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Answer This Job Interview Question: What's Your Greatest Strength?

By Susan P. Joyce

"What's your greatest strength?" is an often-used job interview question and is frequently paired with the greatest-weakness question. This question is also an invitation to explain why you are the best-qualified candidate for this job.

Don't simply pick any random strength you've been told you have (a great cook, good with kids, able to leap tall buildings in a single bound, etc.).

If those strengths aren't relevant to the job, they really don't matter to the employer.

Being a good cook isn't relevant to most office jobs, unless the job is writing or editing a cook book or cooking instruction videos.

[MORE: Smart Answers to Job Interview Questions.]

Answer the Real Question

Look to address the real concern behind the greatest-strength question, which is "Are you a good candidate for this job? Will you be able to do this job well?"

They are thinking: What is this person really like? Will this person be a good fit into our organization? Can this person communicate well? Is this person self-aware and confident?


Prepare for Job Interview Success: What IS Your Greatest Strength?

Hopefully, you are reading this article because you understand the importance of preparing for a job interview. Walking into an interview expecting to succeed without preparing is a waste of time.

1. Develop a List of Your Strengths

Since the same strength won't necessarily work for every job opportunity, even in the same company, develop a list of three to five (hopefully, more) strengths that you can use as appropriate for an opportunity.

[See the bottom of this article for lists of possible strengths.]

Be sure to have a couple of examples of accomplishments that prove those you have those strengths.

What Do You Think Are Your Strengths?

Think about the aspects of your work that make you feel the most successful, and write them down:

  • What accomplishments are you proudest of (even if no one else seemed to notice)?
  • What have you been recognized for by an employer -- either in a performance review, a salary increase, or a bonus?
  • What other internal reward or recognition have you received -- like employee of the month?
  • What external reward or recognition have you received?

Which of the characteristics employers value (above) are reflected in your accomplishments? Connect your accomplishments to those highly valued characteristics.

These strengths can be a simple as never missing a day of work or never being late for work (reliable).

What Do Others Think Are Your Strengths?

Often, we are not the best judges of our strengths. We think we are, but a view from the "outside" is often more reflective of reality.

So, after you have developed your list of strengths, ask a friend or former co-worker (more than one, if possible) if those are the strengths they would choose to describe you. Their answers could surprise you, and, probably, will be very helpful.

Ask for examples of when you demonstrated that strength. Then, put together a very short narrative of why something is a strength for you. Have additional proof available.

Choosing Your Best, Most Appropriate Strengths for Each Opportunity

Before each interview, pick the strengths that are directly relevant to the positions you are seeking. Help the interviewer understand how your qualifications match their requirements. Which of your strengths fits this job and this organization the best?

If the description is so short or vague that the requirements are hard to figure out, scan the lists of "Characteristics Employers Value" and "Skills Employers Need" (above) to find the ones that seem most appropriate for you and the specific opportunity.

2. Demonstrate Your Strengths with Your Relevant Accomplishments

Make a list of the times when you demonstrated a strength on your list:

  • Issues you recognized and addressed?
  • Problems you solved?
  • Processes you improved?
  • Expenses reduced as a result of your actions or ideas?
  • Profits were generated as a result of your ideas?
  • Other improvements that resulted from your ideas or actions?

When you have a list of 3 or more examples of a strength, think about exactly what happened -- what was the reason you did the action, how did you do it, and what was the benefit of your work. Apply the principles of the structured C.A.R. (Challenge - Action - Result) or S.T.A.R. (Situation - Task - Action - Result) method to describe your accomplishments.

Be prepared to describe your strength and the accomplishments that prove you have that strength. Also, be sure that both the strength you choose and the accomplishments that illustrate it are relevant to the job you are interviewing for.

Your CAR/STAR descriptions will help you with your resume and LinkedIn profile as well as with your job interviews.

Possible Strengths: Characteristics Employers Value

Look at this list, below, of characteristics that employers prefer for their employees. Relate the characterists you choose to the requirements of the job, with examples of how you have demonstrated the characteristic in the past:

  1. Honest/trustworthy
  2. Intelligent
  3. Reliable
  4. Likeable
  5. Positive
  6. Independent (vs. needing close management)
  7. Problem-solver
  8. Detail-oriented
  9. Hard-working
  10. Team player
  11. Quick learner
  12. Good communicator
  13. Flexible
  14. Creative
  15. Passionate about doing a good job
  16. Organized

If the job also involves managing people, like a department or project team, add "leader" to that list of strengths you consider.

Possible Strengths: Skills Employers Need

Don't forget your skills that apply specifically to this opportunity, like your experience with or education in:

  1. A type of customer
  2. A type of business
  3. An aspect of business (marketing, finance, law, and so on)
  4. A skill (writing great blog posts, selling a specific product, writing great proposals, designing excellent products, etc.)
  5. A technology (OS10, Bluetooth, AWS, CISSP, and so on)

Don't limit yourself to the skills you have developed only in school or in a job. You may have also developed skills in any volunteering you may have done, too.

For more about handling behavioral interviews, panel interviews, and telephone interviews, as well as preparing for job interviews, see the article list on the right.

About the author...

Online job search expert Susan P. Joyce has been observing the online job search world and teaching online job search skills since 1995. A veteran of the United States Marine Corps and a recent Visiting Scholar at the MIT Sloan School of Management, Susan is a two-time layoff “graduate” who has worked in human resources at Harvard University and in a compensation consulting firm. Since 1998, Susan has been editor and publisher of Follow Susan on Twitter at @jobhuntorg and on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Google+.

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