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 may never know.
Employers ask this question for a couple of reasons:
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.). Focus on strengths relevant to the job you are interviewing for.
Being a good cook isn't relevant to most office jobs, unless the job is writing a cook book or creating cooking instruction videos. When you have chosen your greatest strength, read How to Answer: What Is Your Greatest Strength? to answer the question most effectively.
Most strengths fall into one of two categories: "soft skills" (personal characteristics) or "hard skills" (professional strengths). Possible strengths for each are listed below.
Having the appropriate hard skills means that you have the technical skills required for a job,
When you have hard skill accomplishments that can be verified via LinkedIn or other media or through discussions with your references, choose strengths that include those skills.
Hard skills are typically learned skills. People are not usually born with one of these skills, but, instead, they work to learn the hard skills they deem necessary for their success in school, in work and in their social lives.
Hard skills can typically be tested or measured in some way, although not every employer will do the testing. Many hard skills in technology fields can be validated by earning relevant certifications and making those certifications visible (as in your LinkedIn Profile).
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.
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).
After analyzing the job description, develop a list of the strengths that apply to you and to the job you want.
"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 (which make great weaknesses because they can be overcome), 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.
If you choose a soft skill, carefully choose one you can prove in some way.
Find your soft skill strengths -- or inspiration -- in this list:
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.
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.