Tell me about a strength you have? In an interview.

A couple of weeks ago I was doing some interviews to select a PA for a medium size business. When the question of, “Tell me about your strengths?” was asked it was surprising out of the 11 candidates interviewed 2 were thoroughly prepared. The others whilst their answers were good, were deliver with plenty of filler words like, ahh, mmm, not sure, how would you like me to answer that?…what? …it was disappointing.

Disappointing that I could clearly see they had what it took to do the job but for some reason, didn’t deliver in the clutch moment. Not being prepared is expensive.   Let me explain, you’re going for a job worth $70,000, your current level is $60,000. How much time, effort and money are you prepared to invest in yourself to secure that level of income? Just showing up with no prep,…your gone. There is always someone better, stronger, cheaper and faster than you. I’m always reminded of a Red Adair’s quote,

“If you think it’s expensive to hire a professional to do the job, wait until you hire an amateur.”

Employers are really just looking for certainty. I’m always looking for one standout from a holistic standpoint. It’s a tough question to answer if you haven’t previously thought through a couple of examples. As always preparation is everything. Here are some examples of “Tell me about a strength? type questions answered by candidates:


a. I’m good at everything.

b. I can do anything well, once I’m shown.

c. What do I need to be good at?

d. With time I could make anything my strength.

e. Ummm….what?, what do you mean?

f. Pacifically, I’m great at….(no that’s not a typo)

g. Well, what do I need to be good at?

With all of these responses, I’m thinking risk. There is nothing in these answers that highlights value. Just remember that the hiring decision is not just based on one question.

The failure of candidates is not looking at the role description or advertisement where it clearly states what the essential criteria are. In that is the strengths the employer is looking for. Do your homework, winging it or hoping is not a winning strategy.

Here are some examples of “Tell me about a strength? type questions you may be asked.

a. When push comes to shove, what are you about?
b. What do you think would differentiate you from the rest?
c. What are your 2 core strengths, how do you think those strengths could add value to this organisation and position?
d. What makes you the ideal candidate?
e. If you had to choose a strength, eg time management, people management or leadership?(depending on the role) what would you choose and why?
f. How would you apply your strengths to this role?
g. What skills do you bring?
h. From your current or past positions, what trait would be important in this role?
i. If there was a personal trait that you believe would add value to this role or organisation, what would it be?
j. If you had to solve this (insert problem), how would you approach it?

Why employers ask this question.

There are a number of reasons for asking this question, some are listed below:

a. It tells the interviewer about your self-awareness. In other words, what do you consider of value and if it aligns with the organisation. The other is discovering whether or not you’ve done your research on the role and the organisation.

b. It tells the interviewer if you’ve identified what the role entails and or you have a proven track record or can provide evidence on how you could support achieving the organisational goals.

c. It identifies where your strengths lay in the specific role.

d.  It tells them about your communication skills at various levels tactical, operational and strategic.

e. They could be looking to use that question to garner further information about character type, values and beliefs in relation to the job.

How to answer this question?

It’s fairly straight forward, just look at the role description and it tells you right there what the needs of the roles are. If you don’t have a role description, do some research. They are all fairly similar across industries.

It’s surprising how many people don’t read the advert and join the dots between their strengths and the job role.

Answering this question is similar to answering the what is your weakness? question.

Strategy 1

Challenge Action Results (CAR)

  1. Think of a specific “challenge” or “situation” that you and or the organisation faced? What specific things did you have to do? What was the danger,?eg cost, customer, competitive advantage etc
  2. What “actions” were you responsible for? Think about it as intention, outcome, processes and behaviour. What did you do?
  3. “Results”,  what happened as a result of the actions you took? what was the short term, medium term and long term results? Are you able to describe the results in relation to metrics, budget, revenue, time, savings etc


Strategy 2

Situation Task Action Results (STAR)

Situation, describe the event and the context. Make it clear and concise.

Task, what did you identify that needed to get done?  How did you know it was that?

Activity, what specific things did you do? what were 2-3 things you did that managed the situation and or risk?

Result, what were the results? Was is what was anticipated? How did it help you and the organisation? What were 3 benefits?

Remember, when using these types structures  include tangible things like metrics, budgets, revenue, time, savings etc

Eg if you were to hire a Barista and 2 candidates have the same qualifications, same experience, the same type of personality but when asked, “what is your strength?”. One said “I make the best coffees in Sydney” and the other said:

“I know how to make 15 different types of coffee, I’ve invented one that increased our sales by 3% and I’m able to make 50 coffees per hour. On average I upsell a cookie with every coffee which converts to a purchase 50% of the time. By the way, I make the best coffee in Sydney.” Who would you hire? Find your VALUE story.

 Example 1

I recently coached a 20 year old for an interview for an entry level banking role. He had no real solid experience. He had short stint jobs at a fast food chain, a removalist, a carpet laying organisation and at a luxury car dealership, driving luxury vehicles to and from the workshop/customers. When we got to the, “what is your strength?”, question. It was crickets…..nothing.

I asked him to think about why his employer trusted him to drive both new and used cars valued in some cases from $150,000 to $400,000? Can you guess what one of his strengths may be that could be valued by a bank? Steadiness, risk-averse behaviour, responsibility, customer service, pride in his work, trustworthiness, reliability and integrity.

If he didn’t prepare he would not have recognised firstly, what value he brought and secondly, articulated himself in such a way that demonstrated professionalism and seriousness. Preparation is everything. For those of you who are not convinced, his pay went from $29,000 to $40,000. What did it cost him? 3-4 hrs. Not only money well spent but time well spent. This the internet age, you want to know anything there is someone out there that can give the answer faster than ever before. Use it.

Using CAR for the above example,

Challenge/situation, getting cars to clients in the shortest amount of time as well as dropping off a replacement vehicle.  Most people that hand keys of their luxury vehicle over to a 20 something are apprehensive about handing their keys over.

Action, Ensure that I wear a properly fitting professional attire because image is everything. Ensure that I address the customer formally and speak to them without the use of slang words and clearly communicate about when their car would be available.his the internet age, you want to anything there is someone out there that can give the answer faster than ever before. Use it.

Results, I have received tips, the message of a job well done to my employer.

Using STAR

Situation. Part of my job is to provide replacement cars for the cars that are being serviced. I have to pick up and hand over 10 cars daily. Whilst you may think this is easy, it isn’t. I have timelines that have to be met so careful planning of routes and times are critical. The other challenge is being so young some customers are hesitant to hand over their keys to a vehicle worth over $150,000.

Task, plan the day ensure loan cars are available and the customer has confirmed the booking for the car service. Ensure, that when on site if any further instructions are given that I accurately and reliably pass that message on using our mobile CRM. We are all responsible for the end user experience. Dropping a loan car off sometimes requires me to induct the customer in the loan car if necessary, provide information about service and estimated time of return.

Activity, Ensure the car is returned to the workshop with any additional instructions, provide paperwork that includes a visual inspection of the vehicle to the mechanic. Get an estimated time of finish and schedule into my calendar.

Result, Happy customer that receives the car repaired and returned on time. I work closely with the head of the workshop and we collaborate constantly about the progress of cars or if there are any opportunities to bring other cars in because we are ahead of schedule. Focusing on the end user makes the decision easier but not necessarily less work.

The Takeaway.

Brainstorm your strengths and analyse the role you’re applying for. Define what strength the position requires. eg  A project manager needs excellent communication skills both verbal and written, conflict management skills, stakeholder management skills, financial management skills etc

Every role has its unique set of strengths required. If you have no idea call someone or Google it. You will find an answer.

Whether or not you use CAR or STAR methods identify, 3 to 5 targeted examples(your stories) that demonstrate your capability and depth of skill and knowledge. And finally, rehearse it so it’s like a regular conversation with the least amount of anxiety as possible. Preparation is everything.


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