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Finding Your Answer to the Greatest Strength Interview Question

By Susan P. Joyce

Answer This Interview Question: What's Your Greatest Strength?"What's your greatest strength?" is an often-used job interview question, 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.

For ideas on what a possible "strength" is, check out this list of 100 possible strengths.

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.). 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.

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 also 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 and may ruin many opportunities for you.

Best Answer: Think about the strengths others have told you that you have, particularly in relation to your work. These can be skills, like using specific technology, or characteristics that make you successful.

See the list of strengths and the example answers below to help you develop your own response to this question.

1. Focus on the Skills the Employer Needs for This Job

Since you are interviewing for a specific job, focus on your skills that apply to this opportunity, based on your experience or education/training. If you are interviewing for a job in accounting, your skills as a musician probably won't be relevant.

Instead, think of your experience, education, and training relevant to the employer and the job:

  1. The type of customer
  2. The type of business
  3. An aspect of business (marketing, finance, law, customer service, and so on)
  4. A skill (writing great blog posts, answering technical questions, selling a specific product or service, designing excellent products, leading project teams, etc.)
  5. A technology (CAD, 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.
  7. A characteristic necessary for this job (adapting to a rapidly changing market or environment, working collaboratively, managing team members in different locations, being managed by someone in a different location, 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.

2. Start a List of Your Strengths

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

The list of example strengths at the bottom of this article should help you choose the best strengths for you.

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, if possible (and without violating the confidentiality of an employer)..

Choosing Your Best, Most Appropriate Strengths for Each Opportunity

Before each interview, pick the strengths that are directly relevant to the particular 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.

3. Think of Accomplishments that Demonstrate Those Strengths

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

  • Issues you recognized and addressed?
  • Disasters you helped to avoid?
  • Opportunities you recognized and capitalized on?
  • 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.

The 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.

More About Answering Interview Questions:

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.