What are your Strengths? – Interview Question with Answers

what are your strength

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“What are your strengths?” is a classic interview question. It seems simple enough, but these four words present something of a minefield for candidates. For that reason, most candidates are not prepared and don’t answer it well.
 
That’s because it requires you to tread carefully between two paths: too humble on one side, and too arrogant on the other.
 
Too much humility, and you’ll undersell your achievements and skills, leading the employer to think you’re less competent than you are. But oversell yourself too much, and you can easily come across as self-interested and potentially unable to work well in a team.
 
And both of these can happen by accident if you don’t prepare properly. If you’re caught out, you can easily end up drawing a blank or pushing too hard on the one strength you can bring to mind.

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.

Like its counterpart “What are your weaknesses?”, this question is very likely to come up at your next job interview. In fact, they are often asked together.
 
There are several things that your prospective employer may be looking to uncover. For example, they might want to:
  • 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?

Pre-requisites

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.

Make a list of your skills, dividing them into three categories:
  • 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).
When you complete this list, choose three to five of those strengths that match what the employer is seeking in the job posting. Make sure you can give specific examples to demonstrate why you say that is your strength if probed further.
 
Your aim is not necessarily to convince the interviewer that you are the world’s best employee. Instead, your aim is to show them that you are the right employee for the job at hand.

Tips on what to include and what to avoid

5 Tips for Talking About Strengths in an Interview

1. Be Honest
One of the most important things to get right when talking about your strengths in an interview setting is honesty. It might sound dull, but it’s also true. An answer that sounds genuine and authentic will impress, while one that sounds generic, calculated, exaggerated, or humblebraggy will do the opposite.
 
A boss doesn’t want to hire someone who can’t recognize and own what they bring to the table as well as what they need to work on. You’ll be a better employee if you can understand and leverage your strengths and acknowledge and learn from your weaknesses. So you want to show in the interview that you’re capable of that kind of self-reflection.
 

2. Tell a Story

Here’s another cliche you shouldn’t discount: “Show, don’t tell.” Anyone who’s ever taken a writing class—whether in seventh grade or graduate school—has heard it. You should keep it in mind when answering just about any interview question, and it’s certainly helpful here.
 
Anytime you can have a real-life example or a concrete example, it’s a good idea. It just helps to contextualize the response a little bit. We just understand concepts and situations better with a story. So if you can tell a story that supports your thesis, then it’s always helpful.
 
Talk about a time your strength helped you achieve something in a professional setting. For example, if you’re talking about how you’re calm under pressure in a fast-paced environment, you might tell the interviewer about that time you delivered a revamped client proposal after a last-minute change of plans. 
 
Not only will sharing a real example make your answer stand out, but it’ll also make it sound thoughtful and honest and highlight all those other characteristics interviewers are actually looking for.
 
3. Remember to Get to the Insight
An answer that’s genuine and includes an illustrative anecdote is a great start, but it’s not complete until you add some insight. This goes for both strengths and weaknesses but looks a little different in each case.
 
When you’re talking about a strength, the last beat of your answer should tie whatever skill or trait you’ve been discussing to the role and company you’re applying for. Tell the interviewer how that strength would be useful in this particular position at this particular company.
 
So going back to the revamped client proposal example, you might add, “Since things move quickly at [Company], this would allow me to come in and earn a new team’s confidence and foster a trusting team culture while also ensuring we’re all hitting our goals and delivering high-quality work.”
 
4. Keep It Short
You don’t have to devote half the interview to these answers. You can keep your response relatively brief and focused on one or two strengths or weaknesses, depending on how the question was phrased. To add to our list of overused-but-handy phrases: Think quality, not quantity. 
 
5. Don’t Sweat It So Much
While you definitely want to prepare and do your best to nail your answers, try not to stress too much. Don’t panic.
 

Mistakes to Avoid

Some common errors when talking about your strengths include:
  • 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?

If you find yourself struggling to come up with a list of strengths, you might want to try some of these approaches:
  • 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.

Sample Answers

Personality Traits

Example 1: I’ve always been a natural leader. With over ten years of experience in finance and sales, I’ve exceeded my KPIs every quarter and have been promoted twice in the past five years. I look back at those successes and know that I wouldn’t have reached them if I hadn’t built and led teams composed of highly skilled and diverse individuals. I’m proud of my ability to get cross-functional groups on the same page. I’ve regularly honed my management skills through 360 reviews and candid sessions with my team and I know continuing to build my leadership skills is something I want from my next role.
 
Example 2: I’m very collaborative and have always preferred to work in groups. In the project teams I’ve directed, members work with a variety of people and are motivated by diverse creative tasks. Since I began managing my current team, I’ve increased productivity by 15 percent and retention by 25 percent over three years.
 
Example 3: I’m an empathetic person who’s skilled at relating to people and making them feel heard. In one memorable instance from earlier this year, I was on a support call with a customer whose contract we had terminated. Reinstating the service agreement would have increased her rates dramatically. She was understandably upset and felt trapped because she needed car insurance for her and her family. It became clear very quickly that we couldn’t meet her needs but I wanted her to walk away with a favourable impression of the service we had provided. I talked her through some of the other options even letting her know of other providers who might be able to offer her a lower rate so she could avoid a lapse in coverage. In the feedback survey from that interaction, she specifically mentioned that she would still be recommending our services to others. In my career in customer support, I’ve had many interactions like this. They are complex but end with the customer still feeling positive.
 

Skills and Habits

Example 4: I’m obsessed with the newest version of [insert name of new software]. I started pushing the boundaries of what it could do as soon as it was released. I’m excited about applying my passion and abilities to this position and pushing the envelope of this programme for your company.
 
Example 5: I’m thorough and tenacious. When I’m on a project, I keep track of the details. Because I have a comprehensive understanding of the components, I can spot the essentials and rigorously advocate for them to meet deadlines. I regularly see this reflected in my peer and management feedback.
 
Example 6: I never miss a deadline. I’m highly organised and I’ve applied my natural skill for organising people and projects to all aspects of my work. After seven years of working as a project manager, I’ve had only one late product launch. From that experience, which took place three years ago, I learned a crucial lesson about trade-offs. I spent time addressing a crucial design need and that pushed everything else back. I wouldn’t trade the lessons I learned from that experience for anything—being sure to communicate to stakeholders about upcoming roadblocks.
 
Example 7: I have extremely strong writing skills. I’ve worked as a copywriter for eight years in several industries and I am committed to both creative excellence and performance metrics when it comes to my work. I’ve had to learn how to find the perfect balance between that creativity and analytics and it’s a personal passion of mine to demonstrate what good writing can achieve for the bottom line—in advertising or otherwise.
 
 

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.”

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