Can you do the job? Strengths

There are only three questions in a job interview, getting at strengths, motivation, and fit.  See The Only Three Interview Questions, The New Leader's 100-Day Action Plan or the companion posts on motivation and fit.

Interviewing for Strengths

Interviewing for strengths is not a game. It's about figuring out if there is a match between the strengths required for success in the role and the candidate's strengths. Strengths are the key to how people get things done and have a big impact on people's ability to adjust to changes over time. If you accept that, then the advice for interviewers and interviewees are mirror images of each other.

Advice for Interviewers

Figure out what strengths you're looking for. Tell the interviewee what they are. Ask the interviewee for examples of behavior that evidences those strengths. (Using the Working Girl question to probe.)

Advice for Interviewees

Figure out what strengths the interviewer is looking for.  Give him or her examples of behavior that evidences those strengths. Follow this link for more on acing your answers to interview questions.

STAR Behavioral Interviews

When I interview someone, I generally follow the same script, telling people:

I'm going to do a behavioral interview.  I'm looking for evidence of strengths in what you've done in the past.  I'll tell you the strength I'm looking for and ask you for an example.  It's helpful if you use a STAR framework in your answer.

ST: Situation (Briefly – just enough to help me understand the context for your actions.)

A: Action (Elaborate here.  What you did.  Use the word "I.")

R: Result (Briefly – just enough to show me the value or impact of what you did.)

The questions aren't important. The answers are. So, if I ask a question that doesn't trigger a good example, let's skip that one and find another way to get examples of your strengths.

Strengths Definition

Gallup's Marcus Buckingham and Don Clifton provide an excellent definition of strengths in Now Discover Your Strengths (New York: Free Press, 2001).

Talent: Innate areas of potential strength (probably present at birth)

Knowledge:  Things people are aware of, facts and lessons learned (through courses, mentors, reading, etc.)

Skills: How to-s, or steps of an activity (generally acquired through deliberate practice)

With that in mind, as an interviewer, make sure you understand the driving talent behind an individual's strength, how they acquired their knowledge of the subject and what they've done to practice the skill.  Then you can be sure you've identified a real strength.

Follow this link for more on acing your answers to interview questions.

See Rich Boughram's review of his top 5 books for interview prep



  1. ruth says:

    I have a question on how best i would explain why i left my work?
    My reason was i was promoted and was never given a raise, so i ended up being the lowest paid, on return that really demotived me and finally i left.

  2. Amarjeet Roy says:

    Respected sir,
    I have inter view question. That is why  employer take a gap during the interview period he do any thing like a typing work ETC what he want to see employee

  3. Darcelle Davis says:

    I quiver whenever I Interview. I have difficulty describing my strenghts. How should I begin when asked to describe myself. I also have had a job where I was dismissed with the option to return, how do I describe the reason for the dismissal.

  4. Greg says:

    I have three traits that are bare minimum I look for a prospective employee. The traits I screen for are clearer and stronger indicators than these three.
    I developed them myself over a 35 year career and thousands upon thousands of interviews.

  5. shankar narayan says:

    NEVER NEVER GIVE UP, WAT U WANT..wat ever it may be .

  6. Pamela Gardner says:

    @ Greg:  What are your three strengths? 

  7. mel says:

    I lost my job Monday and the manager  plainly said " it won't work, I have to let you go." I know that companies in America had this "at will"right to lay off employess. But being the motivated, committed and loyal employee I was, i think i deserved to know the reason. Up to this time, I do not have any hint why the company had to let me go.  You were saying that a good employee should be proactive,etc,,,,and that descriptions fits me so well. I am still in awe until this time not knowing the real reason why i lost my job.


    Please what  is the best answer for a question like; what is your weekness and strength? Thank you.I hope get an answer soon.

  9. George Bradt says:

    You certainly need to know your strengths going in. And you need to know which areas you are relatively less strong in. For example, in my case, I’m a strong maximizer and not a very good developer. Which means I’m particularly good at helping strong performers do even better and have relatively little patience with below average performers.


    How do I discribe myself if I am asked- Tell us about yourself and why do we have to employ you.


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