Along with “tell me about yourself,” “describe your strengths” is one of the questions that you know you’ll be asked in a job interview. At first blush, it sounds like an easy question. But because it’s such a broad topic, it can actually be quite difficult to answer well. Below are a few guidelines to help you prepare for and deliver a great response.
Identify your strengths. You should think very carefully about your personal strengths well before you step foot into your interview. It’s not unusual for even the most ambitious professional to be at a loss as to her own strengths. Try viewing resume samples and notice some of the strengths that come across. Do any of those apply to you? Another good source of “strength identification” is to ask your friends and family what they see as your positive attributes. Are you organized? Decisive? Detail-oriented? It’s a good bet that these qualities come through at work as well.
Limit your strengths. Of course you want to impress the hiring manager with your many and varied strengths, but it’s a good idea to put a lot of thought into just three or four, rather than make a catch-all list to regurgitate. If you try to sell the fact that your strengths cover every single thing that could possibly arise—ever!—two negative things are likely to happen: your interviewer probably won’t believe you, and you won’t have enough time to expound upon anything (and, hence, miss the opportunity to lend credibility to your claims).
Avoid over-used catch phrases. It’s tempting to say things like, “I’m a people person” because it sounds like it should be the right answer. But it’s far too vague to convey anything other than the fact that you don’t know how to interview well.
Make sure your strengths are transferable. If you’re interviewing for a similar position as the one you have now—or with your current company—it’ll be fairly easy to describe how your strengths relate to your potential new job. But if you’re changing careers or re-entering the work force after an absence, you’ll need to be more creative. If you’re switching from graphic design to sales, for instance, you can relate how your dedication to on-time delivery and creative customer presentations would be a huge plus in your new job.
Relate your strengths to the new company or job. It’s no secret that candidates need to research the prospective company, as well as the specific job they’re after if possible. But you may not realize how valuable that information can be when you’re relating your strengths. If you know that the culture of the hiring company is customer-focused, for example, you should make sure to convey that customer service is one of your strengths. The company doesn’t care about your strengths in an abstract sense; they want concrete evidence that you can hit the ground running for them.
Give concrete examples. Too many job seekers begin well with their “strengths” answer, but then stop short of an impressive response by, well, stopping short. Don’t just say that you’re persistent; back your assertion up with a story about the time you courted a new client for six months to secure a huge deal for your previous firm. Or demonstrate your attention to detail by showing your interviewer a company newsletter that you edited.
Be prepared for the follow-up. A good interviewer knows that you’ll expect questions about your strengths and weaknesses and that, if you’re smart, you will have prepared a good answer. So to mix things up a bit, some interviewers ask questions that force you to defend your assertion. If you describe one of your strengths as being able to sell ice to an Eskimo, the hiring manager may pick up a stapler and ask you to demonstrate your no-fail sales technique. The best way to prepare for follow-up questions like this is to make sure that you actually possess the strengths you say you do