What interviewer is trying to judge
Before you get started planning your responses, it’s helpful to understand why interviewers are asking these questions in the first place and what they hope to get out of them.
- Ensure that your strengths are in line with the skill set required for the role
- Check whether you’re self-aware and able to speak about yourself with confidence
- Test for qualities and experience that set you apart from the competition
- Assess your communication skills
- See how you think on the spot
- Are you honest?
Assessing & determining your strengths
Generally, you’ll focus on your soft skills as strengths — there are other ways for interviewers and recruiters to glean hard skills, whether it’s through take-home assignments, a coding interview or examples of your past work. But with soft skills, you have to tell them the story.
- Knowledge-based skills: Acquired from education and experience (e.g., computer skills, languages, degrees, training and technical ability).
- Transferable skills: Your portable skills that you take from job to job (e.g., communication and people skills, analytical problem solving and planning skills)
- Personal traits: Your unique qualities (e.g., dependable, flexible, friendly, hard working, expressive, formal, punctual and being a team player).
Tips on what to include and what to avoid
5 Tips for Talking About Strengths in an Interview
2. Tell a Story
Mistakes to Avoid
- Giving a list of strengths – Reeling off adjectives without any consideration for the job specification or without concrete examples to back them up can make your responses forgettable, and risks making you sound arrogant. Remember to think of the specific strengths you have which make you a good fit for that particular role.
- Irrelevant answers – Any strengths you give should be related to the skills expected of the ideal candidate. For example, if you’re applying for a job in accountancy, saying you’re a great athlete is unlikely to enhance your application. Irrelevant answers may also suggest to the interviewer that your weaknesses lie in areas crucial to the job.
- Vague or general answers – You need to demonstrate self-awareness so it isn’t a good idea to say that you’re strong in many respects but can’t think of anything in particular. Back up your answers with short examples, and make sure you know your strengths in advance since any hesitation risks undermining your answer. This is not a time to sit on the fence or be overly modest.
What If You Don’t Know Your Strengths?
- Ask someone else – Getting a fresh perspective can help to bring out an accurate reflection of what you’re good at. Try asking someone who knows you well (such as a friend or colleague) what they think your strengths are.
- Look back on past praise and achievement – Try to recall any praise or feedback you received as a student, or during any internships or work placements. For this reason, it’s always a good idea to keep a personal file of any positive feedback you receive throughout your education and employment. Similarly, review any achievements you have included on your CV, and identify what stands out.
- Look at the key skills of others in a role similar to yours – Browse LinkedIn and see what skills and endorsements are most prominent in the profiles of people currently doing a similar role to the one you’re looking at. Think about whether you have these skills.
Skills and Habits
Few Sample Answers
“I am highly adaptable to change. During my internship, a new payroll system was introduced and other members of staff were unhappy about it. I taught myself how to use the system in my own time and was then able to train others how to use it.”
“I have excellent interpersonal skills and excel in dealing with clients. In my last job, a customer was very unhappy when the delivery of a sample product was not made on time, which meant that the customer lost out on making a sale. I went out of my way to listen to the customer’s concerns and understand everything that was wrong. I apologised and presented a solution by calling other clients to see if they had any spare samples, which I volunteered to deliver to the customer the following day.”
“I’ve always considered myself to have a very strong work ethic. I am committed to doing whatever it takes to meet deadlines. As part of a work placement, I was working with a customer who had my team on a strict deadline. For reasons beyond my control, there was some confusion in the delivery of crucial documents which didn’t get to our office until late in the afternoon before the deadline. Rather than go home, I volunteered to stay late and finish everything, ensuring that the deadline was met and that the work was of a very good standard.”
“Whenever new software is released, I’m always the first one to test and get familiar with it. I love pushing the edge and learning every aspect of the new software. In fact, just last week I found a software issue with one of my video games. I called the developer, and they fixed it right away. This position will give me the opportunity to apply my passion and help make programs better for your company. “
“I’ve always preferred to work in groups and find that my collaborative nature is one of my strongest attributes. On projects that I directed, I work well to inspire diverse team members and work side by side with them to achieve the project goals. In fact, I’ve increased productivity by ten percent over the course of two years. “
“My greatest strength is my writing skills. I work well under pressure, and I’ve never missed a deadline. One specific example that comes to mind is when I was asked to complete a project that a fellow colleague forgot about. My editor didn’t realize this until two hours before the deadline. It was an important piece, so I got to work, and with feverish precision, I was able to complete the article. Not only was it finished on time, but it was received very well by readers of the publication.”
“I’m relatively new to the finance industry, but I find that I’m good at working with numbers and I truly love it. I love helping people save money and finding new investment opportunities for my clients. Learning about their needs and finding ways to help them achieve the lifestyle they want is so gratifying to me, and I’ve helped my clients increase their net worth by 10% collectively. “
“I’m an empathetic person who is skilled at relating to people and understanding their needs. At my internship over the summer, I was working the support line and received a call from a disgruntled customer who had been dropped from our service. While the company couldn’t find a solution for her, I walked her through other options she might have so she walked away with a positive interaction with the company. I know the importance of a happy customer, and I’m willing to remain upbeat and solutions-oriented.”
“I believe that my greatest strength is the ability to solve problems quickly and efficiently. I can see any given situation from multiple perspectives, which makes me uniquely qualified to complete my work even under challenging conditions. That problem solving allows me to be a better communicator. I am just as comfortable speaking to senior executives as I am junior team members. I think my ability to see all sides of an issue will make me a great asset to the team.”
“I know the industry inside and out. After working in sales and marketing for over 15 years I know I have the skills to maximize your marketing dollars and improve your bottom line. In fact, when I started at my last company, their sales were declining, and under my leadership, I was able to increase revenue in consecutive years, by 7% and 5%, respectively.”
“My strongest asset is my work ethic and my willingness to step in when needed. I’m not afraid to take on a difficult client or do a project that nobody else wants because those are the clients and projects that teach me the most. I typically love to work outside of my job description and do whatever is asked of me. I’m not above any single task, and I take great pride in my ability to step in and adapt to any situation to get the best results for the company.”
“I am a team player. It is a skill I picked up in school as a member and captain of the football team. I enjoy working in teams and have been often told by both supervisors and peers that I am the motivator of the group during stressful situations. In college, during a group presentation, one of the team members did not submit his bit of work. Given the short deadline, everybody was worried. Analyzing the situation, I called for a short meeting. I asked everyone to take equal parts of the unfinished business and we managed to hand in a great presentation.”
“I am a quick learner. Over the past 2 years, I have worked in 3 different workplaces and this has worked well for me to improve my skills. I have honed my skills in copywriting, editing as well some core principles of Graphic Designing and Digital Marketing. I am quite comfortable with Microsoft Office Suite and I have basic knowledge of certain tools like Adobe Photoshop and Pixlr Editor. It is my motto to keep learning every day and I actively seek feedback to keep growing.”
“I am very persistent and I love to negotiate. These are my core strengths I believe. From a persistence point of view, my performance has been praiseworthy for 3 years in a row now. Also, my manager would surely vouch for the fact that I am a consistent performer. I have received a bonus in every quarter, and this is a proof of my abilities. Besides, as I said, I have great negotiation skills. While negotiating, I can understand my own interests, why I want something and what I actually want; along with this, I can easily perceive the interests of the other party, which makes me a good negotiator!”
“My greatest strength is experience enhancement. In other words, I love attending to people and making their experience better. Last year I underwent a rigorous 6-month long training which included problem solving workarounds in a real-world scenario. Within a very short span of time, I became permanent and was placed in direct client interfacing roles.”
“I have the ability to work effectively with different kinds of people. Hence, I would say that organizational skills are one of the strongest points about me. I had to meet strict deadlines and coordinate with several departments simultaneously in order to deliver a project. I was ultimately able to deliver the project on schedule. In the end, this experience made me realise that I possess good organizational skills. But the entire episode also helped me to polish my time management skills and multi-tasking abilities side-by-side.”
A fresher’s answer to the question
“During the college years, I was heavily involved in college events and activities. My greatest strength is my ability to multi-task. I played on the Football Team, was on the organizing committee of the college cultural festival and the Economics Department Events Committee. With all the activities, I managed to keep an 8.5 GPA all through my final year! Talking about my weakness, I lack assertiveness. My inability to say no can put a lot of stress on my time and my ability. However, I am learning to be more vocal about my capacity and prioritize tasks.”
Sample answer for a software tester
“My thirst for knowledge is my greatest strength. I have worked as a Software Tester for the past 4 years and completed various certifications. My ex-manager observed my curiosity and facilitated greater learning by making me Project Lead on 3 projects last year. My greatest weakness is public speaking. Over the years, my love for the computer has developed me into quite a nerd! Given how important communication skills are, I decided to join a theatre group to help me relax in group settings and lose my stage fright.”
How an academician-cum-trainer will approach this question
“My ability to motivate people is what I consider my biggest strength. As a trainer, I have learned how to work with different groups of people and identify training needs. Similarly, as an academician, I have many people approaching me for guidance and I really pride myself on this. My greatest weakness is that I play by the rules too strictly. This can hamper my progress on a project because I focus on doing the job correctly rather than meeting my deadline. However, the habit of asking my peers to check in with me helps me expedite my own work.”
What would a sales professional say his strengths and weaknesses are?
“My greatest asset is my persistence. This skill is really highlighted and celebrated in the field of sales and I love it! If a certain strategy is not working, I am keen to understand the obstacles and work on them. In the past 2 years as a sales executive, I have taken home a bonus every quarter and this drives me to perform better. About my weaknesses, I have spoken to my supervisor to help me understand my shortcomings. He advised that my writing skills and paperwork filing were lacking and I have consciously started working on this feedback.”
Sample of the answer given by an academic counsellor
“My analytical ability has developed as my core strength. In the field of academic counselling, I have the fortune to meet different kids every day with varied interests and dreams. The ability to analyze their situation, chart out an academic plan and counselling them is thrilling and rewarding. In the last 6 months, I have been able to send 50 kids to medical colleges in Russia and China and really count this as a remarkable feat given how difficult the field of medicine is. As for my weakness, it is definitely time management! I love working in this field and used to work long hours. But now I remind myself to take timely breaks through the day for snacks and a short walk.”