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 interview people. They help me get to know you better. And it’s not just about your answer, but HOW you approach and handle the answer.
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.
And remember … there’s no absolute right answer. Basically they just want to see if you know yourself and how well you express yourself.
Possible work strengths:
- 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
- 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
- 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 used 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. In case you’re thinking “But I don’t have a good story” — please think some more.
To figure out what an employer is looking for,
start with the job description.
Maybe you can ask friends or co-workers. And think about former jobs or even volunteer / school experiences where you made something good happen. You’ll be surprised what you eventually come up with. You might even throw in a few extra strengths while you’re at it.
Everyone has something good to tell about themselves. Even if it goes against your nature to “brag”.– this is not bragging. It’s about what you bring to a job. And when it comes to job interviews, that’s a really important time to believe in yourself!
One last point about strengths
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.” Anything that feels natural to you and 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 greatest strength interview question could turn into a grand slam home run that hopefully helps you stand out from the other candidates.
~ Ronnie Ann
[Post updated in 2020]
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About the author…
Ronnie Ann, founder of Work To the Wise and 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, as well as her many adventures as a serial job seeker.