Describe your strengths’ and ‘what are your greatest strengths?’ are two job interview questions that often have interviewees scratching around for an answer. The reason is twofold. Firstly, most of us are brought up to be modest and humble, questions about strengths feel like they may be inviting us to brag. Secondly, it’s easy to be vague and general— honest, keen to learn, hardworking—without substantiating those adjectives.

So, what does a job interviewer really want to know when asking you to describe your strengths?

As with many job interview questions, this is one aiming to identify self-awareness and your ability to apply that to the work environment. Flowing out of that is your ability to apply it to the job requirements for the interview you are going to.

How to answer, ‘Describe your strengths’ and ‘what are your greatest strengths?’

The key, then, is to think of your strengths and apply them to the job description and person specification for the role. In addition, be sure to give examples from a work setting, identify the benefit to the recruiter and prepare to be probed further on your answer.

If this is a sticking point, first, ask a colleague, manager or friend what they think your strengths are. Second, dig deeper on why they think that and ask what examples they can provide to support it.

Example answer for job interview questions about strengths

‘I’m good at working out and establishing systems for making operations run smoother. For example, in my current role a lot of customer information we getting lost when we took in repairs. This meant we spent a lot of time looking for information. Repairs didn’t get done and everyone, including customers, got frustrated. I have created a simple check sheet that accompanied repairs and now it’s not a problem. As a result, customers are happy, staff are happy, and we have more time to spend on revenue generating activities rather than firefighting. Your job advertisement says you are looking for someone who can help improve operations. This is a strength which I enjoy.’

Good questioners will ask for more detail about your analysis of the need. The interviewer may ask what sort of revenue generating activities you spent more time on. Prepare.

Answer honestly, don’t brag or be over humble (or humble brag!), just self-aware. As with all interview questions, practise them so the job interview isn’t the first time you give it some thought.

Tip: Don’t over prepare one answer and have nothing else. If you provide a great answer describing your strengths, and interviewer asks if you have any others, you don’t want to say ‘no’. Build on the original answer. For instance, if your strength is organising events, a secondary strength might be getting suppliers and volunteers to go the extra mile so the event comes in on time and budget.

Now you can describe your strengths in a job interview, just do it!