Unlock the strength-based interview question

"What is your greatest strength?" It's one of the most common job interview questions out there, but giving a good answer can be deceptively tricky. Talking about our accomplishments and talents is always fun in theory, but it can also be uncomfortable because job candidates don't want to come across as boastful or arrogant. Before you launch into a response, here are some tips to consider, to make sure that your answer is stellar.

Why a strength-based interview question?

Asking about your greatest strength is an example of a strength-based job interview question, a type of question that focuses on what you excel at as a professional. This type of question is different from competency or behavioural interview questions, which focus primarily on your soft skills.

Hiring managers want to hear your answers to strength-based questions for a few reasons. Above all, they're giving you a chance to explain why you are the best candidate for the job ‒ that you not only have the hard and soft skills to perform the specific job, but you also have the ability to do it well. Beyond that, they want to see that your strengths align with their needs and what the job requires. It may be well and good that you led a team to success, but if the company is not looking for someone to fill a leadership position, your strength is moot and you've missed an opportunity to make your case. Strength-based interview questions you might be asked include:

  • Tell me about a time that you achieved success

  • What parts of your last position were you most successful with?

  • What is your greatest strength?

  • How does this position play to your strengths?

  • What is the item that you always complete first on your to-do list?

  • What are you good at?

  • What qualities will help you to excel in this role?

With all this in mind, here are a few tips and sample answers for knocking strength-based interview questions out of the park.

Tell a story

It's that classic piece of advice you hear in writing classes: show, don't tell. While you might be an excellent team builder or a top-notch public speaker, what will really solidify your strength in the interviewer's mind is when you back it up with a compelling anecdote. If you want to show that you're comfortable with working in a fast-paced environment, for example, tell a story about how you filled in for your boss at an important meeting with the CEO with only an hour's notice. Just remember to keep it short and to the point – too long a story will lose the interviewer's attention.

Get specific

Details, details, details. The more concrete accomplishments you use as examples, the more impressive your answer will be. For instance, if your strength is increasing online engagement, use a quantitative example to back this, such as, "Over the course of my two years in my previous position, I increased daily page views of our website by 330%. I did this by initiating a website redesign and adding new unique features to our website that drove new traffic." Using numbers or tangible outcomes to showcase your strength adds weight and credibility to your answer.

Match the job description

It's great if you have a stellar track record of building trust with clients, but if the job you're applying for isn't a client-facing role, you might not want to dwell on that as one of your greatest strengths (unless, of course, you translate that ability to something else mentioned in the job description). Study the job description before you go into the interview and consider if the qualities mentioned match the strengths that you have. Of course, don't fabricate experience you don't have just because it's in the job description, but if you see an attribute mentioned in the job posting that you know you're a pro at, it should be your main focus.  

Balance humility and confidence

The comfort level with answering this interview question during job interviews ranges greatly from person to person. For some professionals, sharing successes may feel boastful and uncomfortable. For other candidates, it may be satisfying to dwell on strengths and accomplishments. The key is to find a balance between the two. Humility can go a long way, but too much of it and you'll likely end up selling yourself short. Therefore, the best way to approach this is with quantifiable results. Remember the importance of getting specific? Well, it doesn't only paint a clear picture of your strengths – it can also enable you to brag about yourself without feeling uncomfortable or appearing arrogant. After all, you're simply stating facts that happen to make you look impressive. Remember, a strength-based interview question is a prime opportunity to market yourself to a potential new employer or hiring manager, so don't let it go to waste.

Weaving it all together: examples of interview answers

Good answers to strength-based interview questions make the case for your candidacy by giving concrete examples and stories showing why you excel. It will correlate to qualities sought in the job posting and use examples that are related to work (as opposed to using examples from your personal life). Weaving all these tips together, here are a few relevant examples of how job seekers can answer the "What is your greatest strength?" interview question:

My strength is diplomacy. When the company where I worked as a project manager was in the process of launching product X, there was a lot of miscommunication between the product team and the marketing team. Recognizing the discord, I spearheaded a series of meetings between the two teams, which I moderated, leading up to the launch date. It helped the marketing team members to understand the product developers' concerns. In the end, they modified the marketing materials to incorporate some of the concerns, and everyone walked away satisfied.

I'm what you call a "people person" and I truly believe that it is this quality that has led to my success as a salesperson. I not only met, but exceeded, my sales targets every quarter for the four years I've worked in sales. In one memorable exchange, a client told me she picked our company for a big contract because I remembered that her son was sick the week before and took the time to ask about him. She said it showed that our company made client care one of our top priorities – which was totally true.

These examples both show clearly defined strengths and back them up with stories of real accomplishments. Once you have the basics of your pitch down, just breathe, tell your story, and remember that you have something valuable to give – you'll knock this out of the park!

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Sharing strengths should happen on your CV too. You can get a free CV review to find out if your CV is doing your strengths justice.

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