Selling your strengths at interview is probably the most important aspect of successful interviewing.
You need to set yourself apart from the other candidates, and to do this you should focus on your strengths and provide examples from your work history to back them up.
1) Know your strengths
Before you can sell yourself and help the recruiter understand why you are different from all the other candidates, you first need to know and understand your own strengths.
If you’re in the habit of thinking of your strengths as ‘competencies’ that’s fine, but your potential employer is likely going to be as interested in how you gained those competencies/skills and if you can do it again. They want people who can adapt and learn on the job.
That means as well as your competencies, you need to cover your soft skills at interview. Your soft skills are your work-based behaviours that define how you work, interact and learn.
Our soft skills tool identifies dozens of your natural soft skills and provides a summary that your recruitment agent can send along with your CV to help you stand out and to help you get hired. When it comes to interview, you should be ready to talk about your soft skills with evidence from your work-history to back them up.
You should aim to cover 2 or 3 of your strengths which would help you in the role for which you are applying. If you’re going for a job as a ‘flight controller’ don’t talk about your strengths as an entertainer, instead focus on any relevant strengths such as: patience, focus on quality/accuracy, good at taking control, good at making decisions, good at following rules and procedure, amongst many more that would be relevant for that role.
2) Think of the stories behind your strengths
Humans, by nature, love stories and in the interview situation telling stories and examples of how you have used your strengths in the past will help you get your message across.
Once you have your list of strengths, look back over your work history and remember and practice one or two stories which demonstrate you using each strength.
Think of examples from your most recent relevant role of how your soft skills and strengths helped you get the job done well.
3) Focus on the business impact you have had
When rehearsing describing your strengths at interview, you must focus on the business impact your story had with your previous employer. Make your story interesting, funny or whatever you like so long as the message at the end of it is clear: the business benefited
Here are some example business benefits your strengths might have helped achieve in previous roles:
- Helped make the business more money
- Helped save the business money
- Helped the business win more customers
- Helped make customers happier
- Helped train others
- Helped to save time for the business
- Helped the business to stand out in the marketplace
I’m sure there are others that you can think of but all of the above ultimately boil down to one of two business goals:
- Business makes more money
- Business spends less money
If you can put a monetary value on the business impact you have, all the better. It will speak loudly.
I am naturally creative and a fantastic problem solver – a good example of this is when I started working at Skyscanner and within a few weeks of joining had solved their ‘Browse view’ performance problem allowing them to stand out from the competition. This ultimately led to Skyscanner gaining investment and becoming a company worth millions.
Notice how I don’t waffle on too much – there is plenty room left here for the interviewer to ask more questions such as ‘What are browse views?’ and ‘How did you solve the browse view problem?’
By allowing them to ask you more questions and then you being prepared with comprehensive answers, in my opinion it at least doubles the impact of what you’ve just said.
Here’s another example:
I am a really good listener – an example of how this can help happened at my old company XYZ. I was invited to join the sales team when they were meeting a customer, and in the post-meeting talk I realised that the sales person had not picked up on a problem our customer was having. By highlighting this problem, we realised we were able to solve it and we not only made the customer very happy, we also produced a new product that went on to make over £100,000 in that first year.
You should start off with a statement, then tell your story that backs up your statement and finish with the impact you had.
If you think some of these are out of your league, here’s another example for a bartender:
I have great attention to detail and I really care about quality – a great example of this is when I was working at ABC hotel, performing bar-tending duties for them. I was naturally talented at spotting what needed to be done to keep the bar in spotless condition and our customers really noticed, so much so that we all started to get bigger tips and eventually the manager trusted me to take on more and more responsibilities. I believe the increase in clientèle and bar takings over the months and years was as a direct result of the bar being a more pleasant place to relax.
I’ve still mentioned money in the last one but not with an actual figure. The interviewer might doubt that you actually had a direct impact on revenue in this case, but it will be highly unlikely that they will doubt your attention to detail now that you’ve told this story.
If you have identified your top 3 or 4 strengths along with examples and stories that demonstrate you using these strengths to achieve business benefit then you have a good grasp of how to sell your strengths at interview.
Practice telling your stories with someone a few days before your interview and get them to probe/question your answers to ensure you can back up your claims.
About the author
David Hilditch is the founder and director of Improved Employees. He has a heavy technical background and has been involved with writing software for the recruitment and HR industry since 1999. You can contact him on +44 (0) 131 208 1118 or find him on LinkedIn.