How to talk about your strengths in an Interview
Despite the frequency with which this question gets asked, in my experience it is still one area in which many people fall down. I wrote a blog earlier in the year about talking about your weaknesses (click here to read) and following conversations with a number of candidates I felt it would be beneficial to focus on the other side in terms of talking about your strengths, something which people often assume will be easier.
So why is it so difficult to talk about yourself in a positive way? Is it because we don’t want to come across as arrogant or is it that we are worried about underselling ourselves? What is certain from my conversations with many candidates and clients is just how difficult people find these questions and how poorly many interviewers feel they are answered. So what are people getting wrong?
Getting it wrong
Confident versus arrogant – in reality many candidates actually find it very difficult to promote themselves. In my experience depending on the industry sector, it is actually much more likely that people will undersell themselves than oversell. This can particularly be the case in professions or company cultures where you are not required to promote yourself.
Too generic – people often talk too generically i.e. “I am a great team player”, a strength that every other candidate could and will possibly talk about and which will therefore do nothing to make yourself stand out.
Irrelevant – if people are unprepared they will often talk about personal strengths but ones that just may not be related to their target role or at the very least will do nothing to support their application.
Talking about skills not strengths – strengths are general traits whereas skills are often the result of training and experience. Although there is some overlap, skills can be trained whereas traits need developing and therefore it is important to talk about both.
No self-awareness – people’s inability to talk about themselves, their strengths, weaknesses and development needs shows a real lack of self awareness and focus on personal development. This may leave the interviewer questioning your ability to grow and develop.
What are your strengths – Some people, particularly those earlier in their career may not be aware of their strengths and may never had to really talk about them. So the first step is to sit down and think about your strengths paying particular attention to their relevance to the role you are looking to perform. These strengths could be experience-based or specific competencies /personality traits. Either way, try to focus on more than just the standard list that every other candidate will talk about such as being a great team player or having great communication skills. This is an opportunity to set yourself apart from the other applicants so think about traits that may suit the role, like persistence or tenacity for a target-driven role, for example.
Ask other people for their opinion – If you struggle to think of your key strengths, you can bet that your nearest and dearest or trusted former colleagues will be able to enlighten you! Ask them for their opinion and crucially, why they have this impression of you.
Focus – in most interviews you won’t necessarily have the opportunity to talk about all of your perceived strengths but you should aim to have 5 or so to talk about, focusing on those you believe are most relevant for the role you are pursuing and the company culture of the employer. Different interviewers will spend varying time on this question – so be prepared and be ready to be challenged.
Leave behind your modesty – as mentioned above, people can feel uncomfortable about talking positively about themselves however it really is important in an interview situation! It demonstrates a lot about you as an individual, your self-awareness, your openness and your ability to communicate. By thorough preparation and practice, you can learn to talk about yourself in an authentic and confident manner. After all, you need to convince yourself you are the best person for the role as well as convincing the interviewer. One way to do this is to frame your answer by saying “I am often complemented by others on my strength in……” rather than it all coming from you.
Matching your CV – it sounds obvious but make sure that if you have talked about your strengths on your CV that you are prepared to talk about them. I often find people will state some very generic strengths on their CV and then come across as unprepared when asked to talk about them.
Back it up with examples – don’t be afraid to use examples to provide evidence of your strength in a particular area. It can also be compelling if you talk about how you have worked on a particular strength as this demonstrates your ability to develop yourself over a period of time. Base it around fact and the example is going to land much better than just talking about a trait you feel you possess.
Be candid – as I have talked about before, it is important not to try and be something you are not otherwise you are unlikely to succeed in the role even if you are successful at interview. An honest and authentic approach is more compelling and will hopefully leave the employer convinced about your ability to perform the role. They don’t want to hear clichéd answers like “I work very hard” – what they really want to see is how self-aware you are and to get an understanding of the real you.
Not being able to talk about your strengths generally doesn’t make you come across as humble or modest. In fact it is more likely to portray you as weak and incompetent. Given the regularity of use, this question is a really important consideration when looking at your interview performance. With preparation and thought you can improve your answers and help yourself secure the role you desire.