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What Is Your Greatest Strength?

This month’s blog continues the series of most popular interview questions. So far I’ve addressed ‘What Are Your Weaknesses?’, ‘Tell Me About Yourself’, and ‘Why Do You Want This Job?’.

Now I’m going to address the ‘What is Your Greatest Strength?’ question.

When you prepare for an interview and want to think of a smart way to answer this, remember the following:

The strength you highlight must be relevant to the position you’re being interviewed for

A lot of interviewees make the mistake of being familiar and transparent when they formulate their answer. For example, you may think of yourself as a very compassionate person. You may be able to talk in great detail about your charity work. However, you can flush all this sentimentalism down the toilet if you’re applying for an investment banking position. Investment banking isn’t a field that’s renowned for its compassion. I would hazard a guess that the interviewer in this case would prefer ruthlessness or pragmatism.

Similarly, if you’re applying to be a social worker, ranking your intellect as your number one strength is not going to impress the interviewer. This is not to say that social workers aren’t intelligent, but in an environment that deals with the complexity of human problems, Pythagoras’ Theorem isn’t going to solve anything. A job that requires working with people in tense environments needs someone who has high levels of empathy, compassion, and sensitivity.

Hence, when you’re thinking about how you would answer this in an interview, think in practical terms: what strength do you have that is relevant to the job you’re being interviewed for? If you’re applying to be a receptionist, you should cite your greatest strength as organisation, punctuality, or efficiency. If you’re applying to be a nursery assistant, you need to provide tangible evidence that you work well with kids. Note: saying ‘I love kids/my sister just had a baby and I love feeding her a bottle/I babysit my friend’s kids’ doesn’t really cut it because any normal person would help out their friend or family. This doesn’t mean you love kids it means you love your friend or family member. Thus, in this scenario, you need to have voluntary or paid experience that isn’t linked to personal relationships.

It is essential to remember that:

You shouldn’t mention any skill you can’t prove persuasively. In order to prove something persuasively, the example you provide has to be something you’ve done in a previous job or for the community-at-large. Listing off the kindnesses you’ve shown to your friends or family is not persuasive evidence, because most people with average social skills do this. It’s really not something to blow your trumpet about, and examples in this manner will come across as egotistical and boring.

Avoid generalisations:

Nothing is more yawn-inducing than someone who responds to this question by saying ‘I’m a hard worker’ or ‘I’m dedicated’ or ‘I’m enthusiastic.’ What do these things even mean in tangible terms? Where is the substance in these answers? Dedicated to what? Enthusiastic about what? How do you prove you’re a hard worker when you’ve been unemployed for nearly a year? Come on people, you can do better than this. Person A’s day of hard work is a walk-in-the-park for Person B. Productivity levels are a relative thing. My lazy day could be a busy day for you. Plus, you must bear in mind that it’s difficult for anyone who is unemployed on a long-term basis to remain productive at consistent levels. It’s very difficult to get motivated to do anything at all some days. I’ve been there. I’ve been in the ‘what’s the point, everything I try fails anyway’ mode. I daresay anyone who has applied time and time again for twenty, thirty, fifty jobs with absolutely no replies (not even rejections) for a period of over a year would find themselves in the same boat.

Plus, these answers are simply too generic. In order to be more specific, research the company and find out what qualities they value most. A quick read of any business website will give you great insight into the type of employers they are. Any site that crafts items, for example, will often have banners that highlight the quality of their product. If you were interviewing for such a company, you would be wise to cite ‘striving for excellence’, ‘finishing things to a high standard’, or ‘a bit of a perfectionist’ as your greatest strengths. Careful though: perfectionism is often translated as not being able to complete a project in a timely manner, so you will want to phrase this differently.


As always: be sincere, be yourself. Give your examples the credit they deserve don’t undersell or oversell your achievements. It’s okay to mention imperfections as part of the examples you give (obstacles, something that didn’t turn out the way it should have), as long as the end result is your explanation of how the problem was solved.

Don’t give up there is a job out there with your name stamped on it.

 Copyright Gillian Rixey, Company Jobs Direct Ltd.

by Gillian Rixey
(Gillian is a PhD qualified freelance writer and scholar born in Ireland but currently residing in the United States.)