‘What is your greatest strength?’ is a common interview question, often accompanied by ‘What is your greatest weakness?’ On the surface, talking about your strengths might sound easier than talking about your weaknesses, however, it is just as important and requires some careful preparation. It is very easy to get wrong and come across as too arrogant or even too modest. If you don’t come prepared you could also fall into the trap of listing the first things that come to mind which might not even be relevant to the role.
So how do you come up with the perfect answer for your interview? If you are prepared to put in a little effort, these tips will help you plan a brilliant answer for any interview. Before you get started, it is useful to know what recruiters are trying to find out when they ask ‘What is your greatest strength?’
Why do interviewers ask ‘What is your greatest strength?’
The aim of the interview is to find out whether or not you are the right person for the job. This involves working out if you have the necessary skills, if you are dedicated to your career, and if you’ll fit in with the rest of the team. Your answer should definitely help your interviewer decide if you have the necessary skills – if you don’t tell them you have the necessary skills, no one will. It can also tell them a little about your personality which will help them work out your levels of commitment and if you’re a fit for the team.
As with many interview questions, this question is just as much about how you answer as what you answer. Revealing what you think are your greatest strengths can reveal a lot about your personality. Are you confident in your own abilities? Or do you seem unsure that you are capable of doing the job?
It is also worth noting that as ‘What is your greatest strength?’ is such a common interview question, your interviewer will expect you to have prepared.
How to answer ‘What is your greatest strength?’
The best answer to this question will be in two parts and will include your strength and some examples of how you have demonstrated this skill in the past. The strength you choose must be related to the job you’re applying for.
The easiest way to find a strength that will help show your interviewer that you have the skills for the job is to match your strengths with the job description. First, make a list of all the skills in the job description, then cross-examine this list with a list of your own strengths. Hopefully, you will find that a number of these are on both lists. Pick the three strengths that are most important for the role.
The next stage is to match these skills up with some examples. We suggest that you come up with two examples for each.
If you are struggling, it might help to ask a friend or colleague what they feel your greatest strengths are. They have a different perspective on your abilities and might come up with some ideas that you haven’t thought of. Ask them if they can think of a time when you demonstrated a particular strength. Again, their suggestions might surprise you.
You will only need to answer the question with one strength and one example. It is useful to have some spare strengths and examples up your sleeve in case the question asks for plural ‘strengths’, or in case they ask you to develop your answer.
Now you have your strengths and examples prepared, the next stage is to practice. We always recommend that candidates don’t script and learn answers word-for-word as this can sound a little unnatural. It can also throw you off if the question is phrased slightly differently. It is better to prepare bullet points and work from these. This allows for some flexibility and your answer will sound much more natural.
How not to answer
Many people find job interviews particularly difficult because they feel uncomfortable about the element of blowing their own trumpet. This is one of the questions that can be most difficult for such interviewees. It is very easy to be too modest in this scenario. If this sounds like you, it might be useful to simply state your strengths and examples as facts. If you have chosen your strength well and have an appropriate example, this will be more than enough for the interviewer.
The opposite, being too arrogant, is also a common mistake. You won’t win any points for bragging about your strengths.
Not being able to back up your strengths with examples is another common pitfall. This immediately weakens your answer and your interviewer may not believe what you’ve said.
An applicant for an airline customer service agent role:
I would say that my greatest strength is my ability to communicate with others. I’ve always enjoyed working with people as I have found that it adds a lot of diversity to my working day. While I have worked with customers over the phone and via email, I have always enjoyed speaking to customers in person the most. In my previous role, I won the customer service award last year for the way that I handled several customer complaints. I managed to resolve the issues and even secured more business from those customers.
Why we like this answer: This customer service agent role will require the candidate to spend a lot of time with customers, checking them in for flights, answering questions, and dealing with complaints. Communication skills are therefore an ideal strength for the candidate to target with their answer. The answer contains personal details which make it sound genuine and mentioning the award gives weight to it. The candidate will need to be prepared for a potential follow up question on exactly how they resolved the customer complaints.
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