The Job Interview: “What Are Your Strengths?”

The job interview is intended to help employers determine whether you would be the best fit for a position. To that end, hiring managers will ask you about both your weaknesses and your strengths. The question “What are your strengths?” seems like an easy one to answer – it’s a great chance for you to sell yourself and your skills. Yet many people stumble over this question. Let’s take a look at some great and not-so-great responses people make to this question.

mistake #1

“Ummm. . . .I’m not really sure. I guess I hadn’t thought about it. Can we come back to that one?”

How this hurts you: This question comes up, in some way, in almost all interviews. You should be prepared for it. A lack of forethought on your part indicates to the interviewer that you didn’t put much effort into getting ready for this interview. Additionally, no one will be impressed that you have no self-awareness of your strengths.

mistake #2

“I work hard. Y’know. . . I get things done. I’m also very athletic, I love sports, so if you have a company softball team, I’d be a good addition to it.”

How this hurts you: Everyone claims to be a hard worker in a job interview. It’s not very impressive or believable, and it’s too vague to really speak to your relevant skills. Notice the word “relevant” – you want to play up your skills that are related to the job, not the things that you enjoy doing in your personal time.

Mistake #3

“My greatest strengths are that I’m great at customer service, I’m good with computers, and I’m a quick learner.”

How this hurts you: This answer is much better than the previous two. It shows self-awareness and forethought, and it showcases specific relevant skills. Yet it still feels incomplete and unconvincing. Based on this answer alone, do you really believe that this person has these strengths? Have you seen any evidence of the skills mentioned? Or does it feel like empty words?

so how do you answer this question?

First, brainstorm – well ahead of the actual interview – about what your strengths are. What are the skills you bring to the table which would be an asset to the workplace? If you have trouble determining where your value lies, reach out to those around you who might be able to help you. Your family and friends, and most especially your former co-workers and supervisors, can tell you what you’re good at.  Also think of your greatest achievements and success stories from previous jobs: what strengths did you show in those situations? Then, determine which of your strengths would be the most valuable and relevant to the job in question, as well as which strengths you can provide the strongest evidence for.

winning strategy

For each strength you mention, follow a three-step formula.
First, state the strength clearly and directly.
Second, prove the strength with specific details and examples from your work history.
Third, connect the strength to the new job by relating how it would be useful for your new would-be employers. This step is optional for skills whose connection is obvious, but it is very useful for soft skills (such as attention to detail, teamwork, and time management).

winning example

“One of my greatest strengths is customer service. I’ve always tried to follow the Golden Rule and treat customers as I’d like to be treated. I actually won an award two years ago for outstanding customer service. I know that if you hired me, I would make your customers feel welcome and want to continue doing business with us.
Another strength of mine is my proficiency with the software required for this job. I use Microsoft Word, Outlook, and Excel every day in my current position. I also have experience using Google Calendar for booking appointments and WordPress for website maintenance.
My final great strength is a passion for learning. At my current job, I’ve read all the training manuals for every department, not just my own, so that I can have a better understanding of how all the departments work together. That knowledge has enabled me to help customers better, because I could solve problems for them rather than referring them to a different department. Were I to come work for you, I am confident that I would quickly become one of your most knowledgeable employees.”

A final thought

You may have noticed that the winning answer is much longer than any of the mistake answers. That’s okay – as a matter of fact, that’s exactly what you want. Employers want to use the interview to get a good feel for who you are as an employee, what you can do for them, and how you’d fit in to the company. They can’t learn these things unless you provide full answers to their questions. Beware of rambling – you do not want to go on pointlessly for ages. But as long as everything you are saying is relevant and well-structured, don’t be afraid of a long-ish answer.

If you need any help preparing for a job interview, you may call 225-231-3733 to schedule a practice interview with one of our career specialists.

Written by Lynnette Lee