Are You Ready For A Job Interview?
Today, we are tackling a critical job interview question:
What Are Your Strengths?
This is a commonly-asked question in job interviews for all levels of positions in all industries.
Even when this question is not asked, you must be able to answer it in order to land the job. After all, from the employer’s perspective, the main point of a job interview is to understand what you could do for the organization and why she should hire you instead of someone else.
You must be prepared to talk about your strengths. Many candidates don’t do it well, so there is an opportunity for you to stand out from the crowd if you can speak about your strengths in an authentic and compelling way.
Let’s start by talking about how to respond when an interviewer asks you specifically,“What are your strengths?” (or “What are your three greatest strengths?” or similar)
Why Do Interviewers Ask This Question?
It’s the interviewer’s job to find someone who will perform in the position and get along with the team. With this question, the interviewer seeks to find out if:
• Your strengths align with the company’s needs
• You can do the job and perform like a rock star
• You are the best person for the job — no need to hold out for someone better
• You have qualities, skills, and/or experience that set you apart from the competition
• You are someone who will make an excellent addition to the team
Some people think this is an easy question. This question is basically a prompt for you to brag and “sell” yourself as the best fit for the job. So how could you screw it up? You know yourself, right?
Unfortunately, many candidates fail to prepare properly and sabotage themselves. Here are some of the common mistakes.
Lack of self-awareness. Most job seekers don’t spend enough time analyzing their strengths and thinking about which ones are most relevant for each position. Knowing your strengths will serve you well in job interviewing and in the rest of your life as well. If you don’t feel you have a clear sense of your job-related strengths, read on for some advice on how to identify them.
Modesty. Many candidates are too humble or just aren’t comfortable articulating what makes them great. This is particularly true for introverts and/or people who never really had to “sell” themselves before because new jobs always fell in their laps in the past. You have to get over any hesitation to say nice things about yourself. You can do it in a way that feels comfortable and authentic if you prepare in advance.
Choosing lame strengths. Others choose strengths that don’t help them stand out — strengths that aren’t important for the job at hand or strengths that just about anybody could claim. This mistake makes a candidate bland and forgettable at best. At worst, you can raise red flags with the interviewer — who wants to hire someone whose greatest strength is the ability to show up on time?
How to Talk About Your Strengths
It’s important to take the time to identify your strengths and PRACTICE talking about them in advance. That way, you’ll be ready when you walk into that interview for your dream job. Let’s start by identifying/confirming what your greatest strengths are:
1. Brainstorm. Sit down and make a list of your top strengths — aim for at least 10 and be creative. Banish your modest internal editor to another room. Jot down everything that comes to mind. You can delete later if you like.
Your strengths could include:
Experience — Experience with a certain software or type of task, expertise in a particular industry, a track record of working with similar products or clients, etc.
Talents — Abilities such as programming in a desired language, writing proposals, selling widgets, litigating cases, organizing events, translating from Mandarin, etc. (the possibilities here are truly endless)
Soft skills — Competencies such as problem solving, influencing, team building, negotiation, managing up, etc.
Education/training — Relevant background on topics critical to the job — including college degrees, certifications, training seminars, mentoring, internships, etc.
If you have trouble coming up with enough work-related strengths, jot down positive personality qualities or personal strengths. You may find ways to relate these to job performance.
2. Focus. Narrow your list down to least five strengths that you are comfortable discussing (or could get comfortable discussing with a little bit of practice). The more, the better. You may not talk about all of these strengths in every interview, but it’s good to have options.
3. Prepare Examples. Develop at least one example or Interview Story to illustrate each of your strengths. If you’re not sure how to go about crafting compelling stories and examples from your previous experience.
Choosing the Right Strengths
1. Be accurate. Choose strengths that you actually possess. Don’t pick a strength just because it’s in the job description or worked for your buddy. You want to be yourself in an interview, just the best and most professional version of yourself. You will be much more convincing and likable if you talk about authentic strengths.
2. Be relevant. You should take the time to analyze the job description and identify the most important strengths for each opportunity. You likely have many strengths, but which will be most relevant for this interviewer?
3. Be specific. Choose specific strengths. Instead of “people skills” (too broad and boring), go with “relationship building” or “persuasive communication.” Don’t be generic. Could 90% of your friends claim your strength? Pick another one.
4. Don’t be too humble. See common mistakes above. Avoid “weak praise” and lame strengths. Pick something impressive. Don’t go with “pleasant to work with” as your main selling point. Just about everybody can and should be pleasant to work with. To get the job, you have to show you would bring more to the position.
5. Be prepared to demonstrate. As discussed, have a concise example ready to back each strength up. Be careful about rambling on too long here. Your answer should still be 1-2 minutes long. If you want to share three strengths and back each up with an example, you will want to practice in advance so that you can do it in a concise way.
I Don’t Know My Own Strengths
If you get stuck trying to develop a list your strengths, try these techniques:
1. Get a second opinion. Ask a trusted friend or colleague what they think are your greatest strengths.
2. Dig for clues. Go back to previous performance reviews and analyze the positive feedback. Dig up old emails praising your work (if you haven’t been saving these, start a folder now). If you’re a student or new grad, think about the feedback that you’ve received from professors and supervisors from past internships and jobs.
3. Review your resume. Look for common themes in your achievements. Sometimes, we’re so close to the subject that we lose perspective. Try to read your resume with fresh eyes — as if it was the resume of an admired friend. What stands out?
What If They Don’t Ask Me About My Strengths?
If the interviewer doesn’t think to ask you about your strengths (not every interviewer has been trained to ask the right questions), you’ll have to look for opportunities to bring up the topic.
Keep in mind that there are many other questions that basically ask for your strengths. These include:
• Why should we hire you?
• Why are you the best person for the job?
• What makes you a good fit?
You should walk into every interview with a clear goal: to communicate your greatest and most relevant strengths to the interviewer. If you aren’t asked directly, look for openings. For example, when asked a behavioral question (“Tell me about a time…”), share an example that illustrates one of your top strengths and emphasize it.
If all else fails, wait until the end of the interview when they ask you if you have anything else to add (after you have asked some smart questions of the interviewer). Then, take the opportunity to summarize your strengths and reiterate your interest in the position.