According to experts, here’s how to best answer the job interview question, “What are your strengths?”
Carole Stizza, PCC, SHRM-SCP
Executive Leadership Coach, Relevant Insight
The question that seems designed to help you shine, such as “Can you share with me an example of your strengths at work?” or “What do you feel your strengths are?” often backfires.
Why? Few candidates are rehearsed in answering the real question.
The hidden truth is that the real question is: Can you share with me the characteristics, skills, and behaviors that set you apart, in positive ways, that has led to the success of the organization, your team, or your own work – and can you share that proof?
In short, share with me specific things you do and connect them to measurements of success at work.
The “What are your strengths?” question is often asked in such a short, quip way is for several reasons:
- Inefficient Interviewing: They haven’t figured out how to determine what sets you apart from asking behavior-based questions.
- Ego Testing: They are wanting to know what you think of yourself – i.e., self-awareness vs. ego.
- Organizational or Team fit: They want to hear how you might describe yourself as a way of gauging how you will fit in with the people you are being hired to work with.
While this sounds harsh, it’s true. Having been in human resources and the interviewer, I can be transparent here. The frustration of not getting the right information from some of the best candidates on paper drove me so crazy I went back to school to study human talent and the elements that drive organizational success. This provided me unique insights that now help people jump at the chance to answer this type of question – no matter how poorly the words are arranged.
Here are the 3 ways to use the “Strength question” and really shine.
- Know the intention of the question and be prepared.
- Truly take the time to know your strengths.
- Have fun with this and have stories to share that connect to the job.
Sounds so simple – Not so much. We don’t go around practicing with our family or friends these types of stories. No practice, no performance wins.
Here are the 3 ways to optimize the “Strength question” opportunity:
Assess individual contribution and metrics at work
While the intention of the question seems simple – it’s loaded. The interviewer is truly giving you a chance to share what sets you apart and how it has mattered to the companies and people you have worked with before. Be prepared for this. How do you prepare for this? Two things are required: Individual contributions and metrics.
Individual contributions: Take the time to think about what creates wins for you at work – is it your agile thinking, your flexibility with deadlines, your ability to develop processes that help the team, your details data gathering, your analysis of patterns in data…. And write these down.
Metrics: Then think about the wins you and your team have experienced at work. As long as you were a part of that win – sit down and figure out the metrics. Did the client you help attain bring in 1% of the company revenue, did the project completion meet their deadlines 90% of the time, did your client satisfaction rates increase by 30%…
By understanding some metrics here, it helps you talk to that success and it shows that you’ve taken the time to understand how your part helps a team succeed.
Take the time to know your strengths by taking assessments or by asking others
Taking the time to know your strengths can feel vague, daunting, and out of alignment with your modesty. But collecting at least 3-5 of your top strengths provides you with lots of examples to share when talking about the job you are interviewing for. Here are two ways that may help: Take an assessment and Ask others.
Take an assessment. While there are many assessments, they all have an agenda, and the one that is completely focused on revealing to you the strengths that show up when you are at your best is the Clifton Strength Finder assessment. This assessment is best when someone who is trained can interpret the results and help you connect them to the wins you want to highlight in an interview.
Ask! Take the time to sit down with others you have worked with and simply ask them what they felt your best strengths were when you were working together. It’s more helpful when you can ask them for the most notable strength instead of a list of strengths. It’s also helpful for you to hear them describe how they saw those strengths show up. So, Ask!
Relax and have fun with this
While the whole interviewing process feels like you are a lab rat under the spotlight, please keep in mind they are looking for new talent and eager to find the right person. The goal here is to not freeze up. Here are two ways to help you have fun and be prepared.
Shape your experiences as stories and Connect those stories to the new job.
Shape your stories. Share your stories about work in two-minute windows. We all have stories and yet we are not practiced in sharing them in such a way that holds people’s attention – we normally share them in a way to share reasons to celebrate, laugh at a mishap, or complain.
Here is a tip I share often: don’t get stuck using outdated approaches such as STAR or CAR. Instead, pretend you’re describing a commercial, and you have 2 minutes – Spend 1 minute with the story details (scene, challenge, actions, and results) and then spend 1 minute sharing what that experience taught you to now bring to the table for the new role.
Why spend 50% of your time sharing that last part? This is the part they really want to hear. This is the part of the story they are buying – the experience you gained that you are now bringing to them. Your story should end with how this experience now links to what the new role needs to be successful.
Connect each story to the new role. Offer what each prepared you to do in the job you are interviewing for. This will convey to the listener that you are prepared, experienced, and ready to step into the role or project they have available.
Taking these 3 tips will elevate how your review your resume, how you gather your stories, and how you share them. The best way to build this muscle is to practice sharing these stories with friends or family as you prepare for an interview. They will enjoy hearing more about your work and will ask you questions that intrigue them, preparing you even further to unpack and explain more about the experience.
While the hidden truth behind the strength question may feel more loaded than you first thought – take this opportunity to shape all your work experiences into stories instead of just answers to questions.
Using these 3 tips provides you more control over what they hear from you, gets you to reflect and connect with the stories that matter, and becomes a more enjoyable process than simply playing the victim in an interview chair and waiting to answer unknown questions.
Former Wall Street Hiring Manager
Confidence with humility
This question almost always comes up, so be prepared to answer it. Once the question is asked, confidently answer the question directly. However, keep in mind, this is not an invitation for you to simply brag about yourself. Yes, you want to talk about your strengths, but you must do it with humility.
Additionally, it is important to not simply answer with a list of strengths. First, pick two or three specific strengths that you have that you know the company is looking for (hint: they tell you in the job description).
Next, be ready to share a story or example about one or two of your strengths to illustrate how you have used that strength in the past.
More importantly, share specific outcomes or data that are relevant to your story/example that help the interviewer better understand your strengths. Even better, use your story to illustrate how your strength will uniquely benefit the company.
Do your homework
One of the biggest mistakes I experienced candidates make was telling me about some strength they had without helping me see how it would benefit our company.
Don’t expect the interviewer to make the connection on their own. Instead, make the connection for them. In order to do this well, make sure you study the job description to understand the unique vocabulary the company uses, and the specific strengths and skills they are looking for.
Career Coach | Owner, Irina Cozma Consulting, LLC
When I coach my clients on how to answer this question, I point two aspects.
First, you should truly take control of this question! As a strategy, do not keep your answer general and vague. Don’t be like everybody else! When you are being asked a general or vague question, answer with a recent example and structure your answer as following: 1) describe the situation, 2) describe the actions you took (the most important part), and 3) describe the results.
Reflect on a strength that you usually get as feedback from others
Second, to find that particular strength you want to talk about reflect on the feedback you usually get, to what others admire about you, to what comes easy to you. Include in your answer the fact that this is a strength not only because you think so, but because others around you told you so over the years and potentially you also got recognized for it.
Here is an example of how to answer to this question:
“I am an action-driven person and I am always looking for ways to do things better and contribute more. My manager and colleagues always praise me for different continuous improvement initiatives.
[Then continue:] For example, in my current job, I noticed the new employees have a hard time understanding some of our products which makes their onboarding longer and we all need to spend a lot of time repeating the same things to the new employees at different times.
Therefore, I suggested that we initiate a ‘lunch & learn program’ and once per month we have an hour dedicated to answering any questions about our products to the newer employees. I made sure to advertise the program to different teams and also to secure different experts to come and moderate the sessions.
The lunch & learn program is in its 6th month and everybody is talking about it! It helps a lot not only with the new hires but also the more tenured employees that might need a refresh. I was recognized for this initiative with the employee of the month award and I am very happy I could contribute!”
To conclude: Be specific, talk about a recent example, and the actions you took. Don’t give a vague example. Help the recruiter remember you and your great example!
Executive Recruiter | President, Clay Burnett Group
Make a list of accomplishments that are relevant to the position you are applying for
Short and to the point is our best advice to an applicant. The best way to prepare for a question like this is to make a list in advance of what you have accomplished in previous jobs that are most relevant to the position you’re to get. This question can be answered in a variety of ways depending on the job description.
For instance, if it’s sales, talk about how you were able to make a sale or influence a buyer to choose what you were selling. If the job description calls for leadership experience, think of what you have done in the past to organize employees or paperwork or events that resulted in a positive change.
The most important element in these situations is to stay relevant.
Don’t ramble on about yourself and don’t over-expand your stories and remember to stay on point with the particular job outline. Your goal should be to project self-confidence with a reasonable sense of modesty and good humor.
The flip side of this equation is “What are your weaknesses?” and you should also be prepared to answer that follow-up question with the same kind of preparation and be brief!
If you are working with a recruiter, ask them in advance to help anticipate the needs of the prospective employers. Like a good scout anywhere – be prepared!
Elene Cafasso, MCC
Leadership Development Expert | Executive Coach | President, Enerpace, Inc. Executive Coaching
Be sure to tie it back to your fit for this position
All interview questions should be answered honestly, but strategically. Your answer should give you the opportunity to highlight a skill or attribute that would be of benefit to the position you’re seeking.
Perhaps you’re interviewing for a Project Management position. If you’re most proud of a fundraiser you organized for your favorite cause that exceeded all expectations, then your answer should stress how you “herded all the cats”, kept on top of each committee’s deliverables, communicated appropriately with every category of stakeholder, and persevered as one obstacle after another was placed in your path.
At the end of your answer about your strengths, be sure to tie it back to your fit for this position. In my example above, you could conclude by saying “So as you can see, I love what I do so much, I even do it in my spare time!” Or “As you can see, I’m a glutton for punishment. I do project management in my personal life too!”
The best examples illustrate personality characteristics that are important for the role – leading teams, working with various types/functions of people, solving challenges, finding the right resources, developing creative solutions, etc.
Career Strategist | Author, “Your Career Survival Guide: How to Get and Keep a Job in Times of Crisis”
Answer with a strength that’s a job requirement and provide a real-world example
To deliver a stand-out response to this fairly standard question, answer with strength or two that are included in the job description or are requirements of the position. Don’t simply state what your strengths are and leave them at that.
Provide a description of how you utilize these strengths in your current and previous positions and provide real-life examples.
Paint a picture for your interviewer of how you put these strengths to work on projects and share how the company/project/team benefits from them. Your answer becomes even more impressive, and memorable if you provide numbers and metrics to provide as support of how your strengths make a positive impact on a company. Let the interviewer see how your strengths will be an incredible asset to them.
For example, if you are applying for a marketing position you could answer, “I have a creative eye, but I also have a brain for numbers. I use my knack for, and enjoyment of working with, numbers to make data-driven decisions. This enables me to generate big results with limited resources and has increased sales and revenue by at least 10% annually in my last three positions.”
Another similar approach is to answer the question by saying, “There are three things I’m exceptionally good at. They are…”, include skills that are on the job description for which you are interviewing.
Give an example of a project or program that you utilized these skills on and what the outcome of the project was.
Are you able to lead teams and delivered the project ahead of schedule? Are you a creative type that was won industry awards? Are you a produce manager that has increased the company’s NPS score because of product enhancements?
This response will demonstrate you have studied the role, know what it will take to succeed in the position, and have the necessary skills to excel at what is required. Your interviewer will, in turn, think there is less of a ramp-up and job training required; that’s a huge bonus to them.
If you feel more comfortable being a little humbler, you can answer the questions with, “My last boss said I was…” and include several adjectives that your former or current boss would really say about you are applicable to the job you are interviewing.
The more important the strengths are to the potential new job, the more you’ll wow them. This response is impactful because it sounds more like a testimonial or reference than a standard interview response or practiced response. It also demonstrates you are aware of your strengths and listen to feedback.
A good response to “What are your strengths?” will get the interviewer excited about the conversation and thinking about how you will benefit the department and company. If they’re already thinking about how well you’ll do the job and fit in the corporate culture, you’ll be a standout candidate.
Susan Peppercorn, ACC, CIPP
Executive Career Consultant, ClearRock, Inc. | Author, “Ditch Your Inner Critic At Work: Evidence-Based Strategies To Thrive In Your Career”
Map your strengths or accomplishments to the job posting
Before the interview, the job candidate should highlight the responsibilities listed in the posting and develop a related accomplishment for each from a previous role. In another column, list a strength you used to achieve that accomplishment.
By networking with employees before and during the interview, the candidate should ask open-ended questions to uncover the employer’s critical needs.
Align your strengths to the company needs
This question should not be answered in the abstract. By doing your homework, you should be able to give examples of your accomplishments and strengths that relate to the hiring manager’s needs.
For instance, if the hiring manager says that they need a program manager to hire, grow and motivate the program management team. Your response would be something like this:
“In my last role at XYZ, I built the program management function from the ground up. I hired and trained the team, and five years later, they are still with me. I would say that some of my greatest strengths are building teams, engaging and motivating others, which I love to do!”
Founder and Director, The Oculus Institute | Author, “Soulfire: Break Out of a Burnout Job and Craft a Career That Inspires You”
Prepare three strengths with a story to back them up
You want to structure your answer to have three strengths (the human brain has a thing for the number three). The ideal mix is one technical/analytical skill, one interpersonal skill, and one type of niche experience. The experience can either be based on industry (e.g. healthcare, consumer) or on the functional areas (e.g. finance, HR). Each of your three strengths should be highly relevant to the job you are applying for.
List off the three strengths calmly and confidently. Then, transition into a very brief description of how each is relevant to the job at hand, and conclude by stating that is why you think it’s such a great fit.
The interviewer may ask you to share an example of when you demonstrated one or more of the strengths you list. Be ready with a story for each.
Award-Winning Organizational Psychologist | Associate Professor of Management at Lynn University’s College of Business and Management
When employers ask what your strengths are, they are looking to see how well you can identify their needs and articulate how you meet them (bonus points if you can exceed them). You should customize this response prior to the interview for every company you are applying to.
Approach 1: Positioning Map
Look at the goals and background of the company
One way to approach this task is to look at the goals of the organization as a whole through the company website and recent news stories about the organization if applicable.
You will also want to research the background and specializations of the individuals in the department you are applying to through their organizational bios and/or sites such as LinkedIn.
Once you have this information, map out exactly how you are in a position to help the company with its goals in a unique manner (i.e., what are the specialties you possess relevant to the vision that is not currently in abundance in their employee pool). Then, you will present your strengths and explicitly specify them in those terms.
Approach 2: Results Orientation
Identify your biggest accomplishments and list the personal attributes that you used to achieve them
Another approach is to look at results. First, identify your biggest, most impressive professional accomplishments. Then, make a list of the personal attributes that you used to achieve those accomplishments so that you can discuss the strength and how you have already demonstrated it to be effective in a professional setting.
This will cause the manager to want to have your strengths on their team, not on their competitor’s team. For maximal impact using this approach, be able to state the ultimate impact of your accomplishment on the company’s bottom line!
This is not a time to be shy or humble; this is an opportunity to really sell yourself so you will need to overcome any discomfort you may have with self-promotion. Practicing with someone you are comfortable with may ease anxiety around this question.
Jane Biglin, MBA
Associate Director | Career Coach, Daniels College of Business, University of Denver
Reflect on why others might seek you out for help
Sounds like a simple question, right? Don’t be fooled, I tell my students. Understanding one’s genuine skills and strengths requires not only self-reflection but, likely, a few years in professional roles, allowing time to experience things you do well (and not so well).
Most people, when asked “what are your strengths” respond with a laundry list of job responsibilities – things they are required to do and have performed well in a job. The correct answer lies behind these very job responsibilities – the skills and strengths enabling a person to perform those job duties well.
Skills and strengths should incorporate not only hard, or technical skills (e.g., financial management, marketing, relationship building, business development, project management, leadership), but also other more subjective skills acquired and honed over the course of a career (e.g., communication, collaboration, problem-solving.) Skills and strengths are usually attributes that are neither job nor industry-specific.
Skills and strengths are also often easily transferable to other roles, to other companies, and to other industries.
In order to help uncover genuine skills and strengths, I first suggest an internet search to help the brainstorming process and to see which skills might resonate. It’s also helpful to reflect on why others might seek you out for help. And last, I encourage asking a significant other, friend, or siblings if the skills and strengths ring true to their perception.
Taken together, this reflective exercise can be a helpful start to uncovering one’s true skills and strengths.
Founder and Professional Career Strategist, Launch Career Strategies
What is more memorable: hearing someone rattle off a list of skills and random facts, or an interesting story that captures your attention?
For an interviewer, it’s the latter. Being able to tell a story and weave an engaging narrative is the best way to deliver an impactful, memorable, and organized answer to just about any interview question – especially when asked about your strengths. I use the STARR narrative method when coaching clients.
The STARR method stands for Situation, Task, Action, Result, Reflection.
Neglecting the “R” is a common mistake. The reflection piece exhibits self-awareness and the desire to learn and develop. The method as a whole allows candidates to infuse key skills and accomplishments that the interviewer is hoping to hear, into a more compelling, convincing answer.
Craft mini-stories from your past experiences
I ask candidates to go through their work and personal history to identify experiences that they can use as “mini-stories”. These stories help extract key soft and/or hard skills. The most critical part of this method is to bookend your answer with a clear relevant reflection. This allows you to segue the conversation back to the interviewer for the next question.
Often being able to finish answering an interviewer’s question is the biggest challenge for interviewees. This approach provides a thoughtful answer that is mindful of both the interviewer’s question and their time.
The “greatest strength” question really sets you up to shine – so be a peacock! For example, if you feel your greatest strength is that you are resourceful, you could tell a mini-story about your summer internship (Situation) where you weren’t given much work or responsibility and found it very boring (Task).
When you completed the shortlist of assigned duties, you always asked for more and for permission to offer your help to others in the company. You introduced yourself to other employees and other departments (Action).
Many took you up on your offer, so you learned a great deal more about the company’s offering and gained a broader range of skills. You were also able to develop relationships with a larger group of people and this opened up doors down the road for full-time employment (Result). You were able to learn more, meet more people and ultimately, expand your professional options (Reflection).
Outline your mini-stories and start practicing your narrative today – in front of family, friends, or record yourself and be your own best critic!
Related: How to Get Better at Storytelling?
Career Transition Practice Leader, Intoo USA
Give context to your strengths
While this question is very common in interviews, it’s important to think about your strengths in relation to the role you’re interviewing for instead of giving a standard answer.
Give context to how your strengths could directly contribute to the success of the team and company.
For example, if the position you’re interviewing for demands that you interface with people in various seniority levels and departments, you might talk about how your strengths of building relationships, being a team liaison, and understanding how to modulate your communication style help you to create efficiencies in your processes and boost team morale.
Or if the position requires that you constantly be in “reaction” mode, speak to how your time management skills allow you to quickly jump from one project to another, carefully prioritize projects, and complete the most urgent tasks on time.
Know what the hiring manager’s greatest concerns would be for someone in the role, and respond to them with your strengths!
Don’t take the easy way out
This is an opportunity to showcase some highly sought-after soft skills. Providing unique but authentic, well-thought-out answers will make any job-seeker stand out from the crowd.
Are you a lateral thinker who goes out of your way to develop out-of-the-box ideas and solutions? This strength shows your ability to find creative solutions that differentiate your organization from the competition. Do you have intellectual curiosity? Being intrigued by many different pieces of the puzzle allows one to look at things from different angles.
You don’t have to be an expert in everything but having the curiosity to try to understand the various stages of a project or departments in an organization gives a more comprehensive view of what the opportunities for growth are and even perhaps what is threatening the success of the project or the ability to meet business objectives.
Don’t forget to showcase the level of respect you have for your colleagues as a strength. Stress that when providing feedback or if conflicts arise, your “default mode” is respect, even when having to have difficult conversations or offer less than favorable performance feedback. Doing so in a respectful way is a strength that employers will admire.
Employment Lawyer | Mediator | Coach
Know your strengths in the setting for which you are interviewing
Prepare for this question in advance. Even if it is not asked in this exact language, the interview process is designed to determine it. Know your strengths in the setting for which you are interviewing. Research the employer and the position. Have three strengths in mind and how they align with the employer vision or the position requirements.
For example, if applying for this entry-level associate job in a strategic communications firm, you might be prepared to discuss your ability to communicate complex and potentially explosive topics. Plan to tell a brief story of how you did that, especially if you have done it to manage a crisis.
Notice that the firm is looking for someone who is intellectually curious, so listen for an opportunity to end with a question, such as, “Without naming names, of course, can you give me an example of a crisis you have handled?” This shows you are mindful of the sensitive nature of the firm’s work.
The most important thing to remember is that you are interviewing the potential employer, too. Know why you want the position and think about some of the ways you see yourself contributing to it.
Even if you originally applied just because you need the money, look for things to love about the opportunity. I’m confident you can find them. That will make it easier for you to focus on this as a mutual interview for a potential employment partnership.
Senior Director of Human Resources, LiveCareer
Relevance is key
Many job applicants make the mistake of describing all their strengths in a job interview without aligning their response with our job description. You might think that all your strengths are equally important regardless of your future responsibilities, but it’s not the case. Relevance is the key to success.
If we look for a data analyst, this person must have attention to detail rather than outstanding social skills. I’m not saying that social skills don’t count, but they’re not the top of our priority list.
You have much higher chances of getting hired if you talk about the strengths that will help you get settled into your new job and perform your tasks.
That’s why it’s crucial to do your homework ahead of time and think of strengths that go in line with the job requirements. It’s a good idea to strengthen your claims with specific examples when you demonstrated a particular strength.
In essence, don’t just say you perform well under stress but rather mention a situation when you were under pressure but coped with it effectively. By doing so, you’ll show your potential employer that you’re the person that the company is looking for.
President, Mangrum Career Solutions
Getting asked about your strengths is a great chance to add value to your image as a candidate, so I always suggest preparing for this question in advance. While you don’t want to come off as overly self-praising, you mustn’t waste the opportunity to talk about your skills, either.
To stay relevant, research the job role and figure out what your employer wants to hear
Envision yourself going about your daily duties and figure out what kinds of skills could help you perform them best. Ultimately, the strengths you describe should reflect on you as the ideal candidate for the job in question.
Usually, employers expect to hear a mixture of technical skills and people skills, such as proficiency in relevant software, good teamwork abilities, leadership capabilities, and strong verbal/writing skills. Personal strengths can include punctuality, quick learning power, honesty, and loyalty.
I also recommend adding some tidbits about your past experiences to support your claims. For example, when you want to mention leadership as a strength, it’s better to let them know if you have ever successfully led a team of people at a previous job.
Founder & CEO, CakeResume
Customize your answer according to the job description
Answering the question “What are your strengths?” in a job interview is just like writing a cover letter – you have to customize your answers according to the job description so that the interviewers can immediately understand your value.
Merely gabbling on about your personality traits won’t create resonance with the interviewers.
For instance, “I’m responsible, with good communication and problem-solving skills” would be a poor answer if you’re interviewing for a marketing position requiring data analysis skills since a lot of job seekers claim to have the same capacity..
A better answer would be like this:
“I’m good at making data-driven decisions. Through my past experience, I developed long-term marketing strategies and successfully increased sales conversion rates utilizing marketing analytics tools.
It’s said that the ability to make effective marketing strategies is based on one’s successful experience. I believe my experience of increasing 20% traffic and 10% revenue in my previous position can help the company create predictable growth”.
It would quickly trigger the interviewers’ interest in knowing your past experience, and help them realize how you can contribute to the company.
Dr. Lew Bayer
Civility Expert | CEO, Civility Experts, Inc.
Emphasize along with your achievements
From a civility point of view, we recommend that you try to get across your strengths while concurrently emphasizing your achievements.
“Well, I have been able to surpass expectations related to annual sales goals and I believe this is due in large part to my ability to work well with others while managing my time and priorities.”
“There has never been a time when I felt like quitting or giving up, due to my resilience and being a continuous learner, I have been able to recognize when I have outgrown a situation, but I have never quit before doing everything I set out to achieve in the situation I am in.”
The idea is to show that there is a purpose or value to your strength and that you are emotionally and socially intelligent to know that strength is only a strength (from an employer’s point of view) if that strength helps the organization in a meaningful way.
Director, Pulse Recruitment
Align your strengths with the key elements of the role
In addition to this, you should also come to the interview with examples of where you have utilized these strengths to influence a positive outcome. For example, if you are applying for a new business sales role, you might say;
“One of my greatest strengths is my tenacity. An example of this is when I won the XYZ account after the decision-maker never returned my calls. I persisted and never gave up on the opportunity, and on the 10th time of trying, I finally got hold of this key person and was able to book a meeting”.
It’s crucial always to back up your strength with plenty of evidence and keep it related to the role that you are applying. If you don’t know what is required in the job position, take a good look at the job ad for the job description details.
HR Manager, MyPerfectResume
Choose strengths you genuinely possess, that are relevant to the role and back them up with real examples
Let’s say you applied for a sales representative role where the main responsibilities include building relationships with clients and prospecting new ones. In both cases, you must be able to communicate well with people to engage them in the offer but, at the same time, set clear expectations.
In this case, you could mention that your strength is possessing excellent communication skills and share a real success story where your communication skills made a significant impact.
“My greatest strength is my communication skills. Back when I worked as a Sales Representative at company X, I managed to close my first client after meeting him at a conference. My job was to qualify the lead and hand him over to my manager, but the client insisted I be a part of the entire process because I gained his trust, and he wanted me to continue to be his main point of contact until the end.”
HR Manager, ResumeLab
List 2-3 of your most impressive fortes and elaborate on each
The what are your top strengths interview question is a perennial classic and one you should be always expecting.
If you’re claiming to be organized, give an example of how nicely you cleaned-up and how your efforts made the team more efficient. Similarly, if you’re solution-oriented, it would help if you’ve tangibly demonstrated this trait beforehand. What was the issue? How did you address it and how has your decision improved some bottom line.
Ultimately, if you want to maximize this opportunity to shine, keep in mind two key concepts.
- How can I demonstrate why this strength will make my team’s/boss’ life easier?
- Can I prove quantifiably how this skill/capability made things better for my company? (i.e. led to more revenue, lesser costs, higher quality or faster processing, etc.)
If you can memorably address either of those (or ideally both) points above, give yourself a pat on the back as you’ve just aced that part of the interview and left a lasting impression on the hiring team.
Beth Cooper, JD/MBA
Director of Marketing, KNB Communications
Preparation and research are key. When it comes to sharing your strengths in an interview, I look to see if your answers align with the company’s needs or gaps, what sets you apart from other applicants, and if they are the best candidate for the position.
You have to remember to advocate for yourself. No one is going to do it for you except you. This is your chance to show how you are valuable.
Here are some tips to best answer this question:
Make a list of your top strengths
Sit down and list some of your top strengths that tie into the role you are applying for. List everything that comes to mind, there are no wrong answers. Strengths should include experiences, talents, and soft skills. Narrow your list down to your top three.
Research the company you’re applying to
Take time to scroll through the company’s website, social media, and blog posts. Become familiar with their brand or what services they offer. Come prepared to your interview with ways you can help the company grow in which they are lacking.
Prepare for each scenario in an interview
Practice your response in different interview situations to illustrate each of your strengths. Don’t overthink it. Write down some notes to help you remember key points you want to say. This is a situation where it is OK to brag and where you should brag about yourself.
Be accurate, be truthful, and be prepared to share past experiences to highlight your strengths. It is your chance to shine so pick something unique to you and what you can offer to the position no one else can.
Explain how you are accountable and focus on results. Taking ownership and responsibility for your actions is a great skill to demonstrate and one that is highly valued by employers.
Demonstrate your ability to act independently and be a self-starter. This shows that you take initiative and don’t need to be micromanaged or constantly monitored.
State that you are a good listener and that you listen to learn (make sure you practice this behavior during the interview, so you walk the talk!) Being a good listener is a critical component for success and is an admirable skill.
If you are interviewing for a job with a specific set requirement, be prepared to speak to your strengths in that regard. For example, if you are interviewing for a surgeon position, be prepared to speak to your strengths in the area. If you are interviewing for a driving position, be prepared to explain your driving record and accomplishments.
If the role is a leadership position, speak to the strengths of your leadership style – empowering your team, coaching, inspiring, and your ability to manage a struggling team member to success or to another position.
Ayven I. Dodd
Executive Vice President, Shelton & Steele
The generic “what are some of your strengths” question is one question you can bet on hearing during an interview. If an interviewee is unprepared for this open-ended question, their mind can run at 1000mph in every direction.
Use specific examples of how your strength is the best for the job or role you are being interviewed for
If interviewing for an accountant position, an interviewee might say, “Since I was a kid, I was always good with numbers. I may have not been a grade A student in PE class but I never had a math test I didn’t ace. My husband has even told me I can only have one whiteboard in the living room for my work!”
If the role was for a public speaking event, one might answer by saying “I can captivate and maintain an audience. I’ve been a member at Toastmasters International at which I have competed and won speaking competitions from the district level all the way to nationals. Creating an environment where I can control the influences upon my audience and leave them with more than they came with, is a passion of mine.”
Always take into account what you are interviewing for and tailor your answer around that. Make the interviewer(s) know that whatever the role is, your answer will reflect why you are born for it.
In every interview, you also want to make sure you are in control of the flow and create a genuine connection with the interviewer(s). If the interviewee did their initial due diligence on the interviewer(s) and found out they came from humble beginnings, one of the interviewee’s “strengths” can be the struggles that they have overcome and their reasoning for persevering.
If the interviewee does their research and finds just one thing that the interviewer(s) have in common, it can be used to their advantage in a similar fashion.
In the rare scenario where the interviewer(s) do not have a LinkedIn, Facebook or company bio, do your research on the establishment that is interviewing you. More importantly, the top result producers. If you have similarities with the top producers and the interviewer(s) identify these correlations, the chances of acing the question will increase.
If the interviewee still has some concerns about the question, just be yourself and know that there are more questions. Don’t get caught up too much in one question and focus more on creating a genuine relationship with your future coworkers that could a lifetime.
This question is common, so prepare for it.
An oft-overlooked piece of interview preparation, being able to tactfully and confidently answer this question shows an important quality that the Greeks coined a phrase around: “Know thyself”.
Take the time to analyze your own personal and professional qualities and carefully select which ones you want to use to represent your strengths. I say carefully because an interviewer doesn’t want a laundry list of why you’re awesome, they wanted pointed answers that succinctly display your quality.
Be honest, but not self-indulgent
Narcissism is unbecoming and an interviewer can see through hubris like it’s their job. Because it is their job. Still, you’re being interviewed because an organization is impressed with your resume. At that point, your resume serves as a checklist of what you’ve done (and can do), what you’re good at, and why you’re qualified for a role.
The “what are your strengths?” question is your turn to elaborate on your strongest suits and you have a brief window to highlight your greatest assets.
Time is of the essence, so it’s wise to choose two things: a hard strength (I’m a top-notch Python developer) and a soft strength (I’m a great mediator). But merely naming your strengths is hardly enough.
When you’ve chosen them, back them up with real examples. Hard metrics, projects you’ve contributed to, anecdotal evidence of problem-solving, and the like. Answer with these and be proud of your answers, but not prideful, and this you’ll have this question in your pocket.
Co-Founder, Pocketbook Agency
Be truthful and relate your answer in the context of the job
When answering this question during a job interview, most importantly you should be honest. If you explain a particular strength just to look good, but which actually does not apply to you, this could be revealed once you obtain the position. You would not want to appear untruthful. So, definitely tell the truth about your actual strengths.
Of course, if you are still concerned about making these strengths appear impressive, there are ways to do so. You should make sure to find a way to relate your strengths to the position and to the values of the company.
For instance, if you are organized, you can emphasize exactly how this trait would be valuable to the particular role for which you are applying. It helps to put your strengths into the context of the job; this way the employer can already imagine what kind of asset you would be.
Head of People and Culture, Tidio Chatbots
“What are your strengths?” is a commonly-asked job interview question for all levels of positions. What is surprising, many candidates are not prepared for it at all! They are trying to make something up quickly, which usually ends not very well.
Preparing for this question beforehand is the key to an excellent first impression and definitely can increase our chance of getting a dream job. So how to talk about the advantages and talents without being too humble or too boastful?
Get to know your strengths
It’s easy to say… However, I can recommend one extremely useful personality test to find the answer. Gallup’s Clifton Strengths Assessment is a behavioral test that allows the candidates to identify their unique strengths.
The assessment measures the talents – natural patterns of thinking, feeling, and behaving – and categorizes them into the 34 Clifton Strengths themes (f.e. Individualization, Intellection, Relator, Learner, Adaptability). The results are presented on a personalized report and are a good start for creating the success story.
Tailor your strengths to the job position
The next step is to read the requirements section in the job advertisement. The candidates have to analyze their strengths and previous work experience and choose skills that match those in the job offer.
Create success stories
A perfect answer requires a success story. How to create it? I recommend one easy-to-follow way – the STAR Method. Following The STAR method, you will learn how to talk about your achievements and present them in a logical, organized way.
The STAR stands for Situation, Task, Action, Result:
- Situation: present a challenging situation that required you to solve a problem.
- Task: describe the action that your job required in such a situation.
- Action: describe the action that you took, why you did it, and what the alternatives were.
- Result: describe what was the outcome of your action. Illustrate your success with numbers and details.
And the last tip to remember! If you use the Clifton Strengths Assessment, remember not to use the names of talents during the conversation – without the story, they are just meaningless labels. The most important is not what you know about yourself, but how you use this knowledge at work to achieve success.
Product Specialist, TrackTime24
Answer confidently while avoiding arrogance
When faced with the question, “What are your strengths?” in a job interview it is important to answer confidently while avoiding arrogance. Interviewers are asking this question to test how self-aware you are.
Understand the position you are interviewing for
Researching the basic requirements, daily tasks, and skillset of the role you are applying for will give you a better understanding of how to piece together your answer. If the company states it is looking for a good communicator, include this in your answer.
Back it up with facts
You need to be able to back up the listed strength with facts to prove that you are being honest. There is no point in lying, as this will come out should you be hired. Indicate your competitive advantage to the employer – what makes you stand out?
It is advisable to include one soft skill (e.g. communication) and one hard skill (e.g. qualifications). Lastly, keep your answer concise, do not ramble on.
It is alsoimportant to know that interviews may word this question differently, such as:
- “Why should we hire you?”
- “What sets you apart from other applicants?”
- “Why did you apply for this role?”
- “What traits of yours are suitable for this role?”
Ensure you are prepared and well-versed in how to answer these questions. Here is an example answer if you were applying to be a Digital Marketing Strategist:
“I have a strong work ethic. This is important in digital marketing due to deadlines and the intent, time, and energy required to create unique and effective marketing strategies. My Postgraduate Degree is a testament to my work ethic, as it shows dedication and focus. During an internship, I ran a short e-mail campaign that yielded ten backlinks for one client, this required time and effort to create an optimal template that was not spammy and that customers would reply to.”
Head of Marketing, Kintell
Frame your strength as a story
The best way to share your strengths in a compelling, memorable way is to share them as a story. Instead of saying you’re resilient in the workplace, give an example of when you’ve been resilient in the past. These examples hold a lot more weight when they’re grounded in reality.
Use the STAR framework
That’s when you set the scene with the ‘situation’ of your story, then describe the task you were assigned. Next, explain what you did, and discuss your memorable actions. Finally, share the outcome, and link it back to the question.
If it’s about your strengths, use the STAR framework to share a story about a time you displayed a key strength. By doing this, the hiring manager will be more than impressed. In fact, they’ll even begin to envision you working in their workplace.
Co-founder & COO, WhoCo
“What are your greatest strengths?” is one of those common but not-so-great questions that people love to ask. Since it’s reasonably likely to come up, you should definitely be prepared to answer it. I will explain why it’s not the best question and how you can potentially reframe it to help yourself and the interviewer out.
So, why isn’t it a great question? The problem with this question, and questions like it, is that everytime the interview asks it, they are going to hear a few super specific traits that a particular candidate has. This makes it really hard to assess any of the answers based on an objective benchmark or to compare answers across candidates.
If the interview is hoping to learn if you have some particular strength, they’d be much better off asking about a time when you used that skill and probe you on how effective you were.
A good answer depends on what your strengths are and the job.
When prepping for this question, look at the job description, specifically at the responsibilities or objectives, and ask yourself “what are some big strengths that I have that are going to help me succeed in this job.” Those are your greatest strength for this job, and those are skills that the interviewer will want to hear about.
Next, when you answer, don’t just list the skills and why they’re your greatest strengths. Instead, give a brief example of a time when you used your strength to make some meaningful impact. This gives the interviewer some tangible evidence.
Dr. Nav Singh
Dentist | Chief Editor and Co-Founder, Primed Parent
It’s a pretty safe bet to assume your job interviewer will ask you the question ‘what are your strengths?’. So, there is no reason why you should not have a pre-prepared answer ready on the tip of your tongue.
The first thing to note is that you should always answer honestly. Do not pretend to have skills you do not actually possess.
When preparing your answer beforehand, it would be helpful to make a list of skills that are necessary for the job you are applying for. Often these skills may have been mentioned in the job advert. For example, ‘can you work well in a team?’ implies the quality of teamwork is desirable.
You can also speak to people who currently do the job or work in that environment to get even more information about what specific qualities are required.
Review the list of qualities and skills needed. Do you have any of these job-specific qualities? If you do, now would be the time to emphasize the point.
However, it is important to not just reel off a long list of strengths. Pick maybe 3, that are most relevant for your job. The interviewer doesn’t just want to hear a list of key buzzwords you think they want them to hear!
Try expanding on your strength. Think about how you have acquired it and highlight why it is important for this job. For example, you could say that teamwork is a strength of yours given that in your previous roles, you have excelled working in group environments. You could then follow this up, emphasizing your understanding of how integral being a good team player is, to have success in your future job role.
In constructing your answer, you may wish to link your strengths together. For example, you may wish to elaborate on how working well in groups meant you had to communicate well with other staff members to make sure everyone was on the same page and the job was completed well.
So, you also understood the importance of good communication when working in a team and this is also your strength.
As well as discussing strengths linked directly to the job you are applying for, you could look outside of the box and think about what makes you truly stand out from the others. If it is possible, try and link it with the position you are going for. Perhaps you are very organized.
You could explain that being very organized means that you can carry out your duties in a professional manner which would require minimal supervision.
When delivering your answer, speak confidently so your interviewer knows they can believe in you. But be careful not to overdo it and give the wrong impression. Your interviewer may become wary if you seem a little too sure of yourself. They may consider you as someone who may not be able to take constructive feedback when in their new role.
Frequently Asked Questions
Why is it important to know your strengths?
Knowing your strengths is important for several reasons:
• It can help you identify which career paths and tasks best fit your natural abilities and interests. If you work in a job that aligns with your strengths, you’re more likely to be engaged, fulfilled, and successful.
• This can boost your confidence and self-esteem. When you know your strengths and value, you’re more likely to feel confident and self-assured when interacting with others.
• It can help you identify areas where you can grow and develop. While it’s important to focus on your strengths, it’s also important to acknowledge areas where you may need to improve. Once you know your strengths and weaknesses, you can develop a plan to address the areas where you fall short.
• This can improve your relationships with others. When you know your own strengths, you’re better able to recognize and appreciate the strengths of others. This can help you build stronger relationships and work more effectively with others.
Can my strengths change over time?
Your strengths can change over time as you gain new experiences and develop new skills. It’s important to regularly reflect on your strengths and identify areas you have developed new strengths or improved existing ones. As you advance professionally or personally, your strengths may change or evolve. That’s why it’s important to remain open to new opportunities and experiences to help you identify and develop your strengths.
How can I develop my strengths?
Developing your strengths is an ongoing process that requires effort and intentionality. Here are some tips for developing your strengths:
Practice, practice, practice: the more you practice using your strengths, the stronger they will become. Look for opportunities to apply your strengths in your daily work and home life.
Seek feedback: ask others for feedback on improving your performance in areas where you’re already strong. This can help you identify improvement areas and continue building on your strengths.
Learn from others: look for role models and mentors who exhibit the strengths you want to develop. Ask them for advice and guidance on improving your skills and qualities.
Take on new challenges: Don’t be afraid to take on new challenges and tasks where you can use and develop your strengths. This can help you build self-confidence and expand your skills.
Invest in yourself: Consider taking classes or workshops to help you expand your skills and knowledge in areas where you’re already strong. This will help you stay current on the latest trends and techniques in your field and improve your contribution to your company.
How can I use my strengths to advance my career?
Leveraging your strengths can be an excellent way to advance your career. Here are some tips on how to use your strengths to advance your career:
Look for opportunities to use your strengths: Look for opportunities in your current position or company that will allow you to use and develop your strengths. This can help you become a more valuable and effective employee.
Build a personal brand: Building a personal brand around your strengths can help you stand out in your industry and attract new opportunities. For example, suppose you’re known for your expertise in a particular field. In that case, you may be able to position yourself as a thought leader or subject matter expert.
Pursue professional development: Seek professional development opportunities that allow you to develop and apply your strengths in new ways. This can help you stay up to date on the latest trends and techniques in your field and enhance your ability to contribute to your company.
Take on leadership roles: Consider taking on a leadership role in your company that allows you to use your strengths to benefit the team. This will enable you to develop your leadership skills and demonstrate your value as a strategic thinker and problem solver.
Network strategically: Use your strengths to build relationships with others in your industry or field. This will help you stay informed about new opportunities and build a network of contacts that can help you advance your career.
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