Tag Archives: tough question

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.


Tough Question: What is your management style?

Today I’m addressing another one of the most-dreaded interview questions: How would you describe your management style? In my view, open-ended questions are often the hardest to answer.  It’s hard to know what information to include and what to leave out, as well as whether you should be detailed or high level.  Even if you have significant management experience, this can be a tough question to answer well.  If you are applying for your first real management role, it is even more important to ace this question so you give your interviewer confidence that you will make a good leader. So, let’s go over some strategies to make this potentially difficult question easier to tackle.

1) Think about what qualities defined the most effective leaders you have seen in action. 

It’s so much easier to think about what makes a good leader when you take yourself out of the equation. That’s why I think it helps to start by thinking about past leaders you have worked for or at least seen in action. What qualities helped to make them stand out? Were they particularly good at coaching, setting a vision, or staying in touch with their employees? Write down the top 3-5 attributes that made them effective, and think about how you could apply these to your own experience. This is particularly valuable if you have not officially managed someone else before. Whether you think about it consciously or not, you are likely going to start by emulating leaders you have worked with before. Over time, your style will become more your own, but modeling is a great place to start as you gain more leadership experience.

2) Know the major styles of leadership

This takes a bit more research, but a little effort will go a long way towards being prepared for your interview. It helps to have a basic framework for types of leaders to apply some structure to an otherwise ambiguous question. While by no means the only definition of management types, these are widely accepted and a good place to start*:

  • Commanding/coercive- dictatorship, “do what I say.” Often used in hierarchical organization (e.g. the military) or in times of crisis where there is no time for discussion or dissension.
  • Visionary- explains a vision and paints a picture of what is possible in the future to motivate people.
  • Affiliative- Focuses on diffusing conflict and creating harmony.
  • Democratic- Engages heavily with the entire team to get their input, makes decisions collectively
  • Pacesetting- Builds challenging, exciting goals for employees.
  • Coaching- Invests heavily in getting to know employees and developing their strengths and weaknesses.

Of course, certain leadership styles are more appropriate for different cultures and for different circumstances. One person is not one style all the time, and these are not hard and fast definitions. However, knowing this framework is a helpful way to categorize your style and organize your response to a tough question.

*More information on the leadership types can be found here: http://www.educational-business-articles.com/six-leadership-styles.html