How To Answer What Are Your Strengths
If someone asked you about your strengths at a party, you can confidently sit back and casually talk about your strong points – maybe with a tad bit more mustard in your descriptions. But such won’t be – or can’t be the case – when a Hiring Manager asks you “What are your strengths” during a job interview.
The first mistake job candidates make when asked this question is to think it’s an easy one to answer. The resume got them their interviews. All they have to do is repeat the strengths listed in the resume and they’re home free.
Not quite. While the resume plays a big role in getting you the job interview, it won’t get you hired.
Like you, the other job applicants met the requirements for the position. You might share the same credentials and have similar experiences, educational attainment, and practical knowledge.
When the levels of talent and experience are identical, the key differentiator becomes the personality of the candidate. The interview is where the Hiring Manager learns more about you as a person to find out if you’re an ideal fit for the company.
Why Does The Hiring Manager Ask “What Are Your Strengths?”
The question “What are your strengths” helps the Hiring Manager uncover hidden truths about you such as:
- “Are your strengths aligned with what the company needs?”
- “Are you a good fit for the role we want for the job?”
- “Are you being realistic with your strengths… or are you simply trying to impress?”
For these reasons, don’t just give out short answers such as “time-management”, “detail-oriented”, or “hard-working”. You need to give your answers more substance by providing important details or by citing examples.
How To Answer “What Are Your Strengths?”
Remember, when you’re job hunting, you’re marketing yourself. Think of the resume as the brochure that lists down the “product specifications” – the “what” you can offer the potential employer if the company hires you.
The job interview is the marketing presentation. This is your opportunity to sell to the potential employer the reasons why the company should hire you – the “why” and the “who”.
And when it comes to choosing the best among the competition, the Hiring Manager will choose the one with the ideal strengths that fit the company’s needs.
Here are our tips plus examples on how to answer the question “What are your strengths?”
Match Your Strengths With the Company’s Needs
The clues on how to best answer any interview question can be found in the job ad. At least one day before the job interview, revisit the job ad.
On a piece of paper, create 2 columns. Write down the specific requirements of the position as listed by the company on one side. Then, write down your strengths that match these requirements in the opposite column.
Let’s assume that you want to apply for the job of “Administrative Assistant” and the following requirements were listed by the company for the position:
- Business Transcription
- MS Office
- Email Filtering
- Phone Handling
- Excellent time-management
If you noticed, the first 4 are examples of hard or technical skills – the types of skills that are acquired through formal learning, on-the-job training, or practical work experience.
The final 4 answers are soft skills – the personality traits that the company desires the ideal candidate possesses.
Soft skills are related to hard skills. You can’t be proficient in business transcription or MS Office if you don’t find the time or motivation to learn these skills.
Thus, if you do have these skills, you can give your answer as follows:
“I consider time as a valuable asset. That’s why time management is the foundation of my strengths as an Administrative Assistant. Because I value time, I have to be organized and resourceful in order to become efficient. I can organize my goals into days, weeks, and months and because of that ability, I was able to schedule time to learn business transcription, MS Office, Zendesk CRM software, and work on other key administrative skills such as email filtering, calendar management, and appointment setting. Yes, I consider myself hard-working because I can handle multiple tasks but because I know how to manage time, hard work becomes easier.”
Give A Real-Life Example of Your Strength at Work
One piece of advice we give to job seekers preparing their resumes is to give actual examples of how you managed their duties and responsibilities in the work experience section.
The reasons for this are to let the recruiter visualize how you perform during your work and to prove that you know your job very well.
Giving examples of applying your strengths at work can do the same things – and it might even be more effective because this time, the Hiring Manager is listening to you narrate these incidents in detail.
Here’s an example of how a candidate seeking to work as a Teacher cites real-life examples of his strengths at work:
“My greatest strengths are empathy, having an adaptive mindset, and motivator. As you well know, students don’t have the same learning capacities. There are students who will fall behind. I can see off the bat who among the students is struggling just by noticing behavioral cues in class. I take note of these observations and pay close attention to these students’ performance on written tests. Once my observations have been confirmed, I reach out to the parents and discuss my plans to help their children improve their learning abilities. The courses of action are customized based on the student’s weaknesses. I set short-term goals in learning and remain committed to the process to ensure that the student shows remarkable improvement in performance.”
Discuss How Your Strength Benefited Your Job
Discussing how your strength benefited your job and employer adds more substance to your real-life example. You take your example to another level by telling the Hiring Manager how your strengths translate to a plus factor for the company that hires you.
Here’s a 3 step process on how you can structure your answer:
- Step 1 – Mention your strengths; no more than 3 strengths. If you mention more than 3 strengths it might be harder to establish the relevancy of each one with the specific needs of the company.
- Step 2 – Explain the incident that required you to call upon these strengths to resolve the situation.
- Step 3 – Discuss the aftermath of the situation; how did the application of these strengths benefit the company?
Let’s assume you’re applying for the position of Project Manager for a manufacturer of agricultural products. Here’s an example of how you can present your answer to the question:
“Being detail-oriented, unassuming, and forward-thinking are strengths that have served me well in my career in the manufacturing industry. Years ago, we were contracted by a multinational company to repackage 15MT of their product within a period of 2 months. Given the sensitivity of the product, I couldn’t sign off on the project until I validate our current warehouse’s operating capacity. Could we handle 15MT of products? I asked the client to give me 3 days to review our operating capacity to which they agreed. Within a few hours, I was able to confirm that the warehouse was in no condition to run the project. I sat down with our financial and engineering groups and we were able to present a timeline for improvements and adjustments to the budget for the project. The client agreed with our findings and because of the improvements, we were able to complete the project before the deadline. Likewise, we were able to justify price adjustments in the contract and maintain our profit margins. The improvements have made our warehouse capable of handling larger volumes of product from the client and thus, maintaining a long-term working engagement.”
Tie in Your Strengths With Your Accomplishments
If you’re applying for your first job, this tip could be your ideal approach to answering the question about your strengths.
Just because you have no work experience doesn’t mean you can’t add substance to your strengths and let the Hiring Manager see the value of hiring you as the company’s latest employer.
Since you don’t have practical work experience, tie in your strengths with your accomplishments.
Here’s an example of a fresh college graduate who’s applying for the position of Copywriter at a digital ad agency:
“My 3 key strengths are being self-motivated, unpresuming, and having a strong passion for knowledge. I’ve always excelled in writing and as early as high school, I knew that to further improve my skills, I had to learn how to write for online publications. When I got to college, I took up Creative Writing but studied content optimization during my free time. After a few months, I volunteered my services to write for the school’s paper which also had an online publication. By applying my skills in content optimization, the school reported improved metrics for the publication including a 127% increase in traffic, 56% improvement in engagement, and 97% satisfaction rating from students and alumni.”
Don’t be afraid to mention numbers. After all, these are your accomplishments. You should be proud of them.
Once you get invited for the job interview, don’t assume that your employment contract is a done deal. Use the available time before the interview to prepare your answers to the questions.
If the Hiring Manager sees that you came to the interview unprepared, he might assume that you’re irresponsible, unconcerned, and arrogant. Thus, it won’t matter what strengths you share because these first impressions will last.
By preparing ahead of time – and practicing your answers – the interview will go smoothly. You’ll be ready to respond to additional questions from the Hiring Manager.
Discover other job interview questions and how to answer them
- How to answer tell me about yourself
- How to answer what are your weaknesses
- How to answer why do you want to work here
- How to answer salary expectations
- How to answer why should we hire you
- How to answer why are you interested in this position
- How to answer what is your greatest weakness
- How to answer behavioral interview questions
- How to answer what makes you unique
- How to answer what areas need improvement