How to answer "What are your greatest strengths" in a Job Interview

How to answer the interview question what are your greatest strengths in a job interview

If you have interviewed at least a few times you probably have been asked this question more than once. As a matter of fact, it is a very common question across industries and seniority levels. As a candidate, it is important for you to prepare a good answer for this question, not only because you will likely hear it from your interviewer, but also to use its content in other answers to highlight your skills. This is possibly one of the answers with the most relevant and “reusable” content that you should have in your arsenal before your interview.

What is the interviewer looking for?

1. Understand how self-aware you are

Self-awareness is one of the most important traits of a good candidate because it shows you understand what you can do well vs what you can do great. If the interviewer is the hiring manager, showing that you are self aware implies a) you know already what you can do autonomously b) for what you might be an example for the team

2. Ensure you understand what the position is about

The interviewer will be assuming you are smart enough to pick the skills that are very relevant for this very position. If he hears that you are discussing specifically the three main skills required to be successful in the position he will likely think that you understood what are the challenges that you will have to overcome if hired.

3. If you are telling the truth

From your resume, career experience and possibly your previous interviews, the interviewer will have a fairly good idea of what you are good at. This does not necessarily mean that you have to read his mind, but that you need to have a good case if you are mentioning something that does not seem consistent with the story you conveyed until that point.

4. If you are a good communicator

If you are a good enough communicator in presenting examples where you applied those skills in the past (i.e. STAR answers) rather than just list them. This is particularly relevant if the role you are interviewing for requires very good communication skills. If you show you are good at articulating your answer they will project such skill into how you will communicate on the job.

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How can you structure your answer?

1. Identify three strengths

Three is a good number because it gives you enough dimensions to differentiate yourself from other candidates and allows you to keep the length of the answer in the limits that will keep your interviewer’s attention. You can structure the first part of your answer as an executive summary listing the three strengths that you will start elaborate right after.

2. Elaborate why you excel at it

Everyone can state they are the best with a certain skill. What you need to be good at is argumenting why. There are several things you can do to increase your credibility. You can say you have always been told you are good at something. This again is not very difficult to fake (but remember they know they can call your referrals and verify what you are saying). You can also bring into the conversation how specific experiences or combinations of experiences have contributed to develop those skills.

3. Describe what results you achieved in the past

The most powerful way to demonstrate your skills is to show how you used them in the past (i.e. STAR) to achieve a great outcome. If you have a relevant example that combines more than one of the skills you want to convey that would be great. Otherwise you can pick the most relevant skill for the position or the one you feel to be the strongest and elaborate what results you were able to achieve when applying it on the job.

Example of a good answer:

“Of the many skills I developed in the years there are a few that people I worked with kept highlighting in my evaluations: being proactive, being an analytical thinker and being an effective communicator.

For instance at my last position a coworker with a lot of knowledge about our systems and processes decided to quit unexpectedly. I was relatively new at the company and I did not want to miss out on the opportunity of learning more from him. And there was very little time before he would leave. I considered scheduling some targeted meetings for the team when he could have explained everything he knew, but then I came up with what I thought was a more efficient idea.

I took the initiative to record some videos of him explaining how and why things work the way they do. Before starting I organized the knowledge transfer in macro areas and sub sections to make it easy to search later on as well as keeping his explanations focused. I also worked with the IT department and facilities to get the rooms and gear I needed.

I was able to complete the recordings before he left and I worked with IT to share them on our internal network. They are now used not only as a reference by current employees but also to train the new hires. Given the efficiency of the process and the positive experience other departments started to do the same when knowledgeable professionals from their team decide to leave.”

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How to avoid common mistakes

Look at the interviewer(s). Try to understand from their body language or by what they say if they have already heard enough or if they are interested in getting more details on one or more of the skills you mentioned. For instance, do they look passive and distracted or are they asking follow up questions on your explanations?

What is the interviewer NOT looking for

1. Hear you are good at everything

If you state you are good at everything or you have a long list of skills you think you excel at your interviewer might think that either you are not self aware about your strengths or that you are making them up just to impress him or her. None of those scenarios plays in your favor.

2. Hearing your real time speculations

If the interviewer sees that you have never thought about it you are not conveying the image of a thoughtful and prepared candidate. In that case the interviewer will also assume that you did not even expect the question, which implies you did not do any research to get prepared and thus you do not care enough about getting this job.

3. Hearing something generic or not supported by any facts

If you cannot come up with good examples you are not helping the interviewer remember you when you will be compared with other candidates. Also if you cannot provide examples it might occur to him that you either do not have meaningful ones or that you are not a good enough communicator.

Example of a bad answer

”Well, I don’t know. I am very good at my job. In all the companies I have worked so far I was always been praised for my work. I think this is because of a combination of things, it would be difficult for me to identify now which are the specific skills which made me successful.

I can certainly tell you that I am a very good listener, I am good with numbers and with people and also I always deliver what is requested and I am very precise.”

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What can you do next?

Now that you know how to craft a great answer you might be tempted to assume that you will be able to do it in real time on your interview. You might, but you probably know you will improve it every time you rehearse it. This will also make you feel more and more confident.

The last step to make sure you really are ready is to get feedback from someone who has experience in evaluating candidates. You can get feedback from family and friends, which is better than nothing. You might also consider using the services of an experienced recruiter or career coach who can tell you how much your answer is compelling from an interviewer perspective. He or she can also help you tweak your answer so it sounds special compared to all the other dozens that interviewers hear everyday from other candidates.

At FasterSkills you can find top recruiters and experienced professionals with 10+ years of experience in companies from startups to Fortune 100 firms. They have sat on both sides of the interview table so they not only know how it feels but also they can help you sound compelling, stand out and therefore land your dream job.

Given the demand for Top Coaches FasterSkills created a new service called Limitless Coaching that allows you to get access to expensive Top Coaches that only wealthy executives could afford, getting the best advice at affordable price.

However you decide to do it. Practice. Practice. Practice. If you don't know where to start you can always ask for a free consultation

"In theory there is no difference between theory and practice. In practice there is." - Yogi Berra