength” because the interviewer has heard it before and does not believe it.


  • use the sandwich technique by surrounding the negative with two positives (Kelley, 2017);
  • choose a weakness closely aligned to a strength (Kelley, 2017);
  • demonstrate self-awareness and a commitment to improvement by spending more time talking about overcoming it (Kelley, 2017);
  • identify areas for improvement, and explain ways of working to overcome shortcomings (List of Weaknesses: 10 Things to Say in an Interview, 2020);
  • keep it brief.

While the sandwich technique is easy to remember and effective, it is not an easy to remember and descriptive acronym, like SOAR, that clients may carry with them into the future. While pondering the desire for an acronym, it is clear that there is opportunity to make a small adjustment to the strategy that will help clients improve their interviewing skills in the short-term and their career management mindset in the long-term. By adding another positive (growth) to the end of the “positive – negative – positive” sandwich technique, clients can both demonstrate a personal commitment to overcoming a weakness, and take a small step towards adopting a “Growth Mindset.” Having a “Growth Mindset,” as described by Carol Dweck (2014), is beneficial to long-term career management. An ever-growing number of leaders and businesses are adopting growth mindset approaches, and taking advantage of the opportunity to define themselves in growth terms could benefit the client in the job hunting process.

TWIG Techniques

By adding the extra positive, it no longer makes sense to refer to it as the sandwich technique. Additionally, PNPP (Positive, Negative, Positive, Positive) is an unappealing acronym that is neither memorable nor descriptive. There is an avenue for creating an effective acronym in line with the ancient practice of offering an olive branch (not much bigger than a twig) as a symbol of making amends and moving forward. This new acronym is TWIG (Trait, Weakness, Improvement, Growth). In the case of job hunters, the olive branch or TWIG offered to interviewers is a compelling story of reflecting on a weakness, making amends by making improvements, and moving forward towards a growth mindset.


  • Remind the interviewer of a positive trait, strength, skillset that is part of one’s personal value proposition.
  • Introduce a new trait to promote.

WEAKNESS (a negative factor closely aligned to the challenge, failure, difficulty, mistakes, or reason for leaving a previous position, etc.)

  • Demonstrate one’s ability to be reflective and recognize a growing edge.
  • Keep it brief and manageable.


  • Demonstrate the ability to be reflective and to self-manage.
  • Describe positive steps taken to improve the situation and oneself.


  • Focus on the growth witnessed in oneself and in the workplace.
  • Describe potential for continued growth.


As Career Services practitioners, we can explore this technique with clients, explain the symbolism, and have clients offer a TWIG of growth when confronted with the weakness interview question. This will help them SOAR into the job.



Dweck, C. (2014, November). The power that you can improve. TEDxNorrkoping. https://www.ted.com/talks/carol_dweck_the_power_of_believing_that_you_can_improve?language=en 

Kelley, T. (2017). Get that job! The quick and complete guide to a winning interview. Plovercrest Press.

Indeed Editorial Team. (2020, September 1). List of weaknesses: 10 things to say in an interview. https://www.Indeed.com


Sean Lybeck SmoakSean Lybeck-Smoak is the Director of Experiential Learning and Career Education at Cardinal Stritch University.  He holds a Bachelors of Arts from Centenary College and a Masters from Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary.  In over eighteen years of higher education experience, Sean has specialized in the facilitation of high-impact co-curricular experiential-learning opportunities, including the Federal Work-Study Community-Service program and internship programs.  Over the last few years, he has worked closely with the academic leadership at the university to help design and launch a series of required career development courses for undergraduate students, and teaches the pre-internship course for the university. He can be reached at slsmoak@stritch.edu


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