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How to answer the “strengths” question

  • Tell us about your strengths.
  • What would you say are your three greatest strengths?
  • What is your greatest strength?

More than likely, you are going to be asked a question like the examples above during an interview. Surprisingly, this can be a difficult question for many students to answer. “Should I only talk about technical strengths that relate to the position?” “Are certain strengths better to mention than others?” Although strengths-based questions can seem tricky, with a little reflection and preparation these questions can be a great opportunity to make a positive impression on employers. As a mnemonic, there are three basic components to developing a good strengths answer: Reflect, Select, and Support. 

Reflect

What are you good at? Think back to previous jobs, projects, or organizations where you feel you really thrived in your role. What was it about those situations that you enjoyed doing? Maybe you found motivation for a project when presented with a complexity that had no easy solution (problem-solving). Perhaps it was taking initiative with the team and helping each member to reach their potential (leadership). More than likely, your strengths are going to connect to what you enjoy doing, and what seems to come naturally to you. Try to come up with at least five good strengths that you think describe you.

Select

Once in an interview I asked a candidate to discuss his greatest strengths and he immediately started flooding me with over a dozen adjectives – many of which were not relevant to the position. The key with strengths is quality, not quantity. Focus your answer on those 3-4 strengths that best describe you and fit within the company or position. If public speaking plays no part in the job description, maybe list another strength or describe “communication” instead. Just make sure that your strengths line up with the job qualifications in some way.

Support

This last part is crucial and often the missing piece in a student’s answer. You must, I repeat must, provide some backup evidence to each of your strengths. If you say leadership is one of your strengths, then you need to give a brief example of how you have demonstrated this strength in action. Your evidence should be specific and to the point.

  • Bad example: I’d say my number one strength is time-management. I always have a ton of stuff going on, but I make sure to manage my time in a way that gets everything done on time, every time.
  • Good example: I think one of my greatest strengths is time management. For example, last semester I was taking 18 credit hours, working 15 hours per week part-time on campus, and involved in a student organization. It was difficult to manage, but through keeping a detailed planner and listing out priorities for each week, I was able balance everything and even achieve a 3.5 GPA  that semester.

Reflect, Select, and Support. Keep these three themes in mind and you should have no problem speaking about your strengths to an employer. For more advice about interviewing check out these blogs and also look under the “Resources” tab in your CareerEngine account.

About the author

Caleb Craft

Caleb Craft was a previous Graduate Administrative Associate at Engineering Career Services.