By Mike Simpson
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Have you ever played chess?
What do both of these games have in common? They’re both strategy games that have a way of bringing out your strengths and weaknesses.
They also require you to think multiple steps ahead of your opponent in order to project the best possible outcome and ultimately, win the game.
An interview is exactly the same.
No, you’re not playing with cards and I don’t think it’s a good idea to bring a set of dice with you, but any good interviewer will tell you a successful candidate is one who comes to the interview with a strategy in mind and is prepared to think on their feet.
When a hiring manager goes into an interview, they have one goal in mind: find the best possible candidate for the position.
So how do they do this?
Through a process of elimination using carefully selected questions.
Parroting back prepared answers to standard questions does little to tell an interviewer about who you really are.
Sure, they might be happy with the fact that you’re good at memorizing, but most job require much more than that.
Interviewers want to see what happens when they rattle your cage and throw you off balance…which is why they love questions like…
FREE BONUS PDF CHEAT SHEET:
Get our "What Are Your Strengths & Weaknesses Cheat Sheet" that gives you DO's & DON'TS and word-for-word sample answers that you can use in your next interview.
What Are Your Strengths and Weaknesses?
At first, it might seem like a ridiculous question, but the strategy behind asking it is actually brilliant. The interviewer is intentionally trying to get you to answer a question that is designed to trip you up.
Do you notice how this question is essentially in two parts?
Don’t worry, we’ve got some strategies to help you turn a potential stumbling block into a launching pad of awesome!
Before we get into your strengths, let’s take a moment to talk about your weaknesses.
What is Your Greatest Weakness?
As we mentioned above, when asking about your strengths a hiring manager will often also want to try and learn about your weaknesses.
In reality, it is pretty rare for a hiring manager to ask you them together as one question, but you still need to be prepared in case this question comes up.
Generally speaking, you should prepare for these questions separately, because each of them have unique characteristics and should be handled on their own. However, these two questions will often be asked in a row and are obviously connected so you need to prepare both!
So in other words, focus on your weaknesses first!
Although this article focuses primarily on the way you should approach answering “what are your greatest strengths” question, we made sure to prepare a great article addressing how to answer the question “What are your weaknesses?” Please click here to check it out!**
Okay, without further ado, let’s talk about your strengths!
Preparing To Answer About Your Strengths
When you’re sitting down across from a hiring manager you want to make sure you’re presenting yourself in the best possible way.
You want to show them that you’re the perfect candidate, the answer to all their hiring needs, but how do you do that when you’re asked a question specifically designed to throw you off?
Easy! By answering it before it’s even asked!
By preparing for this question ahead of time and outlining several possible answers you’ll be in a much better position to come up with a an answer in the interview that not only covers the question, but makes you appear polished, well prepared and confident.
For someone who is unprepared for the question “Tell me about your greatest strength,” trying to come up with a quick answer can be a huge stumbling block.
But before we get started you should download our free Greatest Strengths & Weaknesses Cheat Sheet!
This handy (and FREE!!) pdf contains everything you need to answer this tricky question at a glance. Click Here To Get The Greatest Strengths & Weaknesses Cheat Sheet!
Most people, when caught off guard and already nervous from the interview process end up sitting there thinking frantically, “what are my strengths??? uhhhh..” and then tend to blurt out the first thing that comes to their minds.
Let’s start out with what NOT to say when you get asked this question:
THE COMPLETELY IRRELEVANT ANSWER:
“Uh, wow. Well for starts, I have a super good grip so my mom has me open all her jars for her. Yeah, that’s a good strength. And I have a wicked backhand in tennis.”
If this were a dating interview and not a job interview, an answer like that might earn you some points, but unless you’re interviewing for a job at a jam factory or trying to work your way into a position as a tennis pro at the local club, your answer is weak, confusing, and lets the interviewer know right away that you’re not prepared and that you lack the skills it takes to really think on your feet.
THE OVERLY AGGRESSIVE OR COCKY ANSWER
“I’m a leader with proven results which means it’s my way or the highway.”
Are you applying for Mercenaries-R-Us? If not, it might be a good idea to tone down the testosterone.
THE STRENGTHS THAT JUST KEEP ON COMING
“Well, I’m smart, I’m funny, I’m a great team leader, I work well with others, I’m prompt, I’m focused, I pay attention to details, I’m grounded, I really appreciate hard work, I’m never late, I can work weekends, I’m super excited to be here, I’m motivated, I’m…”
Whoa! This isn’t MadLibs and we aren’t asking you for thirty adjectives to describe yourself. A hiring manager wants to hear one or two…maybe three (absolute tops) qualities about you that you consider a strength.
THE ‘IT’S ALL ABOUT ME’ ANSWER
“Um, well, I’m super funny and smart and all my friends say I’ve got a great attitude and I’m really easy to talk to.”
Again, this isn’t a dating show and although the interviewer IS interested in getting to know you better, this is not the question to answer with all about you information.
THE STRENGTH THAT’S ACTUALLY A WEAKNESS ANSWER
“I’m a total workaholic. If I’m on a project I’m gonna make sure to stick with it to the bitter, bloody end.”
Although this might sound like a strength, it’s actually a weakness in disguise! By telling your employer that your strength is actually a weakness in disguise, you’re letting them know you lack self-reflection. It also comes across as smarmy and can be perceived as you trying to pull a fast one… Never a good idea.
How To Answer “What Are Your Strengths?”
By doing your research beforehand!
The absolute best way to answer this question is to assume before you even get to the interview that it’s going to come up…which means doing your homework ahead of time.
First thing you want to do is turn back to your trusted research skills and do a little digging on both the company and the job you’re interviewing for.
Remember how we’ve taught you to TAILOR your answers (if not, check out our article Job Interview Questions and Answers 101)? Well this question is the perfect place to put those skills to good use!
Start out by researching the company and finding what they value as far as strengths and qualities go.
Then look at the job itself. Can you pull out a few core needs that you know you can meet with confidence? Good.
Now take all those pieces and put them together in one single answer and make sure that you have practical examples and success stories from your past that support your claims.
A few things to keep in mind while you’re preparing your answers. Make sure your answer is truthful, relevant to the position and company you’re applying for and accurate.
Ultimately what you’re aiming to do is to reassure the hiring manager that you’re the right person for the job. You want to make sure your answer shows them that your strengths are in line with what the company needs and is looking for.
You need to let them know that you are fully capable of doing the job you’re being hired to perform and that you are the best person…the perfect candidate for the position.
You want them to know that by hiring you they’re getting someone with the qualities, skills and experience that will not only make you an excellent part of the team, but also sets you apart from any other potential candidates.
Make sense? Great! Now should download our free Greatest Strengths Cheat Sheet!
This handy (and FREE!!) pdf contains everything you need to answer this tricky question at a glance. Click Here To Get The Greatest Strengths Cheat Sheet!
What Are Your Strengths? Example Answers
Need some inspiration? Here are a few sample answers to get you started:
“I’m a problem solver. I love taking a problem and looking at it from every angle. I enjoy work that challenges me and pushes me to think outside the box. I enjoy situations where I am allowed to work with other people to come up with creative solutions. At my last company we were asked to come up with ways to increase our work flow without decreasing our accuracy. By really analyzing what every department was doing and finding ways to work together more efficiently, I was able to not only streamline the process, but made it possible for us to beat our previous deadline by three days with a superior product as an end result.”
This is a great answer because it lists three strengths in quick succession without bogging down. The interviewer now knows the candidate is a problem solver, likes challenges and enjoys working as a team. They’re also saying that they enjoy efficiency and communicating with different departments and provides a solid example of how they’ve used those strengths to solve a problem.
“I’ve always been known for my work ethic. I am committed to meeting deadlines and taking responsibility for the quality of my performance. A few months ago I was working with a client who had us on a tight deadline. There was a mix-up in the delivery of some key paperwork and it didn’t get to our office until closing the night before the deadline. Rather than go home and ignore the problem, I stayed late and finished the project, making sure that our deadline was not only met, but that the report was accurate.”
The hiring manager now knows that this candidate is a hard worker who cares about doing the job right and on time. Three highly valuable qualities in any good candidate!
“I’m a people person. As a customer service rep for the past five years, I’ve learned how to deal with a wide variety of personalities. I enjoy handling tough cases as it gives me a chance to problem solve. I enjoy interacting with the public and love doing outreach. Two summers ago I was lucky enough to be a part of the Black Friday crew. A lot of other employees found it stressful and didn’t enjoy it but I really found that I loved the excitement and the rush of having so many people come through so quickly. Not only was I constantly engaged, but I was able to provide one on one shopping assistance to a few last minute gift buyers. Not only did I have a great time but my team had the highest receipts for the entire weekend! It felt great.”
This is the kind of person you want to hire. They’re clearly enthusiastic about their job and have experience not only doing the job well but also doing it under difficult and/or extreme conditions. The candidate also backed up their story with easily verifiable facts, something a good hiring manager will later verify (again, always make sure what you’re saying is truthful!)
Of course these are just examples. It’s up to you to find the answers that fit your job and your qualifications the best.
Examples of Strengths You Can Use
If you’re still struggling for good strengths, consider trying to fit one or more of these (but remember, no more than three…) work strengths into your answers. (And obviously make sure they apply to you!):
Solid Leadership skills
Solid Management skills
Willingness to take on responsibilities
Ability to meet deadlines
Clear attention to details
Strong People Skills
Able to work independently
No matter what skill you decide to highlight in your answer, just make sure that it’s applicable to the job and the company and that you have a truthful and solid example to back it up.
And finally, if you’re still running into walls and can’t come up with something good, ask your co-workers what they think your strengths are. You might be surprised what they say and not realize something you take for granted or do without thinking is actually a valuable strength!
And as always…Good luck!
FREE: "What Are Your Strengths & Weaknesses" PDF CHEAT SHEET
Get our handy cheat sheet!
In it you'll get word-for-word sample answers that cover various scenarios and positions. Use them in your next interview!
PLUS the DO'S & DON'TS so you don't fall into any of the common traps associated with this question.
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