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Job Interviews: What’s Your Greatest Strength?

Most interviewers like to hit you with one of those annoying little job interview questions like “What’s your greatest strength?” or “What’s your greatest weakness?” OK. I admit I use them too when I do an interview.

So when you’re in a job interview and you’re asked about your greatest strength, what should you tell them? Is there a right answer to the greatest strength question? You don’t want to sound boastful – and yet you certainly don’t want to come off so humble you look like you don’t believe in yourself.

Luckily, the greatest strength question is one where you can often hit a home run if you just prepare a bit ahead of time. Think about what your new employer would find most interesting about you – and most important to the job you are applying for. There’s no absolute right answer. Basically they just want to see if you know yourself and how well you express yourself.

Some possible work strengths in no particular order:

  • Strong leader
  • Good manager
  • Initiative (willing to take on new things)
  • Follow-through (seeing a task through to the end)
  • Good at bringing things in on deadline
  • Determination (as in seeing a project through to the end or in finding a solution to a problem)
  • Quick learner
  • Problem solver
  • Flexibility
  • Good at seeing the big picture even when dealing with the details
  • Good at details, but also know how to see the big picture
  • Strong at a given skill required by the job (like Java programming, project management, teaching, writing, web design, customer service, phone manner, math, public speaking, etc.)
  • Good people skills
  • Good team player
  • Ability to help influence change
  • Creativity
  • Good at finding ways to improve existing business processes
  • Good at resolving conflict

Or whatever you can think of. My main interview tip for this question is to have a really good story to tell about how you use that strength to make something good happen for your former employer or – if this is your first job – at school or in a volunteer role. Choose the particular job skill based on both what you think the employer is looking for and your strongest story. (Never hurts to artfully throw in a few extra job strengths while telling the story.)

Hint: To figure out what an employer is looking for, look at the job description.

In case you’re thinking “But I don’t have a good story” – please take some time to think some more. Ask friends or co-workers. You’ll be surprised what you aren’t remembering about yourself. Everyone has something good to tell about themselves. And when it comes to job interviews, that’s a really important time to believe in yourself!

One last point: Just so you don’t sound too full of yourself, you can start your answer with a phrase like “I guess” or “I’ve been told” or “I think” or anything that helps tone down the potential boast. Now you don’t want to act all shy and “gosh darn” to fake modesty (that would only work against you), but leading off with a gentle phrase at the beginning is a great way to answer this interview question.

And who knows…if your story is good enough, this annoying little interview question could turn into a grand slam home run that hopefully helps you stand out from the other candidates.

Good luck!

Ronnie Ann

More job interview articles I hope will help:

 

About the author…

Ronnie Ann, founder of Work Coach Cafe, bases her real-world advice on her many years as an organizational consultant where she helped interview and hire people, added to a certificate from NYU in Career Planning & Development and her own adventures as a serial job seeker. She can also be found on her new blog, and on Google+.

Comments

  1. I’m a hard worker, loyalty and team work person.

  2. Those are great qualities. Remember to prepare and give examples where you’ve shown those qualities in other jobs if possible.

  3. It’s really helpful for me especially the tips in answering interview questions!

    thanks Ronnie Ann

  4. My pleasure, Mildred. Glad I could help.

    Good luck!!

  5. thanks for writing all these to help with interviews. i find it very helpful. =) keep up the good work in blogging about this.

  6. Hi ueiying!

    My pleasure. Thanks for stopping by. Best of luck in your career!

    ~ Ronnie Ann

  7. This really helped me, alot! thanks alot babygirl :)

  8. I’m glad, babygirl! Best of luck. ;-)

    ~ Ronnie Ann

  9. Hi Ronnie Ann.

    Found this article through Twitter. Am so glad it was shared! It may be good to add that when job seekers try to tone down the “boast” that they should still appear genuine and not sound rehearsed, which should up the ante in their next interview.

    I find these are some very practical and important tips for my clients . You can count on me to spread the word :)

    Karen, The Resume Chick (on Google and Twitter, if you need me)

  10. Hi Karen!

    Great point. Thanks for adding this. So true. Being real is the name of the game.

    Your comment made me think back to many candidates who seemed so full of themselves they made our eyes roll. No way to know what they were really like to work with, but their interview personas were enough to kill their chances to ever show us. But going into scripted interview robot mode is definitely not the answer!

    Thanks for the comment and Twitter follow, btw. More than happy to follow back. See you ’round the tweet cooler!

    ~ Ronnie Ann

  11. L. Bosco says:

    This is a question I have been asked often. Here is how I have replied with success.

    What is my greatest strength – I feel I’m organized and follow through to accomplish assignments, usually within or ahead of deadlines. I am flexible in meeting new tasks or using new methods. I am persistent and work to get the things done that are necessary and I’ve been told and try to be a quick study with new processes. I work to keep my superiors informed so there are no surprises. I trust in this way I contribute successfully to their and the department’s (company’s) needs and consequently are a valuable part of the organization.

    That is how I have answered for over thirty years during which I have earned a dozen new positions or promotions. By the way, it helps a lot if all this is true. I worked to make it true!

    You’ll like be asked about weaknesses as well- tell them whatever they are AND HOW YOU ARE ALREADY WORKING TO IMPROVE. Again, make it true. If you do have a weakness, perhaps writing skills, take a course. I take them about every three years and I’m still weak.

    I’ve known others who have even greater success than I, but I have not been able to extract any secrets they have. But this works fairly well.

  12. Thank you so much, L. Bosco. Your words of wisdom always welcome here.

    Folks…this is the same L. Bosco who wrote the basis of one of my most popular posts:

    Job Interviews: Where Do You See Yourself Five Years from Now?

    I think the most important thing to remember about interview answers is that they have to fit YOU and reflect who you are as honestly as possible. Interviewers have remarkable BS detectors. So with answers, as with most things, one size does not fit all. But it definitely helps to see the types of things others have used successfully. BTW…I can assure you, L. Bosco is always himself.

    Thanks again, L. Bosco. It’s an honor. ;-)

    ~ Ronnie Ann

  13. Hey ! This article was very helpful but I was wondering, how can I answer the question ” what are your greatest strengths in *academics” without coming across as cocky or ‘full of myself’. Lets say I excell in Math or English . Maybe you can help :) Thankssss !

    Emily

  14. Hi Emily! Always nice to hear when someone finds an article useful. Thanks.

    My experience doing loads of interviews is…if the person isn’t cocky, they don’t come off cocky. ;-) Just tell what you excel in in the most straight-forward way, looking directly at the person in a pleasantly confident tone (pulling the aw shucks routine rarely works) and maybe having a story to share that shows what you mean.

    I’ve never confused confidence with cockiness when assessing candidates. (And anyone who does, may not be the right boss for you.) But if you go on and on about yourself without checking for how the interviewer is reacting, that could go against you.

    Be yourself and always remember you are not there to tell how great you are…you’re there to help them see how you might match the job. So rather than showing off…just tell it as it is (including any awards, special recognitions, related projects, or as mentioned illustrative stories), don’t go on too long, and then maybe a small smile as you finish, showing you’re ready for more. I was once told if I’m not a green frog I don’t have to worry about being called one. ;-)

    Good luck, Emily!

    ~ Ronnie Ann

  15. HI i must say this is the best interview tips website that i have been to. Your advice is great and i have been greatly helped.

  16. Jinnah says:

    Dear Ronnie

    Your advise and tips are very honest, these are real questions and your tips are really useful and real too. want to thank you.

    From Jinnah

    Singapore.

    • chandlee says:

      Dear Jinnah,

      Thank you. Ronnie isn’t active on the site right now but on behalf of Ronnie Ann, Susan Joyce and the Work Coach Cafe team — thank you! We appreciate your feedback.

      Best,
      Chandlee

  17. Hi Chandlee,

    What are the additional strengths that we should mention & is there a way to
    mention these strengths in a way that is not generic?

    For example: “I have excellent organizational skills” – is something recruiters have heard before as an answer. Are there other keywords we can use to replace “organizational” but still mean the same thing.

    • Hi Deff,

      As I haven’t worked with you before, I don’t know how to talk up your strengths since I don’t know what they are.

      The best way to answer these questions is to follow up your strength with a story that shows the challenge you faced, the action you took that demonstrated the strength, and the results of your efforts. This will demonstrate that you have the strength and that you can put it to work for them.

      Good luck and all the best,
      Chandlee

  18. Correct. There’s no wrong or correct in answering this question. Good luck to us :)

  19. be fair ,remember the prophet. treat others the way you would like tobetreated

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  21. Hi Ronnie,

    Nice article. I agree, there’s a fine line between highlighting a strength and being too boastful.

    If you’re super extroverted, it might mean toning things down, but most people seem to have a the problem of not tooting their horn enough.

    Or they just don’t spend enough time thinking about a compelling answer and come up with something too dry or generic.

    Here’s another helpful article with some sample answers:
    http://biginterview.com/blog/2013/03/what-are-your-strengths.html

    Like you said, really dissecting the job description is important to understanding what competencies/skillsets you’re going to be asked about. That way you can tailor some of the stories from your background around the strength you need to be highlighting.

    Cheers,

    Alex

  22. Frustrated says:

    I have done all of these things in terms of the interview process and still difficult for me to get an offer. I have gotten all the way up to Last rounds at least five or four times and it’s been very challenging on what is the problem. on several occasions I feel that the vp level top boss does not understand how to utilize the skill set and finds me a strong personality. I’ve discovered that there’s an issue with personality connection. It hasn’t been so much the hiring manager that is the problem. Majority they have liked me. It has been the top top management level above hiring manager that feels maybe threatened.

  23. Heidee Sia says:

    Thanks Ronnie! It will help me a lot.

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