Ask someone what their strengths are and it’s likely they’ll give you a fair imitation of a rabbit caught in headlights. Although we know ourselves better than anyone, it’s not always easy to identify exactly what makes us special. Employers will often ask you about your strengths at interview. To avoid responding with a glassy-eyed stare, you need to first get clear about what yours are, and then understand how best to articulate them.
So, what ARE my strengths?
A common interview question is, “how would a good friend describe you in three words?” Prepare for this by asking a friend ahead of time! (You can always return the favour). We ran an exercise a bit like this recently at the Careers Service. We all drew a representation of ourselves on a piece of A4 paper (it quickly emerged that most of us couldn’t list artistic talent amongst our finer qualities). Then we moved around adding words to the pictures. Where we agreed with a word someone had already written, we put a big tick against it.
Seeing several colleagues agree on our core strengths was very validating. And some people’s comments were quite insightful.
If you don’t want to ask others, simply reflect on times in your life when you’ve been engaged in an activity you’ve really enjoyed. It will have felt natural; time will have sped by. For example, getting lost in arranging your books by genre, or alphabetically by authors’ surname, could reveal that you’re naturally organised, with strong attention to detail.
…and how do I talk about them?
Most people are familiar with the STAR format for answering competency-based questions, but it can be harder to know how to structure an answer to “what are your strengths”. The “rule of three” is one useful approach you can take. Talk about three genuine strengths that are relevant to the role and give some examples that showcase these. This approach means you are likely to present a rounded picture of what you’re good at, and to be speaking for the right amount of time: it’s easy to answer too briefly, or long-windedly, and having 3 things in mind means you can end confidently without sputtering to a hesitant stop.
Use our Interview Simulator get employer tips on answering “what are your strengths” and other strength-based questions. You can practise and watch back your answers.