Here’s how to give a dynamite response to the interview question: What are your strengths?
One of the most common questions people get asked during a job interview is: What are your strengths? The question can also be posed as: Tell me about your strengths. The key to being strong in an interview is to know where you are strongest.
Some graduates may stumble over this question, others may panic, and others still may simply find their minds go blank. The reason why a graduate may scramble over the question, ‘What are your strengths?’ is because they haven’t really given it deep thought. Graduates who worry about how to answer this question lack sufficient understanding of two things:
- An understanding of what a strength is
- An understanding of their own strengths
In this blog I want to focus on what a strength is so you can use it more effectively to leverage your chances of success in an interview.
What is a strength?
There are many articles, books, guides and other resources available that teach you about strengths but one of the most powerfully useful approaches is the work that has come out of the Gallup Center. According to this approach, a strength is not necessarily something you are good at. Yes, that’s correct. A strength is not necessarily something you are good at.
For example, you may be good at organsing activities and find people are always asking you to organise stuff on their behalf because they see that you are good at it. People may say, ‘Give so and so that job to do because he always gets stuff done.’ Meanwhile, although you find that you can get it done organising the activity itself leaves you uninspired, bored or unfulfilled. Somehow deep down inside you could not care less if you never had to do that task again.
That is an indication that you are good at something, you have a natural ability in that area, but it is not a strength.
This is because, according to the fellows at Gallup, the strength that enables you to organise well does not lie in the act of organising itself but comes from somewhere else. You need to understand what is BEHIND the ability to organise well. It may be because you have a strong sense of accountability, or you have an analytical mind. This may be where your strength TRULY lies and the reason why you are good at organising.
The 3 components of a strength
The Gallup definition of a strength therefore is an activity that makes you feel strong. Your strengths make you feel motivated, energised, excited and hungry for more. By contrast, a weakness will be something that leaves you feeling weak, unmotivated and bored even if you find you do it well. Chances are you have plenty of examples from your time at school, college and university to help you understand this.
So your strength is something you have a natural talent for and which leaves you feeling great but there is more to it than that. In order for you to maximise this strength you need to add:
Skills – through training, education and opportunity to practice this talent you develop proficiency and become stronger in it.
Knowledge – through the development of awareness and insight through exposure to information that can support this talent you are able to become more proficient in the application of it.
What you look like at your strongest
This is where you may differ from another candidate who may have similar abilities to you. Your knowledge and skills will help shape your talent. If you will, it is like the chemical mixture in a test tube: your unique combination of the quantity of each ingredient results in your uniqueness. This is what you look like at your strongest. The resulting mixture will define what you use your strength to do, how you use them and where you use them – even why you use them.
This is why it is so important to have an awareness of the industry you want to work in. You can develop this through both exposure to information about the industry and practice through work experience in the industry. Both of these are necessary and important for they will each give a different perspective to define your strengths.
Taken together then, your strength is made up of
- Talent for a particular activity
- Skill in a particular activity
- Knowledge around a particular activity
The more you are able to develop these three areas the stronger and more defined your strength will be. What is more you will understand your strength and understanding your strength means you will be able to sell yourself far more effectively in an interview than if your knowledge in this area is vague or shallow.