Candidates often tell me that they’re not very good at talking about their strengths within an interview and that they don’t enjoy “selling themselves”. People sometimes feel that they don’t want to come across as over-confident, or sometimes they might even struggle to think of their strengths in the first place.
So, how do we identify what our strengths are?
The truth is, when I speak to my candidates at length, it often becomes clear that there are a number of strengths that they have to offer. My advice is to focus on 3-4 main strengths that relate to the job you’re applying for. By using the job description, we can highlight our strengths that the employer might be looking for.
For example, if the job requires someone with strong organisational skills, then we should think of at least one example of situation where we’ve had to be organised in the past. Often, this might be from previous employment, or it might even be from education.
A good example of this might be where a project has many different tasks that need completing by a certain deadline. By setting time aside to work on each task, maybe even creating mini-deadlines by which to complete each of the tasks, this can demonstrate strong organisational skills.
How to I talk about these strengths without sounding over-confident?
Firstly, it’s important to remember that the interviewer is wanting you to talk about your strengths. They are keen to hear the reasons of why they should employ you. So, we need to give them what they want! However, we should try and do it in a way that doesn’t make us sound cocky or over-confident.
Quite simply, it’s the language that we use that makes a big difference here. If for example, someone said within an interview…
“My organisational skills are amazing!”
…the interviewer might see this as too confident, maybe even slightly off-putting and it might leave the interviewer wanting to bring the candidate down a peg or two by challenging them further and further. If instead, we used language such as…
“I pride myself on my organisational skills” or “I like to believe I have strong organisational skills”
…both these statements are much softer in language and send the same message in a more believable and appealing way. These statements also use words such as “pride” and “believe” – both of which are emotive words, which can demonstrate passion and enthusiasm.
Give examples of how you’ve used your strengths
By giving an example of how you’ve used a strength, this can bring to life your answer, giving the interviewer an image of you at work carrying out a task successfully.
How to structure your answer
The advice I always give here is to answer the question as if it is a competency-based question (ie. looking for an example of how you’ve demonstrated your strengths when up against a challenge). You can even use a technique called “STAR”, as below:
S = Situation – detail the background, such as where and when the challenge took place.
T = Task – describe the challenge, the expectations, what needed to be done and why.
A = Action – what action you took to complete the task.
R = Results – explain the results and the achievements. Using a structure like STAR gives you a sound platform from which to build your answer.
Talking about your strengths within an interview is a positive thing. Remember, employers want to hear about your positive strengths and skills!
Before every one of my candidates’ interviews, I ensure I spend at least 20 minutes on the phone the day (or evening) before to help and advise my candidates. This can help reassure candidates that they have prepared well and gives them a chance to try out their techniques on me, as a test!