How to answer the job interview strengths question
Talking about your strengths in the job interview is essential. The employer will hire you based on the things you do well. So they will try to find out what your strengths are.
You may get the traditional question “What are your strengths?” but as employers switch more and more to behavioral based or experiential interviewing, the attempts to identify your strengths might be not as obvious. No need to worry or panic however. If you know your strengths, you’ll be able to highlight them in the interview.
Strengths? I don’t know what my strengths are...
We women have sometimes a tendency to dwell more on our weaknesses or the things which we don’t do well rather than being aware of our strengths. Some of us have the feeling that we’re boasting when we’re highlighting our strengths. Some of us might find it difficult to pinpoint what our strengths are. That makes it difficult for many of us to answer the job interview strengths question.
If you’re having difficulties to identify or name your strengths, I have a little exercise for you. Think about what comes easily to you.
Do you easily connect with coworkers?
Is coding the thing you naturally do well?
Are you really good with numbers?
Can you easily learn a new language?
These are just a few examples of what your strengths might be. The thing is that you might not necessarily identify them as your strengths because that thing is just so easy that you don’t even have to mention it. If that’s your reaction, that’s the right indicator. If you have this feeling about a task or a skill, then you’ve struck gold. That is one of your strengths.
If you’re still unsure what your strengths are, you’re like me some time ago. I always found it hard to really nail down what my strengths are, so I took the Strengthsfinder 2.0 test by Gallup. This test really opened my eyes to my main strengths. You can buy the book for little money on Amazon and it includes a code to take the test and identify your five main strengths. You just fill out an online test which takes about 20 min and receive an overview about your strengths and recommendations for how to apply them in your daily life. You can of course also pay around 50$ and get the analysis of all your 34 strengths but I personally found the main five strengths already absolutely sufficient to bring me on the right path.
Talk about what you do well
Talking about what you do well might be difficult for you too. We women tend to find it challenging to openly say: I’m really good at that. We feel like we’re bragging and we don’t want to sound conceited.
Well, the good news is: there are different ways to talk about your strengths. You don’t need to stand up and shout: Yay me! I’m the best at this!
If you find it difficult to talk about your strengths, just think about examples of the things you do well. You’re a great communicator? Think about a situation which reflects that and answer with an example, e.g. “There was this presentation where I convinced the management to endorse this project. I made sure to structure it very clearly, outline the message throughout the presentation, highlight potential risks and benefits. I got the feedback afterwards that they endorsed it because I communicated the pros and cons very well.”
What about those hidden attempts to identify my strengths?
Behavioral based interview questions are all about finding out how you react in certain situations. If I want to know if you’re a good team player, I won’t ask you directly. I think nobody would say that they are a bad team player. I’ll ask you instead for a situation in which you solved a task in teamwork. I’ll let you tell your story and then ask more and more in detail what your exact role was, how you interacted with the other team members, what you found challenging in this situation and how you solved the challenges. Based on the answer you give I’ll see if you really are a team player.
The other possibility is to conduct an experiential interview. I might ask you to complete a task or solve a problem together with one of the current team members. This allows me to find out how you approach a certain task with a colleague.
Are you taking over or are you leaning back?
Are you interacting a lot or are you trying to solve the task on your own?
I might observe your interaction or I might be collecting feedback from the team member afterwards to find out how you actually work in a team.
Don’t they say fake it till you make it?
‘Fake it til you make it’ might be good advice for you if you suffer from impostor syndrome and need to convince yourself of your competence by pushing through despite personal insecurities. I don’t think it is an honest or healthy way to live your life however if applied to the way you present yourself to other people. My advice is this: don’t make something up which isn’t true. Fake it till you make it is not always the best way. You might be able to fake that you’re a great communicator for an hour during the job interview but you most likely won’t be able to fake it month after month if it isn’t within you at all.
I once interviewed a guy who was incredibly open and communicative in the interview and when he started with us, he was a completely different person. He didn’t work well with the team and turned out to be very shy and insecure which was the wrong profile for a customer service job. We agreed after a while that it was better to end the contract as none of us where happy with the situation. If it really isn’t you, you can’t keep it up. So better be real.
To sum it all up, there are different ways for you to answer the job interview strengths question. The important thing is that you know your strengths and that you’re authentic.