"What's your greatest strength?" is an often-used job interview question and is frequently paired with the greatest-weakness question. It sounds like a simple question, but it is NOT.
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 might not guess correctly.
All of these strengths are NOT appropriate for every job (nor is it possible for any one person to have all of them), so carefully choose those skills that fit you and are appropriate for the job.
Consider that some of the strengths you have now may have been weaknesses in the past -- and can be used to answer the greatest weaknesses question.
Most strengths fall into one of two categories: "soft skills" (personal characteristics) or "hard skills" (professional strengths). Possible strengths are listed for each below.
"Soft skills" are essential elements of our personalities -- the aspects of our personality that enable us to do our jobs well and "fit" into an organization. Typically, we improve our soft skills as we gain experience and maturity.
Unlike the hard skill strengths, it is usually difficult to test the strength of someone's soft skills.
Clearly, not every strength listed below is required for every job. In fact, some of these skills (e.g., being bold or aggressive) would exclude someone working in a supportive job, but those might be required for people in sales, management, and other jobs.
For example, perhaps your parents raised you to be flexible and accommodating, but your career in law enforcement has required you to become focused and controlled. That would be the foundation of an answer to the greatest weaknesses question. This answer would be presented as a past-weakness which has been overcome and converted into a strength.
Find your soft skill strengths -- or inspiration -- in this list:
Having the appropriate hard skills means that you have the technical skills required for a job. People are not usually born with one of these skills. These skills are typically learned skills.
For example, tax accountants have been trained in how to use various tools, from spreadsheets and financial forms to the IRS regulations for recognizing income and calculating the appropriate allowed deductions. Other professions have their own required hard skills.
Analyzing the job description should give you a very good idea of the hard skills required for the job. The smartest strategy in a job interview is to share strengths that dovetail very nicely with the job's requirements.
In a job interview, the tax accountant could share their professional certifications and level of experience in tax accounting that demonstrate their strength in tax accounting (and how they meet the requirements of the job).
Hard skills can typically be tested or measured in some way, although not every employer will do the testing. After analyzing the job description, develop a list of the strengths that apply to you and to the job you want.
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.
According to recruiter Jeff Lipschultz, the soft skill strengths are definitely as valuable to employers as the hard skills, so don't focus your answers -- and limit your selling points -- to only the hard skills.
When you are choosing the skills to share with an employer, Jeff highly recommends this very wise advice --
You will make the best impression if you focus on sharing the strengths that have the biggest impact on the employer's bottom line.
Being expert at organizing events is not a strength valued by an employer which is not interested in having events. On the other hand, being a good mediator can be highly valued when negoiation skills are necessary.
Jeff also highly reccommends sharing stories of your relevant accomplishments when you share a strength.
Anyone can claim to be a good communicator or team player, but that claim is empty (and unimpressive) without examples of how they have communicated well or been a key member of an important team.
Read Jeff's article, Job Interview Success Secret: Your Relevant Stories, for details in how to put your stories together.
Like good answers to the greatest weakness question, the answers to the greatest strength question also have three parts:
If you aren't sure of your strength or how to describe it, read Finding Your Answer to the Greatest Strength Interview Question.
Share examples of the strength that demonstrate your qualifications for the job you are interviewing for. Tell the true "stories" about your accomplishments.
Connect the dots between your strengths and their needs. Be sure to present strengths in terms of how they impact the employer.
These are only examples. Use these as guides to help you develop your own answers.
Particularly for customer service and other customer-facing jobs, this 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 3 years. We are measured both on how satisfied people are after they've worked with us, and also if they continue to purchase our products and services later or if they cancel their service. I'm proud to say that I am usually among the customer satisfaction leaders in our group, and have received three service rep of the month awards this year."
(Relevance)"This job requires someone who knows how to help your customers use your excellent new app, and my experience will enable me to help your customers solve their problems."
Hopefully, your actions before, during, and after the interview demonstrate this strength.
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 5 years as a non-commissioned officer in the United States Marine Corps. As in combat, leadership in project management is necessary to keep project teams moving forward in the right direction."
(Proof) "While nothing is as challenging as leading troops in battle, leading a 6- to 12-member cross-functional project team is not easy. I've been an IT project manager for 4 years, leading 12 major cross-functional projects in that time frame. All of those projects were completed on schedule, meeting or exceeding the project's requirements, and were considered very successful."
(Relevance) "Bringing IT projects in on-time, on-budget, performing successfully with low error rates and high customer satisfaction is something I have been doing successfully for over 4 years, and I know that's what you do here."
Remember that this isn't a date or a discussion with your best friend:
Focus on making it clear to the interviewers that you are qualified for the job, interested in the work, and a good fit for the organization. Use the 100 examples above as starting points to help you determine your own soft-skill strengths. Then, analyze the job description to see which of your hard skills would be most appropriate to mention..
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.