Tough Question: What Are Your Strengths?

As a follow up to my earlier post addressing the question “What are your Weaknesses?” today I’m going to cover the other side of the coin: strengths. Although it may seem easier to discuss what you are good at, it can be daunting for a lot of people. Additionally, even if you can think of some strengths, this question is a great opportunity to highlight your personal brand and position yourself as the best fit for the job. Therefore, you want to make sure that your answer isn’t just good, i’s targeted and strategic. Here are some ways to think about crafting a response that will help you stand out.

1) Think about the things you love to do

Often when we are discussing this question my clients tell me they can’t think of any strengths. When I ask them to tell me what they love doing, the answers start to flow freely. Start by thinking about this question in terms of preferences and you may find that plenty of things come to mind. Most people excel at things they love, so strengths flow naturally from preferences. If you start here, you will probably find that you have quite a few to choose from. The next two tips will help you narrow down what you should share in your limited interview time.

2) Make it something Unique

In the interview process, you are basically selling a product — it just so happens that the product is you. So treat it the way you would approach selling anything else: focus on what makes you unique compared to the competition. For strengths, this means highlighting something that is both relevant to the role and something that is unique.

For example, if you’re an accountant who is also a strategic thinker, that is a really smart attribute to highlight. Most accounting candidates will be good with details, but most likely you will be the only one who highlights a strategic thinking ability. Use this as an opportunity to shine the light on strengths or combinations of skills that make you uniquely qualified for the job.

3) Explain the “HOW”

Consider these two examples:

1: “Project management is a strength of mine. I’ve been able to manage really complex inter-disciplinary projects effectively.”

2: “Project management is a strength of mine. I focus on making sure that all relevant stakeholders are communicated to frequently and that the information they get is most relevant for their responsibilities.  This has enabled me manage complex inter-disciplinary projects effectively.”

The second answer is only one sentence longer, but it does two critical things that the first one doesn’t. First, it gives it some legitimacy. Most candidates will claim they are good at the required skills for a role. When someone says, “I am good at X skill,” the interviewer has to trust their own self-assessment.  After most recruiters and hiring managers do a few hundred interviews, you start to question every stated strength a candidate presents. So while you may be telling the truth, just stating it likely won’t be enough to convince your interviewer. Secondly, explaining HOW you do something effectively gives the interviewer much greater insight into how you think. Since this is the goal of most interviews, you will leave a much stronger impression if you are able to explain what you do differently that allows you to excel at a certain skill.


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