By Mike Simpson
Table of Contents
When a hiring manager goes into an interview, they have one goal in mind: find the best possible candidate for the position. So how do they do this? By asking tough questions like, “What are your strengths and weaknesses?”
Interviewers want to see what happens when they rattle your cage and throw you off balance… which is why they love questions like this. Plus, it helps them learn more about how you view yourself and your capabilities, which is often enlightening.
Luckily, once you know how to answer “what are your strengths and weaknesses,” you can navigate the question like a pro. Here are some insights that can help, as well as some “what are your strengths” examples to get you headed in the right direction.
What Are Your Strengths and Weaknesses?
At first, it might seem like a ridiculous question, but the strategy behind asking it is actually brilliant. The interviewer is intentionally trying to get you to answer a question that is designed to trip you up.
Do you notice how this question is essentially in two parts?
Don’t worry, we’ve got some strategies to help you turn a potential stumbling block into a launching pad of awesome!
Before we get into your strengths, let’s take a moment to talk about your weaknesses.
What is Your Greatest Weakness?
As we mentioned above, when asking about your strengths, a hiring manager will often also want to try and learn about your weaknesses. In reality, it is pretty rare for a hiring manager to ask you them together as one question, but you still need to be prepared in case this question comes up.
Generally speaking, you should prepare for these questions separately because each of them has unique characteristics and should be handled on its own.
However, these two questions will often be asked in a row as they’re obviously connected, so you need to prepare both!
If you find yourself in a situation where the interviewer asks you “What are your strengths and weaknesses at the same time, make sure to always start with your weaknesses and end with your strengths. You want to leave a good taste in the hiring manager’s mouth, so make sure the last thing you say in your response is something that leaves you in a positive light.
So in other words, focus on your weaknesses first!
Although this article focuses primarily on the way you should approach answering “what are your greatest strengths” question, we made sure to prepare a great article addressing how to answer the question “What are your weaknesses?” Please click here to check it out.
Okay, without further ado, let’s talk about your strengths!
Preparing To Answer About Your Strengths
When you’re sitting down across from a hiring manager, you want to make sure you’re presenting yourself in the best possible way.
By preparing for this question ahead of time and outlining several possible answers, you’ll be in a much better position. You’ll have responses that not only cover the question but make you appear polished, well prepared, and confident.
So, let’s dive into what it takes to showcase your personal strengths in the best possible light.
How NOT To Answer “What Are Your Strengths?”
Let’s start out with what NOT to say when you get asked this question:
THE COMPLETELY IRRELEVANT ANSWER:
“Uh, wow. Well, for starters, I have a super good grip, so my mom has me open all her jars for her. Yeah, that’s a good strength. And I have a wicked backhand in tennis.”
If this were a dating interview and not a job interview, an answer like that might earn you some points, but unless you’re interviewing for a job at a jam factory or trying to work your way into a position as a tennis pro at the local club, your answer is irrelevant, confusing, and lets the interviewer know right away that you’re not prepared.
THE OVERLY AGGRESSIVE OR COCKY ANSWER
“I’m a leader with proven results, which means it’s my way or the highway.”
Are you applying for Mercenaries-R-Us? If not, it might be a good idea to tone it down.
THE STRENGTHS THAT JUST KEEP ON COMING
“Well, I’m smart, I’m funny, I’m a great team leader, I work well with others, I’m prompt, I’m focused, I pay attention to details, I’m grounded, I really appreciate hard work, I’m never late, I can work weekends, I’m super excited to be here, I’m motivated, I’m…”(Video) Thinking clearly about software design
Whoa! The hiring manager isn’t asking you for thirty adjectives to describe yourself. Instead, a hiring manager wants to hear one or two… maybe three (absolute tops) qualities about you that you consider a strength.
THE ‘IT’S ALL ABOUT ME’ ANSWER
“Um, well, I’m super funny and smart, and all my friends say I’ve got a great attitude and I’m really easy to talk to.”
Although the interviewer IS interested in getting to know you better, this is not the question to answer with all-about-you information.
THE STRENGTH THAT’S ACTUALLY A WEAKNESS ANSWER
“I’m a total workaholic. If I’m on a project, I’m going to make sure to stick with it to the bitter, bloody end.”
Although this might sound like a strength, it’s actually a weakness in disguise! By telling your employer that, you’re letting them know you lack self-reflection. It also comes across as smarmy, which is never good.
How To Answer “What Are Your Strengths?”
Now that you know how not to answer the “what are your strengths?” question, it’s time to talk about the correct approach. Here is a step-by-step guide on how to answer “what are your strengths?”
Do Some Research
Ideally, you want to discuss a strength that aligns with the job and the company’s needs. By reviewing the job description, digging into the company values, and taking other steps, you can find out which strengths match its priorities.
Tailor Your Answer
Once you research the company and role, it’s time to create the foundation for a tailored answer. Choose one to three strengths that you possess that match the job and company’s needs, using those as a starting point for your response.
Match It with a Story
In the world of job interviews, it’s better to show than to tell. Make sure you have practical examples and success stories from your past that support your claims. That way, your answer is more likely to impress.
“What Are Your Strengths?” Example Answers
Now that you know how to answer what you’re your strengths, it’s time to take the next step. Here are a few example answers that can serve as inspiration:
“I’m a problem solver. I love taking a problem and looking at it from every angle. I enjoy work that challenges me and pushes me to think outside the box and situations where I am allowed to work with other people to come up with creative solutions.
“At my last company, we were asked to come up with ways to increase our workflow without decreasing our accuracy. By really analyzing what every department was doing and finding ways to work together more efficiently, I was able to not only streamline the process but made it possible for us to beat our previous deadline by three days with a superior product as an end result.”
“I’ve always been known for my work ethic. I am committed to meeting deadlines and taking responsibility for the quality of my performance.
“A few months ago, I was working with a client who had us on a tight deadline. There was a mix-up in the delivery of some key paperwork, and it didn’t get to our office until closing the night before the deadline. Rather than go home and ignore the problem, I stayed late and finished the project, making sure that our deadline was not only met but that the report was accurate.”
“I’m a people person. As a customer service rep for the past five years, I’ve learned how to deal with a wide variety of personalities. I enjoy handling tough cases that give me a chance to problem solve, interacting with the public, and outreach.(Video) Lunch & Learn - What are the SOLIDWORKS Certification Exams?
“Two summers ago, I was lucky enough to be a part of the Black Friday crew. A lot of other employees found it stressful and didn’t enjoy it, but I really found that I loved the excitement and the rush of having so many people come through so quickly. Not only was I constantly engaged, but I was able to provide one on one shopping assistance to a few last-minute gift buyers. Not only did I have a great time, but my team had the highest receipts for the entire weekend! It felt great.”
“My greatest strength is my communication skills. During my time in tech roles, I’ve frequently had to take complex concepts and make them accessible to users and stakeholders without technology backgrounds. This allowed me to develop reliable techniques for ensuring clarity, making it easier for anyone to follow critical discussions.
“One example of that involved an upcoming presentation. We needed approval to shift to a new MDM, as our current option was getting shut down in the coming months. As I researched the proposed system, I found ways to highlight the features in accessible ways, eliminating all jargon to ensure that everyone felt fully informed.”
“My emotional intelligence is easily one of my greatest strengths. I have an easy time putting myself in other people’s shoes, allowing me to understand conflicts and situations from their perspectives.
“In my last role, working in a call center, this was particularly beneficial. I picked up a call where the customer was noticeably frustrated, to the point of using curse words and insults during the conversation.
“While I was taken aback, I knew there had to be a reason. I relied on my active listening skills to dive into the root of the issue and quickly determined that the customer hadn’t felt heard in their past discussions, preventing them from getting a solution to their issue, even after multiple calls. Since I took the time to really understand their perspective, I was able to find the problem and resolve their issue to their satisfaction.”
“Overall, teamwork is my biggest strength. I’m comfortable enough to adjust my approach based on the scenario at hand, allowing me to be an effective team member in a variety of situations.
“For example, in my last position, I was a member of several project teams. While I enjoy opportunities to take the reins, I understand that there are occasions when another person has more expertise, making them more suitable for that role. When that occurs, I focus on offering my support, ensuring they have access to my knowledge and skills and are able to successfully pursue collective goals.
“Ultimately, it isn’t about always being in the spotlight; it’s about doing what’s best for the team. In that regard, I genuinely shine.”
Examples of Strengths You Can Use
If you’re still struggling for good strengths for a job interview, consider trying to fit one to three of these examples of strengths into your answers. They’re valuable in many roles, making them solid starting points.
Many of the skills below are soft skills. Along with applying to most roles, employers are increasingly seeking employees with critical soft skills. As a result, they can be smart capabilities to highlight.
Just make sure you only use this list of strengths as a guide, as what you choose does have to apply to you. While an estimated 78 percent of candidates lie on their resumes, getting caught comes with serious consequences. Along with missing out on the job, you could get blackballed by the company. Plus, the hiring manager might tell their network, hurting your broader reputation.
Additionally, focus on the examples of strengths that fit the job description and company priorities, increasing the odds that the ones you share resonate with the hiring manager:
NOTE: Check out our “list of strengths article” for more examples!
- Willingness to take on responsibilities
- Ability to meet deadlines
- Clear attention to details
- Able to work independently
No matter what skill you decide to highlight in your answer, just make sure that it’s applicable to the job and the company and that you have a truthful and solid example to back it up.
And finally, if you’re still running into walls and can’t come up with something good, ask your co-workers what they think your strengths are. You might be surprised what they say and not realize something you take for granted or do without thinking is actually a valuable strength!
And as always…Good luck!
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In it you’ll get word-for-word sample answers that cover various scenarios and positions. Use them in your next interview!
PLUS the DO’S & DON’TS so you don’t fall into any of the common traps associated with this question.
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Co-Founder and CEO of TheInterviewGuys.com. Mike is a job interview and career expert and the head writer at TheInterviewGuys.com.
His advice and insights have been shared and featured by publications such as Forbes, Entrepreneur, CNBC and more as well as educational institutions such as the University of Michigan, Penn State, Northeastern and others.
Learn more about The Interview Guys on our About Us page.