Certain interview questions always arise during the selection process, one of which is usually a variation on “What are your strengths?” That makes sense considering that one of the primary goals of the interview is to find out precisely what you will bring to the position you’ve applied for.
Because this is such an important question, having difficulty responding in a clear and concise manner can negatively impact the way the recruiter perceives you and how your candidacy will be evaluated.
On a personal note, after spending years participating in selection processes for various organizations and accompanying job seekers in their applications, I’ve noticed that many candidates do not know how to properly respond to this question.
The most common mistake
In response to the question “What are your strengths?”, many candidates make the mistake of listing off their strengths one after the other: “I’m responsible, I pay attention to detail, I’m helpful and hard-working…” and so on.
By presenting simple words to describe your strengths, you waste an opportunity to show the recruiter who you really are. Saying “I’m responsible” without providing any additional context makes it hard for a recruiter to understand what you mean: You complete the tasks you’re assigned? You know how to handle a large number of responsibilities at once? You take responsibility for your actions?
As well, it’s worth remembering that anyone can say that they are responsible – what’s important is providing proof to back up your statement.
Take the time to structure your response
My advice is the following: instead of listing as many of your strengths as possible, pick only a few to focus on and take the time to illustrate those with real-world examples.
Before naming your strengths to the recruiter, you should first briefly explain your strategy for responding to the question.
For example, you might say: There are three strengths that come to mind and that distinguish me from others. I’m resourceful; I work well as part of a team and I’m demonstrably creative. If you’d like, I can give you specific examples for each of those strengths.
That way, it makes it easier for a recruiter to follow along as you describe yourself. It also shows that you have the ability to organize your thoughts.
Be specific with the examples you give
For each strength you mention, be prepared to offer a specific achievement related to it. Make sure that the achievement you describe isn’t just a general explanation, for example: I’m resourceful, because when I come up against an obstacle, I find a solution.
In this case, all you did was define “resourceful” without providing a concrete example of a personal experience.
Learn to use the S-T-A-R model (S = Situation, T = Task, A = Action, R = Result).
Using that method, you can develop a better way to respond: I consider myself to be very resourceful. For example, in my last job (situation), I was asked to complete a market research study (task). I therefore decided to consult various texts at the library as well as one of my previous teachers (action). I completed the research study by deadline and my superiors were very satisfied with it. Based on my findings, we rolled out a new sales strategy that led to a 10 percent increase in profits (result).
After telling your story, wait for the recruiter to ask any questions. Remember that the more your answer includes clear measures of success (such as the 10 percent increase in profits), the more convincing it will be.
Carefully choose the strengths you want to focus on
When deciding which of your strengths you want to put forward to a recruiter, it’s important to choose ones that best represent your skills and that respond to the needs of the position you applied for.
It’s also important to vary the strengths you present, to ensure that you don’t focus only on one aspect of your personality. For example, imagine a candidate who says that their strengths are their interpersonal skills, sociability and a desire to help others. The recruiter will be able to tell that the candidate has strong human qualities, but will likely also be wondering if the person has any other strengths. The goal is to show that you are a candidate with a range of valuable qualities.
Try to avoid referring to strengths that are specific to an area of knowledge or a unique skill set, i.e. My strongest point is that I’m experienced with X software.
There are two reasons for this:
- This information is already shown on your CV, and it may even be the reason you were selected for an interview.
- These strengths are related to specific learning and don’t reflect your personality; for example, if the software program of choice changes, your “strength” will no longer be one.
Express yourself with conviction
When answering questions about your strengths, it’s not enough to have a response that covers pertinent aspects of the position applied for – you also need to be able to express yourself eloquently.
You need to be very well prepared to respond to the question, while maintaining a natural and spontaneous way of speaking. An interview should flow like a conversation, not a dissertation.
Be dynamic and allow yourself to express emotion when appropriate: When I completed this project, I was really proud of myself!
To conclude, it’s an excellent idea to prepare yourself for this particular question since it is a central part of the interview process. However, keep in mind that this question can be formulated in different ways by different recruiters. Variations can include:
- Why should we choose you?
- If we asked your previous employer about you, what would they say?
- Tell me about yourself.
Don’t hesitate to practice with a friend – the experience will be helpful when the big day comes!
By Mathieu Guénette