Although it is impossible to anticipate every interview question– being asked to describe your strengths is an old favourite and should be prepared for. As part of the recruitment process, employers will already have identified the essential qualities required in a prospective employee and by showing that your strengths compliment the job requirements, you will immediately stand out from the crowd.
The Importance of the Job Specification
By examining the job specification you will gain a clear understanding of what the employer is looking for. A well drafted job spec will spell out the qualities that the “ideal candidate” will possess. Commonly sought after skills and competencies include:
- Strong people-management and influencing skills
- Initiative, motivation, commitment and professionalism
- Adaptability: the ability to deal effectively with both routine and unpredictable issues
- Commercial Awareness: Thinking analytically about the business and how to improve performance
Once you have identified what the employer is looking for, you then need to ensure that you highlight your personal strengths that most closely match their requirements.
Identifying your Strengths
A lot of people find it difficult to identify which parts of their job they are particularly good at. Answering the following questions will help you analyse your job performance and will assist you in highlighting qualities that could be attractive to future employers.
- What achievements/ notable successes were highlighted in your annual review?
- Which parts of your role do you most enjoy? (We tend to like things that we are naturally gifted at.)
- What do colleagues seek your advice on? (We are normally asked for advice on areas that we excel in.)
Bear in mind that strengths can be both technical and interpersonal in nature:
- Technical skills: Fluency in a language, advanced Excel skills, system implementation skills etc
- Interpersonal skills: Planning and organisational, leadership, team playing, ability to work under pressure, initiative, conflict management, analytical, communication, project management etc
Evidence Based Approach
When you are describing your strengths, make sure to back up your answer with examples. An employer needs to know that you are not only self aware, but that you understand the value of your strengths and can use them to benefit the company.
For example, if you have chosen the following three strengths “man management, initiative and adaptability” you could expand by saying:
“Because of my strong man management skills, last year I was given responsibility for a team which had low morale and a high staff turnover. By creating clearer lines of communication and giving clear and constant feedback – within six months productivity had increased by 20% and a good atmosphere was restored.
Throughout my career I have come up with many ideas that have created efficiencies. In my current role, by cross training staff, I was able to reduce annual overtime rates by 20%.
I am also a very adaptable person. I was recently asked to cover for my manager for six months and was able to continue my regular duties in addition to taking on many new responsibilities. This was a steep learning curve and a very pressurised time for me but I really enjoyed the challenge and met all deadlines.”
Keep your answer concise and high level. The interviewer can probe you for more detail if required.
Remember that the secret of success is playing to your strengths and becoming more of who you already are. Understanding your own unique talents and communicating how these will benefit a future employer will help position you as an insightful, action oriented individual who would be an asset to any company.
About the Author
Laura McGrath is the owner of Interview Techniques, a leading provider of interview coaching services. She has spent the last 20 years in staffing and recruitment and is a regular contributor with Irish Jobs, Recruit Ireland and the Sunday Business Post.