How to Answer: What is Your Greatest Strength?

A horrid question designed to catch the interviewee off guard, or an important question asked with genuine interest by the interviewer? Who can tell. The point is, the question is hated by everyone who has to answer it. Having to ‘boast’ about your greatest strength is enough to make anyone cringe, but for some of us, it can be incredibly hard to know which type of ‘strengths’ are worth mentioning. So, as I hate the question as much as the next person, I feel that it is only fair to provide some helpful tips on how to answer it.

Why is the question asked?

The main reasons this type of question is asked is to put the candidate under pressure, find out their strengths, and to determine the character of the candidate when put on the spot. The recruiter can also find out if you are the right candidate for the job by examining your strengths and determining if they are the necessary skills they need for their organisation.  

Your strengths come from your skills…

It can be difficult to know what to mention when asked what your main strengths are, but it is pertinent to know that your strengths are essentially your skills. It is also important to note that when describing your strengths, you also include an example of how you use your strength to solve/benefit a relatable situation. This will help the interviewer to understand how they can put your strengths to good use. Below I have categorised the types of strengths you can mention in your interview:

  1. Knowledge based skills: These are skills you have acquired through education and experience. Computer skills, language skills and mathematical skills would be counted among these.
  2. Transferable Skills: Skills that you can transfer from your degree to your job such as communication, analytical, planning and organizational skills.
  3. Personal Traits: The qualities which are unique to you such as being dependable, flexible, punctual and a team player cannot usually be taught in a classroom.

What you have to do is sit down and have a brainstorming session to figure out what skills you have in these three areas. You have got lots of skills so it should not be too hard. Try to make sure that you have a list of at least five key strengths spread across all three areas. Be sure to have examples to back all of your strengths up. It is always best to use real skills as you can talk about them more convincingly. However sometimes it can be harder to come up with examples for when you used your skills. This is an area where if you need to, you can take certain liberties with the truth because, after all, you are telling them a story; however, it is always better to give real life examples.

Helpful Tips

#1 Avoid Generic Answers

If you provide generic strengths then the interviewer will spot it a mile off. Don’t use buzz words such as ‘team player’ and ‘people skills’. Be more specific about your strengths; use words such as ‘relationship building’ and state when you had to use these skills to achieve something noteworthy. Stand out from the crowd by not using the same generic strengths as everyone else!

#2 Use Job-Relevant Skills

Focus on the skills you have that match the employer’s needs. You need to talk about relevant skills you can bring to their workplace. Remember everything has to be tailored to the specific job at hand.

#3 Ensure your Strengths are Adaptable

The interviewer will expect you to have answers ready to parrot off. They are also trying to test your adaptability, so be prepared. You need to be able to adapt your answers to any situation so remember to be prepared. The key to adaptability is preparation.

#4 Always be Prepared

Preparation and practice are extremely important. You want to be able to talk convincingly about your strengths. After all, you are trying to sell yourself in the interview by talking about the strengths that you have. If you are not confident when you are talking about your strengths you are not going to land the job – you need to be able to convince them that you really do have these skills. Read the answers over and over and make sure you know what your strengths are. Remember keep the answer concise and do not ramble on. Your answer should be 1 – 2 minutes long.  

As long as you have prepared for the question, you will be ok! That is of course unless you freeze up or run out of the interview room in a state of panic! One point to mention though - avoid blindly copying an answer you see off the internet as the interviewer will almost certainly of seen it as well. Use it as an example but never copy it 100%. Be unique and you will stand out for all the right reasons.