You’re in an interview for your ideal job and are asked “What are your greatest strengths?” Do you know how to answer this in a way that will knock your interviewers’ socks off? Are you unsure of how to do so?
Don’t worry! I’m going to explain what NOT to say (which more than 90% of candidates do), tell you exactly how to answer this question with confidence, what descriptive words to use, and give you my exact formula to impress your interviewers.
I’ve interviewed thousands of candidates throughout my career and one of my favourite questions to ask is “What are your greatest strengths” and this is one of the questions that most candidates fail! Do you know what the most common words are that I hear from most candidates? Hardworking, loyal, dedicated, friendly, trustworthy, focused – do any of those sound familiar? These words are substandard and can be disappointing to hear. If you’ve used those words before, hey it’s behind you, after this video you’ll never use them again and you’ll know exactly what you should say.
Now before I explain why those words are not good to use, let me first give you the 4 main reasons behind why an employer asks what your greatest strength are..
- To find out how well you know and believe in yourself and are confident that you are the right person for the position.
- To uncover any additional reasons for hiring you in comparison with other applicants.
- To determine your potential – because sometimes they may consider you for another position where your strengths could be even better utilized.
- To ensure everything is matching with what you claimed on your resume and in your cover letter.
So, the goal when it comes to answering, “What are your greatest strengths?” is to think ‘strengths’ and not ‘expectations’ – employers expect you to be hardworking, loyal, punctual, focused, dedicated, trustworthy, and friendly! Right?
Also think of it this way, what is the opposite of…
- Hardworking? Lazy!
- Loyal? Disloyal
- Friendly? Cold, aloof, distant, or Unfriendly
- Dedicated? Uncommitted
- Trustworthy? Corrupt
- Focused? Uninterested, distracted, absentminded
Do you see where I’m going with this? You DON’T want to describe your strengths as things your employer naturally EXPECTS from you.
So, let’s talk about how you should answer this question.
Preparing for an interview is “75% preparation and 25% execution!” So, that means preparation for this question requires a complete ‘package of strengths’ so that nothing valuable gets overlooked. You want to show your strengths by emphasizing things like your number of years of experience, the specific skills that are important and relevant to the job, and any additional assets.
Now, If you are just starting out in your career – then you’re going to focus on your education and the value that having the most current training and information can bring to the role along with your unique skills. If you have recently updated your education or training then point out the value this has added to your knowledge and abilities to do the job.
You only want to mention education that is relevant to the role or industry. If you just recently completed a course on graphic design but you are applying for a job as a bank teller or an accounting assistant then it’s not relevant and will only confuse the interviewer. However, if you just completed a certificate program in accounting or an online training course for Microsoft Excel, then it is relevant to the role.
Next, you should include at least 3 to 5 work-related attributes that are part of your personality, but you also want to pick ones that are most important or most necessary in the type of job and industry you are applying for.
- Ability to prioritize – This is important for jobs in busy or multi-task-based environments
- Ability to stay focused on projects despite setbacks
- Problem-solving skills – This is often important in customer service and technical roles
- Your professional expertise in the sector – This is a great attribute if you are in a unique industry
- Ability to work under pressure – This is important in jobs that are typically fast-paced or where sudden changes in priority can happen.
- Being recognized for your leadership skills– This is an obvious one if you are in a leadership role, team lead
- Having a positive attitude – This is important in all roles for employee morale, teamwork, company culture because let’s face it who wants to work with someone who’s always negative, sarcastic, or grumpy! Having a positive attitude is particularly important in customer service-based roles.
There are dozens and dozens of attributes one can have, so those are just a few basic examples.
Once you’ve identified those work-related attributes now I want you to back them up with 2 or 3 brief examples with specifics such as:
- A time at work when you met a very tight deadline
- A complex situation where you ‘kept your cool’
- A time when you went ‘above and beyond’ to assist someone
- Something unique that you did in a team project
Along with these specifics, you should also include a couple of hard skills that you are particularly good at that are relevant to the job (keep reading to find out more about what hard skills you can list).
As an Interview Coach and an interviewer, I know this is hard for many people to come up with. So, I recommend that to start you grab a cup of coffee and sit down somewhere where you can reflect and write down as many of your unique strengths or assets (at least 10) that you can think of. You won’t give all 10 strengths/assets in your answer, but different roles and industries require different strengths, so you want to have lots you can choose from.
There are hundreds of words you can choose from but here are some keyword ideas on personal attributes and a list of hard skills to help get you started:
- Communication skills
- Attention to detail
- Interpersonal skills
- Industry knowledge
- Analytical (data or situations)
- Computer skills
- Technical skills (i.e.. software, engineering, or equipment)
- Excellent researcher
- Writing / Editing / Copywriting
- Language Translating
- Digital or graphic design
- Web development
- IT networking
- Marketing skills
- People management
- Online marketing
- Project management
- Presentation skills
Finally, finish your answer with something like this:
“I hope I’ve described my strengths and shown what I can bring to this opportunity. Was there a particular strength that you have in mind that perhaps I didn’t include?”
It’s important to ask this because if the interviewer mentions a specific that you didn’t cover, this gives you a chance – although you’ll be thinking on your feet – try to indicate that you either HAVE that strength or that you can quickly DEVELOP it.
If you are applying for different types of roles or similar roles but in different industries, be sure to research the job posting or job description thoroughly. Look for clues as to what qualities and attributes are required or desired in the job…and make sure to include those in your answer…. This is why preparation and practice are so important.
Here are a couple of quick fill-in-the-blank examples to help you answer, “What are your greatest strengths?”:
‘I have x years’ experience working in [your field of work] and my knowledge of [a key relevant knowledge, product or market area] means that I would be able to make a significant contribution from the beginning.
I am [outline your chief abilities] and because of that I have [give your key achievements].
I believe my current/previous employer would agree that one of my key strengths is my ability to do the job even under difficult conditions.
For example, [describe a time you succeeded under difficulties and the benefit to the company that resulted].’
‘I would say my greatest strength is my ability to sell.
I have experience in [outline some specifics – types of sales, specific sales skills, etc.].
Within the past [couple of years, few months] I have [give some brief examples of your achievements].
I believe this was possible because of my [pick your most relevant sales ability], my [pick your most relevant professional skill] and my [pick a couple of your most relevant personal qualities].’
Do you see how an answer like this, compared to an answer like “I’m hardworking, dedicated, loyal, and friendly” is going to truly impress your interviewers?
Now let’s do a quick recap. When asked what your greatest strengths are you should:
1) Mention any education you have that is relevant to the role
2) List 3 to 5 personal attributes that are important to the role, industry, and maybe even company culture.
3) Include 3 to 5 hard skills that are specific to the position that you are also highly skilled at
4) Provide at least 1 or 2 examples that demonstrate some of those attributes and hard skills
5) Lastly, don’t forget to end by asking if there is a particular strength they are looking for that you haven’t mentioned and if you can add it in.
These 5 steps are my magic formula for answering the “What Are Your Greatest Strengths? Question. Follow my formula and I guarantee you’ll impress your interviewers!
What you’ve learned here is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to interview strategies, job search and career tips. To learn more, check out my YouTube channel (VirtualJobSearchCoach), where I post new content to help job seekers like you, determine, pursue, and land their dream job!
If you would like one-to-one coaching to equip you with the confidence, necessary tools, critical knowledge, and strategies to find and land your ideal job – then let’s talk! You can book a complimentary 15 minute discover call directly in my calendar at https://calendly.com/virtualstacey and let’s chat about how I can help you fast-track your job search success.