Copywriter, Human Resources Manager, and Marketing Expert
When it comes to acing phone and in-person interviews, preparation is key. While a job seeker never really knows what a recruiter is going to ask, there are a handful of common questions that every job seeker should prepare to answer. Here’s how you should prepare for the “What are your strengths” interview question.
What is the Purpose of “What are your strengths?”
Whether you are applying for a part-time job or a C-suite position at a major company, you are guaranteed to encounter the “greatest strength” interview question. There are as many reasons to ask this question as there are answers. Therefore, understanding the “why” can help prepare for this and other related questions.
Creates a relaxed tone
Interviews are awkward and nerve-wracking for most people. This is why interviewers like to throw in easy, open-ended questions to help the interview flow like a conversation.
Chance to show-off
People are biologically wired to enjoy talking about themselves. This becomes even easier and more enjoyable when given the chance to share positive things. Unlike asking about your greatest weakness, asking about your greatest strengths is a positive, uplifting question that can keep the conversation in a light mood.
Opportunity for more information
The first time most job seekers and hiring managers meet is at the interview. Often the only information an interviewer has to work with is the applicant’s resume or CV. Unfortunately, asking a job seeker to just “tell me about yourself” in an interview can go awry quickly with more rambling than useful information. Instead, asking an interviewee to describe their biggest strength is a chance for the interviewer to learn more about the person behind the resume in a more controlled, but still open-ended way.
There are a handful of standard interview questions that job seekers should be prepared to answer no matter what position they are applying for or what industry they are in:
- Tell me about yourself
- What are your greatest strengths
- What are your biggest weaknesses
- Why did you leave your last job
Because these are so common and expected, if you struggle with these questions, interviewers are likely to consider you unprepared and not serious about the position. These questions also help interviewers gauge how prepared you will be to make an immediate impact in your role.
Judge of character
The way a person answers a greatest strengths interview question can tell a lot about them. On one hand, the response can be strictly professional and focused on position-related hard skills. On the other hand, it can be person-centric and showcase their soft skills. Both responses are equally acceptable, but be aware that even the way you choose to answer this type of question says a lot to recruiters and hiring managers about who you are and how you think.
Different ways to phrase greatest strength interview questions
One part of good interview preparation is understanding the different ways that common interview questions can be asked. The other part is understanding the subtext of what the interviewer is really wanting to know. These are a few variations of greatest strength interview questions for you to prepare for during your next interview.
“What is your greatest strength?”
Interview tip: Pick just one. If you must share more than one, acknowledge that the interviewer said to pick the greatest. Then continue with your (no more than two) greatest strengths.
Example: “I know you said your greatest strength, but mine is actually a two-part. My greatest strength is my ability to spot issues before they become large problems AND being decisive about what to do without all the information.”
“What are your greatest strengths?”
Interview tip: The interviewer is looking for multiple answers. Give them at least one strength from two different categories. That could be a soft skill/hard skill combo, personal life/professional life, or multiple greatest strengths from various parts of your profession.
Example: “My greatest strengths are my time-management and copywriting skills. I plan out my copy production schedule well in advance to make sure I can hit my technical writing requirements. I have never missed a deadline.”
“What is your superpower?”
Interview tip: If the question is phrased like this, it’s likely being asked by an interviewer at a company with a “fun” corporate culture and/or they are looking for a different kind of answer. A “greatest strength” example can be something you have worked hard at or have a lot of training; whereas a “superpower” is something you are skilled at without needing training.
Example: My superpower is project management. I have an innate understanding of how to keep multiple smaller parts moving while staying on time and on budget and breaking a large project down into manageable smaller tasks is an energizing activity for me.
Finding what is your strength
Identify your strengths for job interview questions
Creating a winning answer to the question, “What is your biggest strength?” can seem overwhelming at first. There are a lot of possible ways to answer the question and the perfect response will often change based on the job you are applying for.
Try this exercise to get started.
- Get a sheet of paper and divide it into seven sections.
- At the top of each section write one of the following: Learning/personal development, Career, Financial, Family, Social, Physical, and Spiritual.
- Below each of those, start listing off the skills, experiences, and strengths you have for each category. This is a rough draft for your eyes only so feel free to be as honest and specific as you would like.
- Identify patterns. Do you have things relating to communication, priority management, resilience, or other attributes listed in multiple sections? If so, that is likely to be one of your biggest strengths. Use that to inform how you write your final response.
Professional vs personal strengths
When you start work at the beginning of your day, you don’t just magically turn into a different person. That is to say, the person you are off-the-clock is likely very similar to the person you are while working. So, it’s no surprise that many greatest strength answers blur the line between personal and professional. This is especially true for people who have taken time out of the workforce to raise children or pursue a passion project.
Many personal and professional strengths can be one-in-the-same. Your patience, communication skills, curiosity, and time management are likely the same between your home and work life. However, some skills and attributes are relegated to either home or work.
Professional strengths examples: Marketing, networking, research, sales, reporting, product development, bookkeeping, data analysis
Personal strengths examples: Enthusiasm, dedication, determination, discipline, kindness, humility
Note that numbers and data should “prove” your professional strengths, while stories and acecdotes should help show your personal strengths.
What’s your greatest strength — hard skills vs soft skills
Once you’ve assembled a list of possible strengths, it’s time to decide which one is the most appealing for different types of positions or companies. In general, it’s a good idea to have an example of both a hard skill greatest strength and a soft skill greatest strength so that you are prepared for anything.
Hard skills are job-specific abilities learned through education or experience. These are things that can be quantified with a yes/no or pass/fail type of clarity. Hard skills allow for testing and it is easy for job applicants to back up their hard skill claims with examples of past work or success. While the quality of work for a hard skill may be up for debate, it’s easy to assess if the person does or does not have that skill.
Hard skill greatest strength examples include things like:
- Wound cleaning
- Mural painting
The opposite of a hard skill is a soft skill. Soft skills (A.K.A “people skills”) are not skills that can be easily replicated by a machine. They tend to be much more qualitative than hard skills which means that showcasing soft skills requires a more story-like approach to really highlight your best attributes.
Greatest strength examples for soft skills include:
- Time management
What are some strengths that stand out from the crowd?
Every industry has its own buzzwords and key phrases that aim to signal to recruiters and hiring managers that an applicant is well-versed in the business. Unfortunately, these buzzwords can make your resume blend into a sea of sameness. Instead, try standing out by taking these unique approaches to answer the question, “What are your greatest professional strengths?”
Skip: Communication, conflict resolution, patience
Instead Try: Empathy, adaptability, emotional intelligence
For design professionals:
Skip: Creativity, curiosity, attention to detail
Instead Try: Ability to take criticism, innovative thinking, loves challenges
For IT professionals:
Skip: Professionalism, trustworthiness, respectfulness
Instead Try: Creative problem solving, communication, continuous learning
Skip: Delegation, people management, communication
Instead Try: Decisiveness, accountability, employee development
Skip: Organization, time management, data processing
Instead Try: Risk analysis, decision making, customer-centricity
For product-oriented professionals:
Skip: Data analysis, project management, decision making
Instead Try: Obtain stakeholder buy-in, thinking big AND small, collaboration
For sales professionals:
Skip: Confidence, Perseverance, Charisma
Instead Try: Active listening, Negotiation, Preparation
Format your response to the interview question, “What is your greatest strength?”
Creating a format for your interview responses is a great way to be prepared while also allowing yourself the flexibility to tailor the response to a specific job or position. This also helps prepare for unexpected variations of the question like, “What is your biggest strength when it comes to working with others as a team?”
A good, universal template to use for your answer to a question about your greatest strength should include:
- Your strength
- When/where you’ve used it
- How you’re better at this than others/average
- An example that highlights you using this skill
“My biggest strength is my flexibility . In my last position , I was promoted  to a floating department manager because I was able to quickly learn all the different products and services we offered throughout the company and adapt to the different clientele that each department served. One of the best and most entertaining examples of how I was able to succeed in this role is the fact that I was the monthly sales and revenue leader for both our automotive and ladies’ intimates divisions in the same month. ”
“What is your greatest strength” answer samples
Sometimes it takes a little inspiration to create a strong answer that shows off your skills and abilities. The sample answers below are a great starting ground to format your responses. Make sure to re-write them in your own words to ensure you hit the major points without sounding robotic.
How to answer, “What are your strengths” when…
You’ve never had a job before
- Leverage other experience
- Focus on soft skills
- Tie it back to the job you’re interviewing for
“My greatest strength is my ability to explain difficult concepts to people in ways that make sense to them. I’ve been a science tutor for sixth grade students for the last year and in that time, I’ve helped the kids I tutor succeed by customizing the tutoring session for their learning style. I realize that not everyone learns by reading a textbook so we talk it out or I find Youtube videos so they can watch instead of reading. This strength would help me communicate effectively with customers as a cashier working in your store.”
Your strength is a hard skill
- Be specific
- Give an example
- Tie it back to the job you’re interviewing for
“My greatest strength is my ability to quickly develop HMTL without errors or bugs. I have competed in several hack-a-thons where I developed and deployed a mobile game app in just 48 hours with no team or support. While I don’t anticipate working under such tight deadlines in my daily role, it is great to know that I can perform at such a high level under a time crunch if there was a project that needed it while working for your company.”
Your strength has little to do with the job
- Go for authenticity
- Give a second-biggest strength (tied to the job)
- Tie it back to the job you’re interviewing for
“My greatest strength is a bit unconventional — I have perfect musical pitch. I can hear a soda machine buzzing and know that it’s a G-flat or tell that the cash register is a C-sharp. Music has always been a passion of mine and I’ve got a lot of experience performing for crowds which is why I’m confident I could lead the best rendition of “Happy Birthday” this restaurant has ever seen!”
“What are your strengths” examples of what NOT to say
Most of the time, there are no hard rules when it comes to interviews. Responses are based on the industry, company, and position you are applying for, but there are some things that should never be said. These are a few “What are your strengths” examples that interviewees should avoid.
Potential employers will likely not take kindly to any confession of illegal activities. Something may not be explicitly illegal in your state or area. Nevertheless, if it toes the line, it’s best to find a different response.
Things of a highly personal nature
Anything that has to do with bodily functions is out. This includes anything remotely adult in nature.
It’s great if you know the newest TikTok dance, but it’s not likely to win any points with potential employers. Some party tricks (like remembering long sequences of things or numbers) can be turned into good greatest strength answers. However, anything intended as “magic” or for laughs isn’t appropriate.
The ideal response to a greatest strength interview question will vary by the job you are applying for, the company you are interviewing with, and its industry. Therefore, preparing a response to questions about your greatest strengths is a solid way to enter your interview with the confidence needed to plant your feet in your next career.