There is no doubt that job interviews are overwhelming for most people. Aside from the fact that you have to humblebrag about how you have worked your way into that interviewer’s office, more appropriately in 2021, Zoom screen in the first place — you are likely juggling a montage of emotions behind the scenes because finding a job is one of the most critical and stressful parts of moving onward and upward in life.
So you’ve polished your resume and locked in the interview. It’s now time to prepare for the big show where one way or another, interviewers will say: “Tell me about your strengths.”
Are you ready to crush the strengths question with confidence?
After interviewing hundreds of emerging leaders throughout my career, I cannot tell you how often candidates stumble on the strengths question.
If you applied with a massive applicant pool and made it this far, then yes, I know you are likely a good communicator and a “people-person.” Show me those qualities with how you conduct yourself over the course of the interview, but tell me something I cannot see in action right now.
So, I want you to steer clear of traditional interviewee-jargon and use this question to tell your potential employer something meaningful about why your style of leadership is different from anyone else.
How do you tactically show up on a team project? What can I expect from the way you approach your role here at Company X?
Here is the quickest way to planning out a thoughtfully curated response to the stereotypical strengths question:
Step 1: Know yourself as a leader by knowing your strengths
You have an internal compass that guides your decision-making and behaviors — it’s how you are able to lead yourself at work, at home, and in your purchasing decisions at Trader Joe’s. These responses to external stimuli come so naturally, we often don’t realize we are doing them.
Knowing your strengths well allows you to communicate the meaning behind your approach to work/life when you likely know it inside and out based on instinct.
A strength is anything you are talented at — but curating strengths language means getting specific about how you call on those instincts to lead in everyday moments.
It’s one thing to say you are strategic because you feel it in your gut when solving problems at work, but how do you define that to an interviewer in a clear and concise way that gives them insight into your leadership style?
I recommend purchasing the Top 5 from CliftonStrengths by Gallup for $20— you will complete a quick assessment and receive your personalized feedback report with your top 5 strengths/themes (out of a well-researched list of 34) and have a clear springboard for how you bring these into your interview. Or you can self-identify with additional resources.
Read through the definitions of those strengths, memorize them, edit them to a definition that you feel is authentic to describe the way you work.
Step 2: Operationalize those strengths
In short, prove it.
Once you know your top strengths and have the language to describe them, you need to navigate HOW you actually utilize them in your life and work.
Look at each strength and decide how you have seen that play out in your role in the past.
Do you have a specific story that showcases the way you utilized that strength to complete a task or goal that was directly tied to your job?
Come up with two short stories or examples for each of your top 5 strengths. Write them down, practice those stories, and know which strengths are best to call on for the specific job you want.
Is it a client-facing role? Then get ready to lean into your strengths that fall into the relationship-building category.
If you are wanting to highlight effectiveness in problem-solving or analytics, then highlight a strength in the area of strategic thinking.
Research shows that when we use our strengths to complete a task or challenge, we experience greater feelings of accomplishment, success, and even find “flow” in our role. So tee it up and let them know you’re ready to put those specific strengths to work for the mutual benefit of you and the organization.
Step 3: Everyone loves a comeback story
How have your strengths helped you out of a difficult situation?
Characteristic organizations are searching for in the interview is your ability to show up as a critical thinker in the workplace.
Will you respond to a situation in alignment with organizational values AND be motivated to find the answers and connect the dots when a problem arises? Show them you can be innovative with your knowledge and resources.
Look through your past stories that highlight moments where you had to tangibly learn something new in order to overcome an obstacle in the workplace. What did you learn moving forward from that experience and how does that growth help you solve future challenges that may arise?
We all love a good comeback story, so show them how your resilience and tenacity allowed you to rise to the challenge and conquer.
Remember, the job interview is a two-way street and it should be a fit for both the employer and the employee. Have your examples hot and ready for the interview so you can show your potential colleague or coworker that you not only bring certain strengths to the table as a competent leader but also can connect those strengths to action from day one.