When you're in a job interview and a hiring manager asks you about your strongest attributes, she's just doled out a variation on one of the most common job interview questions out there: What are your strengths and weaknesses? When this question is laid on the table, you really have no excuse for being unprepared. Almost all career advice ever doled out by helpful career services advisors -- or your all-knowing mother -- has involved preparing for this classic question. The funny thing is, there's no one way to answer; it all depends on the needs and desires of the employer.
Research the Job
The first step in knowing how to respond to interview questions is knowing the interviewer and the needs of the employer. How do you do that? Research the employer. The job posting will be a helpful resource for finding out what the employer is looking for in terms of education and job skills, but it might also include descriptive words such as "resourceful," "dependable," or "team player," which will give you a clue about the ideal candidate. Underline those words and then think about the ones that apply to you. Also do some research into the company culture via the Internet, news articles or word-of-mouth from employees, which can further help you formulate an idea of what the employer wants.
If there were adjectives in the job posting that you'd use to describe yourself, you should definitely mention them among your strongest attributes -- so long as those attributes are actually true for you. The bottom line here: Be honest when you answer this question. If the employer wants someone with leadership skills and you'd consider yourself a leader, say so. If, on the other hand, you're not a leader and you say that you are, you could be setting yourself up for failure later on. If the job posting doesn't give you any clue as to how to answer that question, create a list of some of your strengths, and then try to imagine which ones the employer will appreciate. For example, if you're a natural-born leader and you're applying for a manager position, it's probably a good bet to mention that you're a strong leader.
Tell a Story
Spewing out a list of your strongest attributes is probably not the best way to answer this question. Instead, give the employer some context. Hiring managers like to hear about how you've behaved in certain situations in the past; it gives them an idea about how you'll behave in the future. Instead of simply saying that "organization" is your strongest attribute, tell a story. For example, tell the hiring manager how you organized your former employer's filing system and saved the company money. If you're good at marketing, tell the hiring manager how your last marketing campaign increased sales.
Assess Your Strengths
If you've been in the work world for a while, you probably have a good idea of what you're good at and what you're not. If you need some help, take some steps to assess your strengths. Ask your college professors, colleagues or friends to describe your top three strengths. Also consider doing some online skills assessments, which can help you discover all sorts of information about your personality and skills. That will also help you prepare for another inevitable interview question: What are your weaknesses?
Nicole Vulcan has been a journalist since 1997, covering parenting and fitness for The Oregonian, careers for CareerAddict, and travel, gardening and fitness for Black Hills Woman and other publications. Vulcan holds a Bachelor of Arts in English and journalism from the University of Minnesota. She's also a lifelong athlete and is pursuing certification as a personal trainer.