Founder of Virtus Career Consulting, speaker and author of the career empowerment book
In the past few weeks, I’ve coached half a dozen people on interview preparation, all of whom were made an offer. I’ve made one crucial observation.
Most people answer the question “What are your strengths?” incorrectly, and poorly.
When I speak with prospective clients I ask them to describe their strengths to me. Here are some examples I’ve noted:
I’m organized and detail-oriented.
I’m committed and hard-working.
I get things done.
I’m good with people.
I am passionate and driven.
Now, let’s set aside the fact most of these are not strengths. A strength is a talent, yet most of these are behavioral traits. I won’t split hairs about this, however, because there is a greater problem afoot.
Let’s take these traits and juxtapose them next to the following question:
Would you, as a decision-maker, hire me if I told you the following?
I’m unorganized and often miss the details.
I lack commitment and I’m not very hard-working.
I don’t get much done.
I’m bad with people.
I lack passion and drive.
All I’ve done is rephrase the prior answers as opposites, which strongly reinforces a salient point: The traits most people provide as strengths in interviews are requirements of every candidate in the mind of the interviewer.
When you are explaining your strengths, be sure to share natural talents that you possess – those things that set you apart – that are not in abundant supply. What did you do in your previous jobs that others did not do nearly as well?
Here is a client example of two strengths, defined:
Achiever – You have a great deal of stamina and work hard. You take great satisfaction from being busy and productive. Your drive is the power supply that causes you to set the pace and define the productivity levels for others.
Learner – You have a great desire to continuously improve. Learning enables you to thrive in dynamic work environments where you are asked to take on short project assignments and learn a lot about the new subject matter in a short period of time.
Instead of simply saying, “I work hard and like to learn things”, a more effective strategy is to create a strong narrative that both explains the strength, and provides a story to back it up:
“Two of my strengths are Learner and Achiever, which means I catch on quickly and have interest in many things. When these strengths work together they influence strong goal achievement. I enjoy learning and then doing something productive with that knowledge. It’s where learning meets application for me. For example, the last two jobs I’ve held I didn’t meet the minimum qualifications, but because of my strong ability to learn and ramp up quickly, and my desire to be productive every day, I consistently outperformed tenured team members in exceeding productivity goals.”
The best way to hone in on your most natural strengths is to take the Clifton StrengthsFinder assessment and receive a debrief on your strengths. This provides both the awareness and the language to help you convey your strengths effectively, naturally, and confidently.
Once you know your true strengths, you will knock the socks off an interviewer like no other candidates.