Interview Question: What Are Your Strenghts (Sample)
There’s a fine line between being confident and overconfident, and many job seekers shy away from touting their strengths during a job interview for fear they’ll come across as boastful or arrogant.
But, if there was ever a time to confidently speak to your skills and abilities, the job interview is that time—especially when the interviewer asks you to talk about your strengths. Fortunately, there’s a right way to answer the question. And once you understand why interviewers ask about your strengths in an interview, you’ll be able to create a strong answer that doesn’t come across as bragging and positions you as the strongest candidate for the job.
Why Do Job Interviews Ask About Your Strengths?
Hiring managers don’t ask, “What are your strengths?” because it’s a trick question. It’s merely a tricky question!
All jokes aside, there are some serious reasons employers ask about your strengths (and weaknesses!) in a job interview.
It may help to remember that an interview is like a first date. You’re trying to learn more about the job, and the interviewer is trying to learn more about you. And though asking about your strengths may seem like a trap, it’s really not.
FlexJobs Career Coach Rachel Adkins says that interviewers use this question to assess you as a candidate. “They are trying to see if you know yourself well enough to list off your strengths under pressure.” The hiring manager wants to know if you’re self-aware enough to understand what your strengths are and to see if you can discuss said strengths in a humble, yet professional, manner.
Prepare Your Answer
Your interview preparation should include time to determine your strengths. But, you want to pick out the strengths that are relevant to the position you’re interviewing for. This can help drive home the point that you’re the best person for the job.
Start by making a list of what you think your strengths are. While they should be professional (your baking skills may not be a strength for this position), don’t be afraid to cast a wide net. You might be surprised at how many professional strengths you have.
Narrow the List
Once you’ve created a list of strengths, you will have to cut it down. After all, you’ll likely only need to talk about one or two strengths during a job interview. So, just like you would customize a cover letter and tailor a resume to apply for a job, you should customize your list of strengths and target your answer to the specific job.
Review the job description and figure out what skills the employer is looking for in a candidate. Does the job posting mention communication skills a lot? Organization? Make a list of the top three or four keywords you find in the job description or job posting.
Then, take that list of keywords and see which of your strengths match up with what the employer is looking for. If the employer is looking for someone with superior organizational skills and one of your strengths is creating order (for example, perhaps you created the library structure on your company’s intranet), you’ve got a specific strength the employer is looking for.
Which Strengths to Pick
Of course, picking which strengths to use in your job interview is no easy task, especially if you have a lot of them that are relevant to the role. So, which skills should you pick, and why should you choose them?
What Makes You Special
Try to pick strengths that are unique to you. That might sound like a difficult task. After all, there are only so many strengths in the world.
The trick, then, is to pick a strength that makes you a standout candidate in the job interview. Adkins says, “Only choose the strengths that you truly excel at. Then, think about a time when you’ve utilized those strengths. You want to prove to the employer that not only do you have these strengths but that you can apply them in your workplace, and the results benefit the company.”
Make Sure You Can Support Your Strength
When explaining why your strength is your strength, steer away from “overstating” things. As Adkins explains, “Even though this isn’t a trick question, job seekers can ‘blow it’ on this one question.”
She continues. “Avoid lying when answering this question. If you say you’re good at something and are hired, it’s likely the employer will figure out said strength isn’t your strong suit once you start working.”
Whatever strengths you focus on, make sure you can support them with proof in the form of your skills and experiences. If you say your strength is your superior web design skills, you should have a portfolio that backs your claim up and be able to speak to results.
Emphasize Soft Skills
Though not a hard and fast rule, you may want to consider focusing on your soft skills over your hard skills. Soft skills are the skills that employers want in candidates but can be hard to find. They include things like communication skills, problem-solving abilities, and time management skills.
Soft skills that are relevant to the job are likely the kind of strengths that make you stand out to a hiring manager. Almost anyone can learn hard skills (like spreadsheet software), but not everyone can communicate with an angry customer or manage a team.
How to Answer “What Are Your Strengths?” in an Interview
If you remember only one thing about how to talk about your strengths during a job interview, remember this: it’s not what you say, it’s how you say it.
An employer really wants to know how you talk about your strengths without bragging, and how your strengths can help them.
Tell a Great Story
Instead of saying you’ve got the skills, you’ve got to show the employer you’ve got the skills. One of the best ways to do this is by using the STAR method.
STAR stands for Situation, Task, Action, Result. Using this technique, you explain a situation (or obstacle) you faced, the tasks you were responsible for, the action you took to achieve the goal (or resolve the problem), and the result of your actions.
This framework gives you an outline for answering the question. However, as you answer it, don’t give high-level answers. Go deep to tell a compelling story that helps the employer envision you in the role.
For example, when an employer asks you, “What are your strengths?” don’t say, “My organizational skills because they help me stay on top of my tasks and meet my goals.”
There’s nothing wrong with that answer. However, there’s not a lot to it. Instead, try this:
My greatest strength is my organizational skills. When I started in my current role, there wasn’t a proper filing system for paid invoices. Everything was thrown in a folder. Sometimes those folders had labels, and sometimes they didn’t. And the labels always varied. It might be the month, the name of the company, or the category of invoice. It was chaotic and didn’t enable us to quickly find files. So, I created a logical filing system. Now, when an invoice is paid, you start by finding the file for the month, then find the file for the name of the company. The paid invoice goes in that folder. The companies are all in alphabetical order, making it easier to find the exact file you’re looking for. And now, when people need to find a specific invoice for a specific company, they know exactly where to look, instead of sorting through an endless drawer of folders. We no longer lose invoices and people spend far less time looking for a specific one.
This is a great example of explaining a situation (a bad filing system), the task (fixing it), the action (alphabetical files), and the result (no lost invoices and less time wasted tracking invoices down).
Talk Yourself Up
It’s a fine line between talking about and bragging about your strengths. But with a little bit of planning, preparation, and the understanding that it’s not a trick question, how to answer, “What are your strengths?” becomes a snap, and you’ll have a response that makes the hiring manager want to hire you!
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