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How to answer 'What are your strengths?' in an interview

Updated on June 19, 2011

Remember

The whole idea of an interview is to make the interviewer think that you are the best person for the position.

Think of yourself as a doctor, a healer if you will.

The company is in pain and hence it has advertised for a position.They need someone who can come in, take charge of things and take care of them, they need someone to reduce that pain.You are the doctor they are seeking out.

The interviewer is there to select you and not to reject you.

Every Interview Question seeks to find out / draw out/ bring to the fore some trait or the other.   The interviewer uses a number of questions to get a 360 degree view of the candidate (YOU) and make up his/her mind on the following:

  • Are you the right fit for the company / position / team?
  • Do you know what the company does/ company's mission / vision etc?
  • Do you really, really want this job?
  • Are you as talented/hard working/ sincere/ etc etc as you are trying to show?

Why ask the question 'What are your strengths?'

Why would an interviewer ask the question 'What are your strengths?'

I mean who would possibly say 'I don't have any' or 'How the hell should I know?' or who would not want to try to use this question to impress?

That's exactly what this question is for.

It is what we call 'A positive' or 'Confidence building' interview question.

The interviewer wants you to feel comfortable, talk about yourself in a flattering way, wants you to get into a positive frame of mind.

Hence the question.

It also allows the interviewer to ask specifics about these "strengths" later in the interview.  So these become 'talking points' or 'lead ins' for the interview.

So for example, if you say your strength is teamwork, the interviewer may later in the interview ask you 'Tell me an incident where you demonstrated team work' or something a little more not-so-direct 'share with us a team project you accomplished in your current/last job.  Tell us what the project was and what you did'

The answer to those questions will determine if they buy the answer to this question.

So How to answer 'What are your strengths?'

First and foremost, be honest.  

The only strengths that count for this answer are the ones that:

  1. are demonstrable with actions at a workplace
  2. add value to the position you are seeking
Everything else, throw it out of the window.  No one wants to know you are great with pets if you are applying to work in a chemical factory.  The strength would be brilliant for a job position with a vet or a service organization catering to pets, but for most positions that does not add any value.
What is also important here is to stay away from cliches like 'hard working' or 'sincere' or 'honest' etc.  
Here is what I suggest:
  1. choose 2 / 3 strengths that you would like to see in someone who was working in the job you are applying for
  2. Find actions / accolades (verifiable) from your work ex that support these strengths.  Something similar is used in fiction - don't tell them, show them.  Apply that.  Dont tell them your strength, share the story and let them get it.
  3. Do not use this answer to blow your own trumpet.  Humility is a strength too!

Some Strengths

  • Curiosity
  • Interest in the world
  • Love of Learning
  • Judgement
  • Critical Thinking
  • Open Mindedness
  • Ingenuity
  • Originality
  • Practical Intelligence
  • Perspective
  • Emotional Intelligence
  • Valour
  • Bravery
  • Perseverance
  • Diligence
  • Industry
  • Integrity
  • Kindness
  • Generosity
  • Citizenship
  • Loyalty
  • Teamwork
  • Leadership
  • Fairness
  • Discretion
  • Caution
  • Prudence
  • Modesty
  • Humility
  • Gratitude
  • Hope
  • Playfulness
  • Humour
  • Passion

Examples

Example

Last year when our company had to reduce departmental costs by 20%, I took on the challenge to find sustainable solutions.  We created a non-formal group for brainstorming and presented our ideas to the management.  Not only were we able to reduce our costs by 25%, some of the ideas are now best-practices used across the company

I would be more than happy to help you improve your answer.

Please leave the following in comments:

  • Name, age, education, position applying for
  • exact words you currently plan on using to answer this question.

I will then try and improve it for you.

Comments

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    • prabhjotbedi profile imageAUTHOR

      Prabhjot Bedi 

      6 years ago from chandigarh

      @lilly

      ha ha! care to leave an intelligent reason for that remark?

    • profile image

      lilly 

      6 years ago

      thx oh and ur a dumb person

    • profile image

      deepthi 

      6 years ago

      age-22,14 months of experience as a customer care executive. persued b.sc(microbiology). would like to persue MBA. appliying for a Sr.process associate

      Exact words:creativity,innovation,psitive frame mind,confident,hard-working,ability to handle pressure,team player,sense of humour,willingness to learn

    • prabhjotbedi profile imageAUTHOR

      Prabhjot Bedi 

      7 years ago from chandigarh

      @Patricia I think your strengths are wonderful. Important for the job you are seeking. Congratulations!

    • profile image

      Patricia 

      7 years ago

      age 48 two years college experience. have not attained degree yet. plan to continue education in the near future to pursue degreee in business administration. Applying for case worker position

      Exact words: love of learning, team player, open mindedness, loyalty, integrity, kindness

    • prabhjotbedi profile imageAUTHOR

      Prabhjot Bedi 

      7 years ago from chandigarh

      @Job seeker stick to the ones relevant to the job you are applying for.

    • profile image

      Job seeker 

      7 years ago

      Will they think I am pompous if I say a lot of strengths?

    • prabhjotbedi profile imageAUTHOR

      Prabhjot Bedi 

      7 years ago from chandigarh

      Dear Nicky,

      Strengths in an interview context usually refer to inherent strengths and not specific to your job.

      So think about that.

      Regarding 'Increasing Revenue, Improving standards, Gain award for the Best Restaurant of the year' - these could be used for answering the question 'What would you concentrate on if you get this job'

      If however, you do have a history / track record for improving standards/revenue, mention them as your accomplishments.

      All the best!

    • Nicky Smart profile image

      Nicky Smart 

      7 years ago from United Kingdom

      Age 25, Diploma in Hotel Management, Position Applying Assistant Restaurant Manager. Increasing Revenue, Improving standards, Gain award for the Best Restaurant of the year.

    • prabhjotbedi profile imageAUTHOR

      Prabhjot Bedi 

      7 years ago from chandigarh

      @Antogin Johnson

      Dear Antogin,

      Strengths in an interview context usually refer to inherent strengths and not specific to your job.

      So think about that.

      Regarding 'Increasing Revenue, Improving standards, Gain award for the Best Restaurant of the year' - these could be used for answering the question 'What would you concentrate on if you get this job'

      If however, you do have a history / track record for improving standards/revenue, mention them as your accomplishments.

      All the best!

    • profile image

      Antogin Johnson 

      7 years ago

      Age 25, Diploma in Hotel Management, Position Applying Assistant Restaurant Manager. Increasing Revenue, Improving standards, Gain award for the Best Restaurant of the year.

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