How To Answer: What Are Your Strengths? (Examples Included)

Heidi Scott Giusto

Some people cower at the thought of professing their strengths during an interview. Others gladly boast of dozens. When answering this question-What Are Your Strengths?-interviewees need to strike a balance between (a) knowing and comfortably discussing their strengths and (b) not being arrogant. Let’s dig deeper into this question: why it’s an opportunity, how to strategize, and what some sample responses might look like.

Your Opportunity to Shine

Reflecting on your strengths before your interview provides you with ample opportunity to hit this question-and your interview-out of the park.

Why?

With this question, you can demonstrate to the interviewer you not only have self-awareness of your strengths but also competence regarding the employer’s needs.

Because you have thought this through beforehand, you’ll be able to speak calmly and confidently. You won’t be nervous. You won’t wonder if you sound boastful. You’ll merely be educating the interviewer on your particular strengths.

Hint:The mindset of “I’m just sharing information” can help put you at ease, which makes you seem more confident and competent.)

Inventory Your “Hard” Strengths

If you haven’t already done so during your resume writing process, inventory your main technical skills, abilities, and expertise, and then create a list of these strengths. Here’s a sample for a graphic designer:

  • Digital marketing
  • Print marketing
  • Customer service
  • Account management
  • WordPress
  • Photoshop
  • Illustrator
  • MS Office Suite
  • InDesign
  • Acrobat
  • Graphic design
  • Project management
  • Client relations
  • Content marketing

Now that you have that list, see if you can group the strengths into only a few “bucket” categories. Grab your highlighters, and color-code skills that fit into a common category. Examine what your skills look like visually.

  • Digital marketing
  • Print marketing
  • Customer service
  • Account management
  • WordPress
  • Photoshop
  • Illustrator
  • MS Office Suite
  • InDesign
  • Acrobat
  • Graphic design
  • Project management
  • Client relations
  • Content marketing

You can see these skills can be grouped into the following categories:

  • Technical abilities (7)
  • Marketing (3)
  • Client relations (3)
  • Project management (1)

In many industries, project management is highly desirable, so even though there’s only one skill in this bucket, we’ll keep it as its own category.

Stating Multiple “Hard” Strengths

Through the process of identifying hard strengths, we’ve just boiled down 14 skills into four. Four is a much more manageable number to present in an interview, although it is still probably at the upper limit. In other words, I typically don’t recommend sharing more than four strengths in any single interview response.

Here is how our sample candidate might present these strengths:

Sample Response 1
“My strengths are in four core areas: technical abilities, marketing, client relations, and project management. Pretty much everything I bring to the job will fall under these categories.

My technical abilities are strongest with tools I use for graphic design work such as InDesign, Illustrator, Photoshop, and Acrobat. I’ve been using those programs for at least four years each.

I use my graphic design technical skills for marketing, which is another area I have extensive experience in, including producing work for digital marketing, print marketing, and content marketing.

Additional strengths are client relations and project management. When working on a graphic design project, I prioritize keeping the clients happy by completing the job on time and on budget. At any given time, I’m managing up to 12 accounts, each of which might have several projects.”

Takeaway
Notice how this sample response to “What are your strengths?” makes it easy for the interviewer because it is coherent and synthesized. It groups discrete skills and then supports the claim of the strength with examples.

Identify Your “Soft” Strengths

Even after you complete the exercise of identifying your hard strengths, I also encourage you spend some time learning about your personality, soft strengths. Consider coughing up a few bucks to buy the StrengthsFinder book and online assessment if you haven’t done so already. The premise of the book is that we all do our best, most productive work-and are happiest-when we do work that aligns with our natural strengths.

The online StrengthsFinder assessment, which only takes about 20 minutes to complete, identifies themes of talent that reflect your personality-based strengths rather than your subject matter expertise or hard, technical skills. The names of the 34 themes may surprise you. For example, some of the strengths are “Woo,” “Context,” and “Harmony.”

After you complete the assessment, StrengthsFinder generates a report of your top five strengths based on how you answered its questions; the report includes information such as who you work well with, what you need to watch out for, and so on and so forth. The idea is that you will become more self aware of your “soft skills”-of who you are as a person not just as a professional.

Once you’ve identified these personality-based strengths, you can include them with your hard skill strengths. Here’s how:

Sample Response 2 (amended from above)
“My technical abilities are strongest with tools I use for graphic design work such as InDesign, Illustrator, Photoshop, and Acrobat. I’ve been using those programs for at least four years each. I’m a Learner, so I’m always looking to learn something new; even though my current job didn’t require me to know Photoshop, I learned it on my own, in my free time. I get a lot of satisfaction from learning new skills and bringing those skills into my work.”

The response was not an awkward statement such as: “According to StrengthsFinder, I am a Learner. I like to learn.” Rather, the person applied the knowledge he gained from the assessment to strengthen his response by stating an attribute of himself as a person rather than just sharing a strong professional skill.

Stating Only One Strength

We all have multiple strengths, but sometimes you might not want to list several strengths in a single response, whether they are hard or soft strengths. The reasons for this choice can vary. Perhaps you know the employer only truly cares about you having one key skill. Or, you just caught yourself rambling on for the ninth question in a row, and you want to keep this response direct and to the point. Alternately, you know that you’d rather give a more detailed response about one strength than an overview of three.

Sample Response 3
“The greatest strength I could offer this organization is my program coordination abilities. I’ve been coordinating programs for more than 15 years, and it’s what I like to do most. I recently coordinated the launch of a new $15 million dollar international outreach program that aims to help young women in India become successful professionals in non-profit organizations. I coordinated all activities for the stakeholders both in the United States and in India. I found the project energizing, and everything unfolded as my team and I planned. If something needs to be coordinated, I’m the go-to person.”

Sample Response 4
“My greatest strength is my diplomacy. I had never thought of this as a strength until several supervisors pointed it out to me. Once they did, I realized it’s a skill I can use to benefit everyone involved, no matter my job title or formal responsibilities. Recently, I helped resolve a situation that was about to go very badly. We had a client make so many demands that seemed unreasonable to our team that we were about to fire the client. Obviously, people-us and the client-were feeling despair over the situation. Through a series of face-to-face meetings that I called with all 15 people involved, we were able to re-establish a good relationship and get the project back on track. I was awarded a company-wide “Stand Up Award” for my efforts to delay the firing and to give the collaboration one more chance.”

Sample Response 5
“My ability to troubleshoot quickly when a machine is down is the greatest strength I’ll bring to this position. I’m quick to assess the problem, determine a solution, and then implement it. At my last job, the company tracked downtime for machines. When I was working, the downtime was 30% less over the course of the year than when other mechanics were working. In a manufacturing environment, that 30% translates into a lot of money saved. I’m not trying to be boastful; it’s just that working quickly to solve a problem is something I enjoy and have tended to be quite good at. I’ll bring that skill to my next job.”

Sample Response 6
“I’d say that my greatest strength is my experience within the industry. After having worked in the industry for more than 20 years, there isn’t much I haven’t seen. I’m not easily rattled, and I’m rarely unsure of the best way to do the job. I enjoy mentoring others, so I’m able to pass on some of the information I know to people who aren’t quite as seasoned as I am. I got promoted a few years ago and trained the person who took my old role to make sure there were no issues in terms of the quality of the work coming out of the department.”

Takeaway
Each of these responses dug deep by showcasing a singular strength and then supporting that strength with evidence. Each interviewee gave a specific example that included some numbers to back it up. Numbers aren’t always required, but they certainly can help validate your claim.

Consider the Audience

After identifying both your hard and soft your strengths, you’ll want to create a hierarchy of importance depending on the job description and what you know of the employer’s needs. If you have had past success in both customer service and office management, you’ll want to emphasize office management for a job entitled Office Manager. If you are being considered for a position for a start-up company, you can consider emphasizing your strength in Adaptability. This advice may sound like common sense, but most people don’t walk around strategizing about their strengths on a day-to-day basis!

Dos and Don’ts

Do:

  • Self-reflect ahead of time, and then practice your response. (But don’t practice so much you sound rehearsed.)
  • Research the company and interviewer to determine their greatest needs.
  • Be clear and precise in your response-whether that is a response that shares several strengths or just one.
  • Be confident when you share this information, but don’t forget the value of humility. When stating your strengths, be specific by giving numbers, dates, etc.-anything that provides concrete evidence. Avoid “fluffy” language that holds little value: “I’m an excellent communicator. I’m really, super great at that.”

Don’ts:

  • Share personal strengths. No one cares that you won a contest for growing the county’s biggest pumpkin-unless maybe you are interviewing to work on a farm or in a greenhouse.
  • Provide an exhaustive list of everything you’ve ever done successfully.
  • Drone on forever. You risk being seen as arrogant or self-absorbed if you do.

This interview question has high potential to help you frame your qualifications overall. You just might become known as the candidate who can “fix any problem,” “teach any new software,” “gain new business,” or “balance any budget.” Assuming you present strengths that align with the employer’s needs, it can only help your odds of progressing to the next stage of the interview or receiving an offer outright.

About The Author

Heidi Scott Giusto

Heidi Scott Giusto, PhD, is a Certified Employment Interview Professional and holds additional certifications in resume writing and motivational coaching. She earned her doctorate degree from Duke University. Heidi delights in helping people succeed when the stakes are high by coaching them to excel at all stages of the job application process.

Website: http://careerpathwritingsolutions.com/

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