Discover how to avoid the top 7 mistakes most people make and how to prepare the best greatest strength answers...
Whilst there are some people that love to brag, most of us find it a bit difficult to blow our own trumpet.
But, with a bit of careful preparation, you can be ready with perfect answers that won't make you feel uncomfortable on the day.
Why so many interviewers ask this question
Along with its counterpart “what is your greatest weakness,” there is a very high probability that you will face this question at most interviews, and there is a good reason for this.
Asking you to pinpoint a single strength will give your interviewer vital information about whether or not you will be a good fit for both the role you are applying for and the organisation you are hoping to join.
Expect the unexpected
This question may not always be so obvious though because there are many ways in which a skilled interview can illicit the same information from you. For example, you may be asked “what do you feel has been your greatest achievement to date” or “tell me about a time when you were proud of your performance.” That last one is double trouble in that it asks about strength but is also a behavioural question too.
Whichever way they approach it, your answer will reveal your underlying personality, level of self-awareness, and understanding of the role you are applying for. Just like the greatest weakness question, the way you handle it is the number one reason why they ask it.
The way you handle it is the number one reason why they ask it.
Don’t worry though because we have it covered and, with a little preparation, you will have nothing to fear at your next interview.
So let's dive on in and start with what not to do if you are asked about your greatest strength.
The top 7 mistakes most people make answering the Greatest Strength question
Surprisingly, although there are so many ways that people can make a real mess of the greatest strength question, they tend to fall into one of these 7 categories.
Telling your life story
It’s so easy to do. You are sitting there, feeling the pressure, and you really want the job. Worse, you might really need the job. You are then given the golden opportunity to tell them about what you do best - and off your mouth goes!
Resist this temptation. They don’t expect (or want) to know about everything you do well. They want to hear about the specific skills or natural talents you’ll use to excel in the position you are interviewing for.
Offering bland or generic strengths
Another huge temptation to overcome is staying within your comfort zone and talking about the strengths that you feel are your best, without regard to the job you are applying for.
Always keep in mind that the skill that makes you the strongest candidate may not be your actual strongest skill overall.
Let me explain this with a practical example. Let’s say you are applying for a Project Controls/Planning position. The job description is below.
Your greatest skill might actually be your ability to manage teams and get the best out of people. And that is undoubtedly a great skill for this role, especially when backed up with real-life examples.
However, there are a few problems with this. It is a bit boring, there are lots of good managers out there, and there is a good chance you will not stand out with that answer – even though it truly is the best skill you possess.
Ask yourself this. How many of the other interviewees are likely to give the exact same answer? If it is likely to be over 50%, then think again about your response.
Keep on target
The key to getting the job you want is targeting. That's why you need to create tailored resumes for each application and cover letters that specifically tell employers exactly why you are right for their advertised positions. Generic documents are, well generic - they will not stand out. The same is true for generic interview answers.
Most people don't think about targeting their interview answers to the actual position. Interviewers may be asking about you, but they really want you to talk about their job.
So, with the example above, ditch the generic management example and switch to how you are an expert user of Primavera P6 and exactly how you have used it to provide successful outcomes – especially if you also link it to a high-value rail project.
Being too humble
We all know certain people that are prone to bragging but most of us feel a little uncomfortable when asked to list our strengths.
The discomfort could be minor or major depending on your culture, self-confidence, whether you are an introvert or extravert, and how much experience you have of being interviewed generally.
The good news is that whoever you are, and whatever your circumstances, you can find a way that feels comfortable and authentic if you prepare in advance.
Remember that you are applying for a role working with people and people, like it or note, will judge you. Confidence is attractive, but arrogance is not.
Make sure that you don’t use humour, flippant comments, or even worse, put down others to make yourself look better.
Not preparing in advance
This question is often seen as easy to answer because it involves saying something positive.
The “what is your greatest weakness” question is feared far more because you have to reveal a negative.
Unfortunately, for most people, easy equals no preparation. This is why most people fail to answer this question well.
Knowing your strengths prior to interview obviously means you can answer this question well, but it has the added benefit of giving you more confidence throughout the interview because you know you deserve the position.
Preparing for only one answer
Don’t make the mistake of working on a single response because you may be asked the question in a slightly different way.
For example, “what would you say are your main strengths and weaknesses?”
Clearly, this will involve more than one strength plus having answers prepared in advance for the greatest weakness question.
Not giving a real answer – AKA avoidance
This comes in various flavours such as “I think others should be the judge” or “I am really not sure because I feel I do a good job of most things” or something along those lines.
Whether it is because you were not willing to make the effort to prepare, or you simply feel uncomfortable talking about yourself, this is a huge mistake to make and can turn an otherwise positive interview into a disaster.
The best way to answer the greatest strength question at interview
The most important thing to remember is that the interviewer is really probing your strengths as they relate to the job, not your work life as a whole.
This is why preparation is vital so that you can tailor your answer to the position you are applying for.
Always ensure that your greatest strength just happens to be the exact skills you will need to excel within the job you are discussing.
However, don’t make up strengths just because they fit the job description.
If you are successful, the employer will expect you to deliver what you promised at interview.
This is your opportunity to showcase your real talents and show the interviewer why you’re the best candidate.
Like good answers to the greatest weakness question, the answers to the greatest strength question also have three parts:
1. The Strength
Choose wisely and honestly. It needs to be skills and achievements that you are comfortable discussing so that you can give genuine, believable answers.
2. The Proof
Share real examples and stories of how you have used these strengths to achieve positive outcomes. Always use statistics and technical details where possible.
3. The Relevance
Be clear and communicate to the interviewer about the relevance of these skills to the position you are applying for.
So the formula is: My greatest strength is X. For example, I did Y, and I feel this will be a great benefit to performing the role of Z at your company.
How to prepare your greatest strength answers
Not sure where to start? Follow these 3 steps for the perfect preparation.
Start with personal strengths
Identify your greatest strength by asking yourself some general questions.
What aspect or task within your current role and past roles have you excelled at?
Think of examples where you feel that you have delivered great results or overachieved in some way.
Regarding the above, did you find a specific way or ways to achieve this success?
Try to think of a time when a manager has congratulated you.
Are there any areas where colleagues have or do regularly comment and praise your methods or behaviour?
Brainstorm all of this into a list and set aside.
Next, identify the essential skills & experience for the job
Next, take a look at the job description for the position you are being interviewed for and find the section relating to the key skills and experience you need to bring to the role.
Pay attention to both the soft and hard skills they mention.
Having the appropriate hard skills means that you have the technical skills required for a job.
Soft skills relate to elements of our personalities that enable us to perform well and "fit" into a team or an organisation.
So, now you have a general list of strengths relating to you and a list of essential requirements for the role in question
Now pull it all together
Now it’s time to combine both and edit them down into one master list of strengths that you feel are most impressive and you would comfortable talking about.
Remember though to only choose those strengths that are essential to the requirements of the job description.
To help you formulate a list of perfect responses to the greatest strength question, the STAR method can be a great help.
If you are unfamiliar with this term, STAR stands for situation, task, action, and result. Here is how to use it to prepare your response. Take notes by hand or on a computer as you go along and then refine it afterwards.
Start by choosing a strength from your list that relates directly to an essential job requirement.
Write a brief explanation of a situation where you needed to use that skill.
Explain the challenge or the obstacles you needed to overcome.
Explain what actions you took and how you did it
Detail the positive outcome of you successfully achieved using this skill, the impact on the organisation, and relate how that result could be beneficial to the company you are applying to.
As mentioned before, ensure that you prepare more than one strength and think about how you may be asked the question.
For example, instead of the straight what are your greatest weaknesses question you may face:
"How did your strengths help your job performance?"
“What makes you the best candidate for this position?”
“What would your previous employers say are your best qualities?"
Examples of good answers to the greatest strength question
To help you, here are some examples of strong responses to the greatest strength question.
Use these to give you some inspiration and ideas for your own answers. Try to add specific numbers, stats and details to your own results using the STAR method for added impact.
“My greatest strength is project management. I feel just as comfortable liaising with stakeholders as I do mediating a conflict between teams of maintenance fitters. Being an expert user of Primavera P6 has enabled me to bring my last project in successfully on time and within budget with a record 27% profit margin. That's why I am really looking forward to doing this for your company as I feel confident my skills will be beneficial.”
Internal / external liaison
“There have been occasions where I had to manage incident investigations using ICAM root cause analysis procedures. As you are aware, different parties have different opinions and often want to rush the result when there are several parties involved such as when there is an EPCM, client contractors and subcontractors involved. I have been able to stand firm and maintain order and process, allowing the investigation to reach its conclusion, ensuring that remedies are put in place, findings published and further ensuring this or similar issues are not repeated. I feel this makes me a great fit for this role as it will involve similar challenges”
“One of my strengths is my strong time management. When I commit to a deadline, I do whatever it takes to deliver. For example, last week we had a report due and got some numbers back late from our site in Perth. I pulled an all-nighter to finalise the figures because I knew that my team had to receive the report on time. The next day, our presentation was a huge success and we won a $2m contract. That is the key aspect of this job that I am excited about as I know I could really deliver and make a difference”
Strength & Weakness
“My greatest strength actually stemmed from my greatest weakness. When I first experienced the FIFO lifestyle, I found it really hard to juggle my home and work commitments. The pressure really got to me so I took some courses on personal development. Now I am the one others come to for advice and I am proud to say that I have achieved 3 work promotions and have a happy, healthy relationship with my family. I want to bring this knowledge and experience to this role where I can lead and influence others.”m.
In summary, here is a quick checklist on how to answer "what is your greatest strength" in your next interview.
Stick to the job
Keep in mind that interviewers only want to know about strengths relating to they job in question, not you life in general.
Always prepare more than one response because you can't be sure how they will ask you the question.
Check the key skills and requirements on the job description and choose strengths that are essential to perform the role. Remember - it's about you possibly being in this role, not you as a person.
Use the STAR method to organise your greatest strengths into powerful statements.
Practice makes perfect
Make sure you are comfortable with your answers by practicing them on family and friends prior to your interview.