Answering "What Is Your Greatest Strength"

a picture of business person and what is your greatest strength

When a hiring manager asks the interview question, “What is your greatest strength?” it’s best to be prepared with an answer. This type of interview question aims to learn about a candidate’s core competencies in advance of hiring. Competencies are demonstrable characteristics and skills that improve a job's efficiency and effectiveness (or performance). These types of interview questions can help an employer predict the future job performance of a job candidate.

This common interview question is normally asked during the on-site interview (or second interview) of the interview process. It is rarely asked during a phone interview. Though, as a job seeker, it is best to be prepared with an answer to this question in advance of any job interview and stage of the interview process.

Variations of this interview question include, “What is your biggest strength?” and “What strength can you bring to the company?”

Why Does an Interviewer Ask about "Greatest Strengths?"

Interviewers ask this question to candidates for a few reasons. The first reason is to see how prepared the candidate is. The second reason is to see how humble the candidate is. And the third reason is to see if the candidate can look at themselves analytically and understand strengths that can be brought to the position.

This interview question, both greatest strengths, and greatest weaknesses can prompt a type of "self-reflection" or "performance review" for the candidate.

According to BambooHR, "A performance review is a formal assessment in which a manager evaluates an employee's work performance, identifies strengths and weaknesses, offers feedback, and sets goals for future performance."

When the candidate speaks about their strengths, it shows humility and confidence. Though many job seekers misunderstand confidence in this setting. Confidence is the understanding of what the job requires. Speaking about a specific strength that shows experience in the job function. The strength can be a character-based strength or skill-based strength. For example, a character-based strength would be "humility and trust," while skill-based strengths would be "JavaScript models."

Depending on the type of job the candidate is interviewing for, they should pick a strength that applies to the job role and shows the interviewer that the candidate has previous experience in this role. Both types of strengths (character and skill-based) show core competencies that assist the hiring manager in making a hiring decision.

Tip: Keep seeing the phrase "core competencies?" Curious about what a core competency is? A core competency is a concept in management theory introduced by C. K. Prahalad and Gary Hamel. It is defined as “a harmonized combination of multiple resources and skills that distinguish a firm in the marketplace.” And therefore, it is the foundation of a companies’ competitiveness.

Let's run through an example. Let's presume the candidate is interviewing for a Software Engineering role. If the candidate speaks about organizational skills and writing skills, rather than speaking about agile-development skills, the hiring manager might hear that the candidate "doesn't have experience and isn't a good fit for the role."

Let's run through another example. Let's presume the candidate is interviewing for an Executive Assistant role. If the candidate speaks about organizational skills, writing skills, and excellent communication skills—that is far more relevant to the requirements of an ideal candidate for the role of Executive Assistant.

pro tip about a greatest strength

Interview Question Answer Strategy

While many believe that answering this question should allude to soft skills and hard skills, it’s best to answer this interview question in a fashion that displays competencies rather than skills. For example, adaptability is considered both soft skill and competency since it displays the ability to adapt to changing work environments and keep up job performance.

Alluding to management skills, interpersonal skills, technical skills, and other transferable skills might seem like the best option. But the issue with this is that it won’t be clear to the interviewer what skills the hiring manager is looking for. It’s better to state a great strength and tell a short story about how that strength was used.

Be prepared to recite the interview answer in less than 90-seconds. If the interviewer or hiring manager asks questions about the strength, be prepared with a short story or situation that utilizes the strength. A good format for telling this story is to use the STAR method. That is a situation, task, action, and result. It will frame the work situation more clearly.

pro tip about a greatest strength

Always use a professional strength that is indicative of strong personality traits for the workplace. Avoid personal strengths or personal skills that don’t apply to the workplace.

Examples of good and bad answers to "What is your greatest strength?"

Here is an example of a "poor strength," as it is a personal strength:

I’m able to make new friends easily.

Here is an example of a "good strength," as it is a professional strength:

I’m able to adapt to changing environments and keep up job performance quickly.

It is far better to answer the question with a competency related strength rather than alluding to key strengths and direct skills. For example, if wanting to display having an organizational skill set, the answer might be, “I’m able to multitask effectively.” While that sounds great, it’s a weaker answer than other candidates might have. The same goes for answers like, “I’m a hard worker.”

If possible, include a short accomplishment that was made utilizing this competency. The accomplishment should be specific to relevant employment history. When structuring an answer in this way, it displays key skills, strong professional traits, and provides a specific example of how the company can utilize the strength. This is an effective answer (or “good answer”) to the interview question and becomes valuable to the potential employer.

Putting all together for "What is your greatest strength?"

Bottom line: choose strengths that match the requirements for the role. Make sure you have a prepared answer ahead of time. Don't go into job interviews without an answer. Include key skills like customer service, hard-working nature, problem-solving, general work ethic, and more.

pro tip about a greatest strength

This question is commonly asked during a job search. And it's important (a good idea) to lean into one strength rather than many. When the interviewer asks about strengths and weaknesses, don't pitch them verbatim. Have a practiced response. And take your time. Focus on your team members. And the best way to describe your key strength.

list of strengths, business person crossing arms

List of Strengths and Sample Answers (Example Answers)

Below is a list of strengths and sample answers to use when answering this job interview question. Be sure to identify a strength that fits each ability or qualification expressed through the resume and the cover letter. The answer should always be honest, that’s fitting to the candidate.

1. I’m able to manage my own time effectively

Sample answer: “I think a great strength of mine can manage my own time effectively. I appreciate that I don’t have to rely on my manager to prioritize my work, and I’m able to meet weekly deadlines and goals.”

2. I’m always willing to learn new things

Sample answer: “In my previous job, I was put into a position where I had to learn quickly. Instead of falling to the side because of the pressure, I decided to embrace the challenge. Learning new things has since become fun for me. And I have a process for embarking on new responsibilities at work.”

3. I’m objective about my work and use quantitative insights to make decisions

Sample answer: “I think it’s essential to look at our work with an objective and open-minded lens. This is really helpful when being a team player as well as driving effective work forward for customers. I feel this is a strong core strength of mine.”

pro tip about a greatest strength

4. I’m adaptable to new work environments and situations

Sample answer: “In my previous job, the company's management and structure were changing rapidly. I learned that changing environments doesn’t mean job insecurity. And this remembrance of an idea kept me motivated and “heads down” on my work. I feel like this is a great strength now. Due to this, I make sure I have someone on my team who can balance this out.”

5. I’m able to be creative and quantitative at the same time

Sample answer: “I like to think I’m a “right-brain” and “left-brain” thinker. This means that I’m capable of being creative and using quantitative insights to drive home my work. I was able to do this by looking at sales engineering problems and use creative thinking to help address them.”

6. I’m able to practice active listening skills for my teammates

Sample answer: “I appreciate the skill of active listening. Not simply listening to someone but going through understanding what that person is communicating and why. This is not only a skill but a strength that can apply to any specific job or situation in the workplace. Listening is key.”

7. I’m capable of taking responsibility when I make a mistake

Sample answer: “Part of ownership and responsibility is the ability to admit when a mistake was made. This is a strength, in my opinion. It builds character and confidence with the team when I’m able to admit when I did something wrong and commit to making a change.”

pro tip about a greatest strength

8. I’m capable of making decisions under pressure

Sample answer: “I don’t let time or deadlines impact my ability to make good decisions. This took me time to develop a “thick skin” for not being impacted by deadlines. But this is a quality of mine that I’m pleased about, and it’s proven to be valuable to each one of my employers. Sometimes being too detail-oriented can be a bad thing.”

9. I’m motivated by challenges and problems

Sample answer: “When I hear about a new challenge or problem. Whether it’s for the company or the customer, I get motivated by this. I love solving problems. That’s what drives me to my work every day. The idea of overcoming a challenge. When I hear a challenge, I get excited, not daunted.”

10. I’m capable of being diplomatic in the workplace

Sample answer: “Being able to be objective and not being overpowering with my opinions is a great strength. This comes down to how communication is made, knowing how to ask for help properly, and other communication techniques. I consider this being diplomatic, and I believe it’s a strength of mine.”

11. I’m capable of making work fun and challenges fun

Sample answer: “Work should be fun. Happy people often do better work, see things more clearly, and generally stay with the company longer. I want to have fun while accomplishing work. Not just have fun in a social setting. I like to bring that with me wherever I go.”

12. I can bring logical thinking to the team

Sample answer: “I tend to think about things on a fundamental level. Distill them down to simplistic notions and ideas to better make decisions. When things seem obvious, I feel like it’s the best route to go after that. Logical thinking is a strength, and I can bring it with me to the team.”

13. I can bring critical thinking to the team

Sample answer: “I’m able to think about all the components of a problem and distill a solution down into a single execution that has minimal risk. To me, this is an example of critical thinking. And it’s something I can inherently teach my teammates to do by being exposed to it.”

14. I have strong communication skills

Sample answer: “Everyone will say they have strong communication skills. But I believe my strength is that I understand how each person needs to be communicated to. Everyone is different. Everyone has various needs. Understanding those needs and then addressing them through communication is what I consider to be advanced communication skills. This is a strength of mine.”

15. Unique attention to detail

Sample answer: "Attention to detail might be something other candidates mention. For me, I've noticed my ability to look at projects from a 360-degree point of view has brought a lot of value to the companies I'm employed with. I try to look at our work objectively. Providing attention to detail that covers often overlooked aspects of projects, initiatives, and more."

16. Uniquely strong writing skills

Sample answer: "I have extremely strong writing skills. I'd love to provide you relevant examples of where I was able to use my writing to tell strong stories for a brand. And dive deep into a subject in order to give strong leadership on a specific topic. I believe these skills translate heavily into people skills, self-awareness, and the power of telling stories."

17. Ability to drive home results

Sample answer: "Unlike many candidates who say they can drive home results, my strengths are to achieve results. I have a strong track record of success. Putting one foot forward and making sure the team comes with me. Utilizing my time management skills I'm capable of exceeding expectations. I aim to meet deadlines, stay focused on our projects, and drive home results for the company."

Common Answer Mistakes

Avoid these common answer mistakes when speaking about "greatest strengths."

Being arrogant

Having confidence and being arrogant are two different modes. First, to have confidence about the strength, speak about why the skill or strength is key to the job role. Then speak about having the strength. Or having built the strength over time.

Not needing to develop more skills

All great leaders know their job is never complete. There is always room for improvement when it comes to craftsmanship. At the end of the answer, it's best to say something like, "I have this strength, but I'm always looking for ways to improve it and grow my abilities."

Using an irrelevant strength

Choose a strength that's specific to the job role. Don't speak about a strength irrelevant to the job requirements. Look through the job description or job advertisement online, decipher what skills and strengths are required for the job. Then speak to those strengths.

Using personal strengths

Having been through difficult times in life or having perseverance is a wonderful characteristic to have in a person. But it's not a great quality to mention in a professional setting. Keep the strengths to professional skills and professional settings.

Avoid long stories

Telling a long story is not going to help describe the strength. The story should be no more than 90-seconds long if using a story to describe a strength. Keep the story to a professional setting, rather than using a personal life problem. Any interview answer to this question that is more than 90-seconds risks the hiring manager becoming unengaged with the candidate and leaving a poor impression.

Vague strengths

Will this answer help the interviewer understand who you are? Will it assist in getting you a job offer? Be self-aware with your answer and ensure that you're bringing up strong strengths that set you apart from other job candidates and speak directly to the job description.

If you aren't sure if your strength is strong enough, seek career advice from a friend or mentor. Ask them for an example answer to the question. And see how they respond. The best answers relate directly to the job requirements and the values of the company.

FAQ's

Common questions from job seekers about the "strengths question" asked in interviews.

How can I find my strengths?

Jonathan Michael provides a nice framework for being able to identify strengths. Be sure to use this framework in professional settings only.

To help you think about what to include as strengths, try asking yourself questions like:

  • What am I good at?
  • What have others complimented me about?
  • What have others had to help me with on more than one occasion?
  • Which projects and tasks seem to drain my energy?
  • Which projects have I spent hours on without getting tired?
  • What are my hobbies, and why do I like doing them?

What if I am answering the question poorly? Can I save myself from poor job interview performance?

Answering this question requires practice and patience. During a job interview, the job candidate might have nerves that quickly answer their prepared response. Slow the pace of the response, and if the response isn't sounding clear, state to the interviewer, "This isn't sounding clear; can I start over?"

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author: patrick algrim
About the author

Patrick Algrim is a Certified Professional Resume Writer (CPRW), NCDA Certified Career Counselor (CCC), and general career expert. Patrick has completed the NACE Coaching Certification Program (CCP). And has been published as a career expert on Forbes, Glassdoor, Dice.com, WorkWise, American Express, Reader's Digest, LiveCareer, Zety, Yahoo, Recruiter.com, SparkHire, SHRM.org, Process.st, FairyGodBoss, HRCI.org, St. Edwards University, NC State University, IBTimes.com, Thrive Global, TMCnet.com, Work It Daily, Workology, Career Guide, MyPerfectResume, College Career Life, The HR Digest, WorkWise, Career Cast, Elite Staffing, Women in HR, All About Careers, Upstart HR, The Street, Monster, The Ladders, Introvert Whisperer, and many more. Find him on LinkedIn.

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