Friday, 11 April 2014

Answering Interview Questions: What are your strengths

As I have stated in other posts on Answering Interview Questions, understanding the reason behind why the question is asked provides guidance on how we can answer them.

What are recruiters looking for when they ask you the question:

 "What are your strengths?"

Like other questions, this question serves a couple of purposes.  Your answer can show recruiters how well you know your skills and abilities (self-awareness), as well as allowing them the opportunity to gauge what you are particularly good at so they can determine if and how those strengths would fit within their business and the position (job and personality-profile matching).

With the purpose now understood, we can now think about what and how our skills and experiences gained in former employment, education and personal situations match the requirements of the position and company.

To answer, choose your top relevant strengths. For example, if your greatest strength is an ability to interact with people then this is not the strength to be highlighting to employers offering a non-customer contact role, where they would most likely prize your ability to complete administrative tasks and would become concerned that your interacting with people might cause you to be unproductive in the role and or cause you to want to move on quickly to another company or role. On the other hand though, if you are interviewing for a Sales role where talking with people and building trust and ongoing relationships is crucial in reaching performance targets, then stating this as your strength aligns well.

One 'trick' to answering interview questions, even when you know the purpose and self-awareness, is to answer the question by providing a clear example of how you previously demonstrated that strength in your past roles and then tie this to how it will be useful to you in the role.

So, for our Sales role example above, not only would this person be able to state that interacting with people is their strength  but they would need to back this 'claim' up by describing a specific example of an occasion in their past - employment, education or personal - to show this strength in action (including a result), and then conclude their answer by saying (directly or indirectly) how this strength would benefit them (and or the company) within the role on offer.

For example, the Sales person might answer the question "What are your strengths?" with "That would be my ability to interact with people. I've always had a natural gift to be able to talk with any person I meet and often end up talking to complete strangers in and out of business situations.  Like yesterday, I was lined up at the supermarket and struck up conversation with the person behind me in the queue. Our conversation started out by me just responding to the person's frustration that the line wasn't moving, and this lead to us chatting about a range of subjects for the half hour we waited.  During the conversation I mentioned that I am a Office Photocopying Equipment Sales consultant and the person turned out to be the office manager of a transport company in need of upgrading their outdated and problematic equipment.  I always carry business cards on me wherever I go, so I gave the person my card, and wrote down on the back of another card his contact details, and I arranged to call him first thing on Monday. I followed through on that and called on Monday as promised, resulting in our setting up a business meeting, which led to that business purchasing $30,000 worth of equipment for their 8 branches. So, I would have to say my strength within a Sales role starts with my ability to interact with people and is the reason I reach my performance targets."

So, hopefully you know what your strengths are for the type of work you are applying for, and can think up some great examples from your work, education or personal history that you can use to back up your claim that this is your strength.

Happy, motivated job seeking everyone!


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