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Job Interview Question: What Is Your Greatest Strength? (Plus Sample Answers!)

By Susan P. Joyce

Answer This Interview Question: What's Your Greatest Strength?"What is your greatest strength?" is an often-used job interview question and is frequently paired with the greatest-weakness question.

This sounds like a simple question, but it is NOT simple.

This question is also an invitation to explain why you are the best-qualified candidate for this job.

If you are typically a modest person or not accustomed to bragging about yourself, get over it, at least for your job interviews.

If you don't tell employers what your strengths are, they might not guess correctly.

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Prepare for Job Interview Success: What IS Your Greatest Strength?

Hopefully, you are reading this article because you understand the importance of preparing for a job interview. Walking into an interview expecting to succeed without preparing is a waste of time and may ruin many opportunities for you.

Best Answer: Think about the strengths others have told you that you have, particularly in relation to your work. These can be skills, like using specific technology, or characteristics that make you successful.

See the example answers below to help you develop your own response to this question.

1. Focus on the Skills the Employer Needs for This Job

Since you are interviewing for a specific job, focus on your skills that apply to this opportunity, based on your experience or education/training. If you are interviewing for a job in accounting, your skills as a musician probably won't be relevant.

Instead, think of your experience, education, and training relevant to the employer and the job:

  1. The type of customer
  2. The type of business
  3. An aspect of business (marketing, finance, law, customer service, and so on)
  4. A skill (writing great blog posts, answering technical questions, selling a specific product or service, designing excellent products, leading project teams, etc.)
  5. A technology (CAD, AWS, CISSP, and so on)
  6. A job-specific tool like an EKG machine, an infusion pump, a backhoe, a drone, an immersion blender, an HV Gen. 2 battery pack, etc.
  7. A characteristic necessary for this job (adapting to a rapidly changing market or environment, working collaboratively, managing team members in different locations, being managed by someone in a different location, etc.)

Don't limit yourself to the skills you have developed only in school or in a job. You may have also developed skills in any volunteering you may have done, too.

2. Start a List of Your Strengths

The same strength won't necessarily work for every job opportunity, even in the same company. The best strategy is to develop a list of at least three to five (hopefully, more) strengths that you can use as appropriate to that opportunity.

Check the list of over 100 possible strengths included in Finding Your Strengths (100+ Options) to help you choose the best strengths for you.

  Your Skills:  

Some of your strengths are based on your education and experience -- hard skills you have developed, like using a particular tool required for your profession. Perhaps you speak more than one language, or are very skilled at keeping unhappy customers from getting more upset.

  Your Personal Characteristics:  

Some of your strengths are personal characteristics. These are the "soft skills" that make you a good team member and a productive employee.

Choose strengths that are relevant to the job you are interviewing for, and be sure to have at least two examples of accomplishments that prove you have those strengths.

  What Do You Think Your Strengths Are?  

Think about the aspects of your work that make you feel the most successful, and write them down:

  • What part of your work do you enjoy doing the most?
  • What part of your work is the easiest part for you to do (particularly the parts that seem to be more difficult for others)?
  • What accomplishments are you proudest of (even if no one else seemed to notice)?
  • What have you been recognized for by an employer -- either in a performance review, a salary increase, or a bonus?
  • What other internal reward or recognition have you received -- like employee of the month?
  • What external reward or recognition have you received?

Which of the characteristics employers value (above) are reflected in your accomplishments? Connect your accomplishments to those highly valued characteristics.

These strengths can be a simple as never missing a day of work or never being late for work (reliable).

  What Do Others Think Your Strengths Are?  

Often, we are not the best judges of our strengths. We think we are, but a view from the "outside" is often more reflective of reality.

So, after you have developed your list of strengths, ask a friend or former co-worker (more than one, if possible) if those are the strengths they would choose to describe you. Their answers could surprise you, and, probably, will be very helpful.

Ask for examples of when you demonstrated that strength. Then, put together a very short narrative of why something is a strength for you. Have additional proof available, if possible (and without violating the confidentiality of an employer)..

  Choosing Your Best, Most Appropriate Strengths for Each Opportunity  

Before each interview, pick the strengths that are directly relevant to the particular positions you are seeking. Help the interviewer understand how your qualifications match their requirements. Which of your strengths fits this job and this organization the best?

If the description is so short or vague that the requirements are hard to figure out, scan the lists of "Characteristics Employers Value" and "Skills Employers Need" (below) to find the ones that seem most appropriate for you and the specific opportunity.

3. Think of Accomplishments that Demonstrate Those Strengths

Make a list of the times when you demonstrated a strength on your list:

  • Issues you recognized and addressed?
  • Disasters you helped to avoid?
  • Opportunities you recognized and capitalized on?
  • Problems you solved?
  • Processes you improved?
  • Expenses reduced as a result of your actions or ideas?
  • Profits that were generated as a result of your ideas?
  • Other improvements that resulted from your ideas or actions?

When you have a list of 3 or more examples of a strength, think about exactly what happened -- what was the reason you did the action, how did you do it, and what was the benefit of your work.

Apply the principles of the structured S.T.A.R. (Situation - Task - Action - Result) method to describe your accomplishments, and, before the interview, write out your STAR description of the accomplishments that prove you have the strength.

Be prepared to describe your strength and the accomplishments that prove you have that strength. Also, be sure that both the strength you choose and the accomplishments that illustrate it are relevant to the job you are interviewing for.

Your STAR descriptions will help you with your resume and LinkedIn profile as well as with your job interviews.

Choosing Your Best Strengths

Analyzing the job description should give you a very good idea of the skills required for the job. The smartest strategy in a job interview is to share strengths that dovetail very nicely with the job's requirements.

Too often, job candidates think they need to choose a strength like leadership or detail-oriented.

Three-Part Answers

Like good answers to the greatest weakness question, the answers to the greatest strength question also have three parts:

  1. The strength.  

If you aren't sure of your strength or how to describe it, read Finding Your Answer to the Greatest Strength Interview Question. You will find a list of over 100 potential strengths to help you determine your strength.

  2. Proof of the strength.  

Share one of your important accomplishments or achievements that demonstrates your strength and your qualifications for the job. Tell the true "stories" about your accomplishments.

  3. The strength's relevance to THIS job.  

Connect the dots between your strengths and their needs. Be sure to present strengths in terms of how they impact the employer.

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Answering the Greatest Strength Question

According to recruiter Jeff Lipschultz, the soft skill strengths are definitely as valuable to employers as the hard skills, so don't focus your answers -- and limit your selling points -- to only the hard skills.

  Choosing and Selling Your Strengths  

When you are choosing the skills to share with an employer, Jeff highly recommends this very wise advice --

You will make the best impression if you focus on sharing the strengths that have the biggest impact on the employer's bottom line.

Being expert at organizing events is not a strength valued by an employer not interested in having events. On the other hand, being a good mediator can be highly valued when negotiation skills are necessary.

Anyone can claim to be a good communicator or team player, but that claim is empty (and unimpressive) without examples of how they have communicated well or been a key member of an important team.

Read Jeff's article, Job Interview Success Secret: Your Relevant Stories, for details in how to put your stories together.

Examples: Greatest Strength Answers

These are only examples. Use these as guides to help you develop your own answers.

Hopefully, your actions before, during, and after the interview demonstrate this strength.

  Hard-Skill Strength: SEO Expert  

This strength is required for web content jobs.

(Strength)
Search Engine Optimization is one of my major technical strengths.

(Proof)

STAR --

Situation:

I have been studying and implementing effective SEO for over 8 years, learning how to use the best SEO management tools. Leveraging Google Analytics and Google Search Console have helped me understand the most effective ways for a website to rank well in Google search results.

Task:
My new employer needed to have the traffic to our website increase because sales were declining as our competitors' websites were becaming more popular than our website.

Action:
After analyzing our traffic sources and the most popular search terms that were and were not well-addressed by our website, I created and implemented an SEO improvement plan that greatly increased appropriate traffic to our website.

Result:

The Alexa.com rank for our website increased from over 2,000,000 worldwide to a current rank of 350,000 worldwide. Google is # 1 and Amazon is #7, so the lower number actually reflects a substantial increase in daily visitors to our website of over 5,000 per day. Naturally, revenue increased substantially as a result.

(Relevance)
Understanding current SEO best practices, how to leverage Google Analytics and Search Console, and knowing how to stay up-to-date since Google constantly changes their algorithm will enable me to keep your website very visible in Google search results. Keeping both users and Google happy is essential.

  Soft-Skill Strength: Problem Solver  

Particularly for customer service and other customer-facing jobs, this is a strength that employers love.

(Strength)
I enjoy interacting with people and helping them solve problems, both on the phone and also via email or electronic chatting/messaging.

(Proof)

STAR --

Situation:

I've been an online customer service representative for over 3 years.

Task:
We are measured both on how satisfied people are after they've worked with us, and also if they continue to purchase our products and services later or if they cancel their service.

Action:
I focus on making sure that I understand the problem the customer is having and which product they are having the problem with. I created a list of questions that I ask for each of our 4 different products which helps me get a very good grasp of the customer's situation.

I know how to resolve most of the problems people have with 2 of our products, and have the information I need to get the answers from technical support on the other 2 products more than 80% of the time. When I can't help the customer, I forward them to the technical support team to handle.

Result:
Usually, the result is customers who are able to successfully resolve their problem and use our products. I'm proud to say that I am usually among the customer satisfaction leaders in our group, and have received three service rep of the month awards this year.

(Relevance)
This job requires someone who knows how to help your customers use your excellent new app, and my experience will enable me to help your customers solve their problems.

Remember that this isn't a date or a discussion with your best friend:

  • Keep your answers short. Don't talk for longer than 30 to 45 seconds. The interviewer isn't interested in your life story.
  • Respect your current and previous employers' confidential information. You will be demonstrating your loyalty and ethics, which a new employer should appreciate.
  • Focus on strengths relevant to the job and employer.
  • Don't share too much information. Focus on the job and information demonstrating your ability to do the job.

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The Bottom Line

Focus on making it clear to the interviewers that you are qualified for the job, interested in the work, and a good fit for the organization. Use the examples in Finding Your Strengths as starting points to help you determine your own soft-skill strengths. Then, analyze the job description to see which of your hard skills would be most appropriate to mention.

Consider that some of the strengths you have now may have been weaknesses in the past -- and can be used to answer the greatest weaknesses question.

More About Answering Interview Questions:


About the author...

Online job search expert Susan P. Joyce has been observing the online job search world and teaching online job search skills since 1995. A veteran of the United States Marine Corps and a recent Visiting Scholar at the MIT Sloan School of Management, Susan is a two-time layoff “graduate” who has worked in human resources at Harvard University and in a compensation consulting firm. Since 1998, Susan has been editor and publisher of Job-Hunt.org. Follow Susan on Twitter at @jobhuntorg and on Facebook, LinkedIn.