If you make it to the interview stage of a job application, you’ve got plenty of cause for confidence. The hiring managers have already evaluated your resume and cover letter (and, if they’re thorough, have already screened you via a brief phone interview), and that process provided them with enough information and enough interest to justify an in-person sit-down.
That said, it’s crucial to continue presenting the best version of your professional self when you’re seated at the table with your prospective bosses. The job interview allows both sides to gain more information about each other in the hopes of determining whether they should enter into a mutually beneficial business relationship, which is why interviewers will frequently pose direct questions to the candidate.
One popular example? “What are your strengths?,” frequently followed up by the equally-vague “What are your weaknesses?”
These questions can be tricky to navigate, but we've got you covered with the best way to approach a discussion of your job-related strengths and skills.
The first reason behind this question is, of course, the obvious one: employers want to know where you as a worker really shine.
However, the facts and figures behind your strengths aren’t the key piece of info that they’re seeking here. After all, a well-crafted professional resume would already provide details of your workplace successes, with a strong cover letter filling in any gaps.
By asking you to answer “What are your strengths,” your prospective employer wants to know how you perceive your own triumphs. Sure, your resume may state that your sales figures for the last quarter ranked in the top 10% company-wide...but if you’re prouder of your ability to hire a strong support staff and keep your team unified behind a clear goal, you’re more likely to mention that during this segment of an interview. And that choice tells the hiring manager a great deal about your priorities, where you discern value, and how you’ll fit into their existing culture.
As we mentioned previously, unambiguous facts can offer you useful and objective insight into your own strengths. And indeed, any strength you mention during an interview should have strong evidentiary support; if you want to describe yourself as a proactive problem-solver, come prepared with a few clear examples of how that trait manifests itself in your work life and how it’s led to successful outcomes for yourself and for your team.
However, when it comes to deciding which characteristics to highlight in your interview, it’s important to consider the activities, behaviors, and performances that bring you the most pride as an employee. To position yourself as a genuine fit for any role, you want to help the interviewers understand not only what makes you “good” at the required tasks, but also why you’re excited to work on them.
Additionally, rereading the job description and doing a bit of research on the company and the open role can help narrow down your options and pinpoint the strengths that will present you in the strongest light. To be clear: we’re not suggesting any version of “look at the traits that the employer says they want in this role and repeat them verbatim when asked for your strengths.”
But going into your interview with a clear understanding of what the company seeks can help you frame your responses and introduce your own strengths in the context of their needs (which, in turn, will help the interviewers imagine you and your skill set in the role).
While there’s no need to fully script an answer to this question prior to your interview, it can be helpful to walk in with pinpointed strengths and a sense of your response’s general flow. When putting together some key talking points, consider this formula for effectively answering the question, providing the hiring manager with the most relevant information, and making both your strengths and your level of interest known.
Select a strength that closely connects to your own career goals, that directly corresponds with the needs described by the company in the job posting, and which you can support with clear examples from your work history.
Avoid the desire to talk around the strength; articulate it simply and straightforwardly, then begin a story that explains how you’ve used this strength in a professional context.
Close out your story by explaining (in one or two sentences) how you plan to continue honing this strength and investing in its growth.
“I consider building and motivating a team to be one of my greatest strengths. Last quarter, I headed up a time-sensitive project for Client X, and the company asked me to put together a team of five employees to focus on this task. I selected two architects with proven skill in this field, one seasoned accountant with a keen mind for budgeting, and one junior associate with an excellent track record of timeliness and diligence. During our two-week project timeline, I kept my team fully abreast of client communication, formulated a clear game plan, supported each team member through his or her aspect of the project, and led us to a completion date three days earlier than anticipated. The client contacted me soon after to express her sincere happiness with the quality and efficiency of the project, and I’m enormously proud of my team and the success our work achieved. I’m actively looking for a position that will allow me to work alongside talented staffers and lead small teams with a project focus.”
“I believe that my attention to detail leads me to consistent professional success. Recently, my colleague asked me to proofread a critical document and send it to a client based on that client’s particular specifications. I started to edit the document, but I quickly noticed that the margins were one inch rather than the client’s preferred three quarters and that the font was Courier rather than the client’s preferred Times New Roman. I made these changes and sent the client the corrected version, which she received with great gratitude and satisfaction. These small issues were easy to overlook, but my sharp eye for detail helped me to catch them and fix them with plenty of time to spare. I have enormous respect for minutia, and I’m excited to keep sharpening my proofreading skills and to find an opportunity to put these skills to use on a regular basis.”
“I’m proud of my ability to propose a realistic budget and take action to ensure its success. I recently set forth a budget of $X for an infrastructure project at my current job, and in spite of a market shift and escalating prices, I managed to adjust time frames and supply demands in a way that fulfilled the project needs while keeping us within budget. I feel ready to take on larger-scale budget plans, and I anticipate a shift into a role that gives me that flexibility.”