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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.

If you are typically a modest person or not accustomed to bragging about yourself, get over it, at least for your job interviews. If you don't tell employers what your strengths are, they will never know. Employers ask this question for a couple of reasons:

  1. They are interested in what you think your strengths are because that gives them an insight into your personality.
  2. This is the quickest way to gain insight into your strengths.

Yes, if they spend 30 minutes studying your LinkedIn Profile and your LinkedIn Group activities, they'll get an idea of your strengths, but reality is few employers want to spend that time because they might not find the answer or they might reach the wrong conclusion.

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.).

The strengths you describe must be relevant to the job, or 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.]


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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? Will you fit in with the other employees?"

They are thinking: What is this person really like? 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 to that opportunity.

Your Skills:

Some of your strengths are based on your education and experience -- skills you have developed, like using a particular tool required for your profession. Perhaps you speak more than one language, or are very skilled at keeping unhappy customers from getting more upset.

Your Personal Characteristics:

Some of your strengths are personal characteristics. These are the "soft skills" that make you a good team member and a productive employee.

[See the lists of possible strengths below.]

Choose strengths that are relevant to the job you are interviewing for, and be sure to have at least two examples of accomplishments that prove those you have those strengths.

What Do You Think Your Strengths Are?

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

  • What part of your work do you enjoy doing the most?
  • What part of your work is the easiest part for you to do (particularly the parts that seem to be more difficult for others)?
  • 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 Your Strengths Are?

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" (below) to find the ones that seem most appropriate for you and the specific opportunity.


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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 that 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: Skills Employers Need

Don't forget your skills that apply specifically to this opportunity, based on your experience or education/training in:

  1. A type of customer
  2. A type of business
  3. An aspect of business (marketing, finance, law, customer service, 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)
  6. A job-specific tool like an EKG machine, an infusion pump, a backhoe, a drone, an immersion blender, an HV Gen 2 battery pack, etc.

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.

Possible Strengths: Characteristics Employers Value

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

  1. Honest/trustworthy
  2. Dependable
  3. Punctual
  4. Intelligent
  5. Reliable
  6. Likeable
  7. Positive
  8. Independent (vs. needing close management)
  9. Problem-solver
  10. Detail-oriented
  11. Hard-working
  12. Team player
  13. Quick learner
  14. Good communicator
  15. Creative
  16. Passionate about doing a good job
  17. Organized
  18. Flexible
  19. Determined (you never give up until the job is done and done right)
  20. Leader (particularly important for jobs managing people and/or projects)

When you have accomplishments that can be verified through public media (LinkedIn or other media) or through discussions with your references, choose strengths that include those accomplishments.

Two-Part Answers

Like good answers to the greatest weakness question, the answers to the greatest strength question also have two parts:

1. The strength, and...

2. Proof of the strength. Share examples of the strength that demonstrate your qualifications for the job you are interviewing for.

Be sure to present strengths in terms of how they impact the employer.

Examples: Greatest Strength Answers

Remember that this isn't a date or a session with your best friend:

  • Keep your answers short. Don't talk for longer than 10 to 20 seconds. The interviewer isn't interested in your life story.
  • Respect your current and previous employers' confidential information. You will be demonstrating your loyalty and ethics, which a new employer should appreciate.
  • Focus on strengths relevant to the job and employer.
  • Don't choose irrelevant strengths, like your skill with knitting or dancing -- unless those strengths are related to skills needed for the job.
  • Don't share too much information, particularly personal information about your family and your health.

These are only examples. Use these as guides to help you develop your own answers.

Strength: People Person

Particularly for customer service and other customer-facing jobs, this one is a strength that employers love.

(Strength) "I enjoy interacting with people and helping them solve problems, both on the phone and also via email or electronic chatting/messaging."

(Proof) "I've been an online customer service representative for over 5 years, and I really enjoy interacting with people across the globe. My employer has a high standard for customer satisfaction, and I've been trained to defuse really angry people so they can be helped and, in fact, satisfied with our services. We are measured both on how satisfied people are after they've spoken with us, and also if they purchase additional products and services as a result of our interactions. I'm proud to say that I am usually among the leaders in our group, and have received at least one service rep of the month award every year."

Hopefully, your actions before, during, and after the interview demonstrate this strength.

Strength: Leadership

This strength is obviously very important for management jobs and project/team leadership positions.

(Strength) "I pride myself on my leadership skills, something I was taught in my 3 years as a non-commissioned officer in the United States Marine Corps."

(Proof) "Leadership is necessary to keep project teams moving forward in the right direction. While nothing is as challenging as leading troops in battle, leading a 6- to 12-member project team is not easy. Bringing projects in on-time, on-budget, and meeting both technical and business requirements takes substantial planning and management skills, particularly when typically half of the team members did not directly report to me. I've been an IT project manager for 5 years, managing 10 major projects in that time frame. All of those projects completed on schedule, met their specifications, and were considered successes. In addition, I was able to train 4 team members so they were promoted to project management positions."

Bottom Line

Remember: This is not the time for modesty! Choose your strengths carefully, matching them to the requirements of the job, and then offer proof that you have those strengths.


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 Job-Hunt.org. Follow Susan on Twitter at @jobhuntorg and on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Google+.


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