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How to identify your key strengths - and present these successfully!

For us more seasoned career professionals, the idea that we’d be asked about our key strengths during an interview is, well… unsurprising.

I’d argue we’ve all faced questions such as;

“What makes you the ideal candidate for this job?”
“How do you set yourself apart from the competition?”
“In which ways would your strengths benefit this position?” etc…

However the question may be phrased, the core purpose always remains the same:- the interviewer wants to know if your strengths align with the companies needs, and whether you have the confidence and communicative capabilities to thrive within their team(s). That's it.

So when we hear that a candidate was unprepared to answer questions about their strengths in an authentic and compelling manner, that does surprise us; particularly knowing how likely it is these questions will be asked, and how central they can be to an application's success.

Typically the mistakes we hear about surround a lack of preparation, self-awareness and recognition for how individual strengths align with the vacancy being applied too.

Fortunately, these can all be overcome… once you understand how to correctly identify and present your most impressive qualities - in a non-robotic fashion.

In this article we’re walking through the SWOT method used by professionals to identify knowledge-based, transferable, and interpersonal strengths. Alongside this, we also suggest how once recognised, these skills can be presented in a way that’s factual but human.

Time to SWOT
(Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats)

As acronyms go SWOT has to be up there with the most widely used, given its ability to be applied to everything from sales training, to finance and HR. In this case, we’re tailoring SWOT to suit key-skill identification for interviews.

This isn’t an exercise in creating list after list of keywords and phrases to memorise. Actioned correctly, SWOT should enable you to take a deep and honest look at… you. Both as the professional careerist - and the person under the hood.

It’s important to recognise that in an interview scenario, you’re not the only one under pressure. The interviewer has been given the task of determining whether you are the correct person for the applied position, and as such, may be driven by their own fears of getting it wrong - and high expectations put on them from the business.

It is not unusual for us to hear of interviewers being blinkered by the specific requirements of a role, trying to replace a cog in the machine with the same but shinier; failing to recognise transferable skills in the process.

Just imagine how different the application and interview process could be if CV’s didn’t contain your work history… only your capabilities, personal traits and transferable strengths!

It is, however, unfair to paint all interviewers with this brush. There are scenarios in which an interviewer will ask questions that explore your abilities outside of the job spec, or that in some cases seem inapplicable to the applied for role in an effort to gain a full picture of an applicant. The key here is to recognise the interviewers ultimate intent.

With this in mind, when it comes to describing your strengths it’s vital you ensure;

  • You’ve tailored your responses to be uniquely applicable to the vacancy,
  • You’re not highlighting strengths that are irrelevant,
  • You’re succinct and to the point, and
  • You truly know your actual strengths and can passionately explain these.

The SWOT method asks that you step away from the day-to-day for a moment and take a more considered look at who you really are. Start by pausing your minds internal editor and asking honestly;

  • What are my selling points?
  • What does make me right for the company I’m applying too?
  • Why should they want to hire me?
  • Does my personality align with the businesses culture?
  • Ignoring previous work experience, who am I professionally?
  • What do I have experience in? - so not just a software platform you briefly touched for a week, but actual mastery and subject expertise.
  • Do I have other talents I’m not fully recognising?
  • Which soft skills am I most proficient at?
  • What am I proud of myself for achieving? - Leave modesty at the door for this step.

This process should be done in alignment with pre-interview research about the business you’re applying to - as you’ll need those insights first. Few things frustrate an interviewer more than a candidate who hasn’t read up on the company and the expectations of the job in advance.

Once you’ve finished a ‘no holds barred’ brainstorming exercise, start to sort and refine your answers until you’re left with only those that are relevant to the vacancy and would be most appealing to the interviewer; given what you know of the business. Try to be highly critical at this stage so as to find strengths that will make you stand out from other applicants.

Whilst in this article we are focusing on identifying strengths only, during a SWOT exercise the next action would be to rinse and repeat the above steps - looking truthfully at your weaknesses. Simply take questions asked during part one and reverse engineer them for equal comparison.

“Know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles” - The Art of War, Sun Tzu

Now Presenting… You

Part one complete - you’ve identified your true capabilities, reflected on your transferable and interpersonal skills and should be in ownership of a refined list of strengths that directly relates to comprehensive vacancy research.

The next step is presenting these strengths to an interviewer in a way that meets their hiring needs, sells you sufficiently and ensures a competitive advantage over other applicants…

When people are unsuccessful in presenting their capabilities it’s typically down;
  1. Lack of self-awareness - which should be no issue if you’ve completed part one.
  2. Poor communication - being overly humble or not providing confident, articulate answers.
  3. Irrelevance - highlighting strengths and abilities that have no correlation to the job/company.
  4. Poor choices - selecting skills to demonstrate that are forgettable or unimpressive.
  5. Preparation - not understanding the job/company having poorly researched in advance.

Our recommendation is to use the STAR method (yes more acronyms!).

Situation | Task | Action | Result

Situation > 
“A large project landed on my desk which if completed to plan, would have had a huge impact on financial returns from X, Y and Z.”

When answering a question about your capabilities, start by providing context. Set the scene - but remember this isn’t war and peace, remain factual and succinct.

Task >
“I was tasked with completing parts A-F of the project, responsible for delivering 1, 2 and 3 in collaboration with the John. Smith department.”

Be very clear about your precise role within the situation outlined. What was required of you? What responsibilities did you have? Who else was involved? etc. Think about precision and accuracy.

Action >
“I utilised my experience in X to complete A, B and C and in the process also found faults with 1 and 2 which I was able to correct.”

Outline the specific actions you took. This is the key area to highlight the core strength(s) you’re trying to demonstrate in this example, so consider how these can be applied attractively.

Result > 
“This resulted in me not only delivering the project but also improving it by fixing 1 and 2 - which in-turn increased the projects revenue return and allowed us to complete the project in a shorter timeframe”.

End with the big win. Results achieved purely because of the experience, knowledge and interpersonal skills you hold - and ensure this includes the wider-reaching benefit to the associated business.

This process enables you to accurately and effectively demonstrate the skills you have, how they could correlate with the job you’re applying to and ultimately - why you’d be a good hire for the business.

It also enables you to explain actions you may have taken to overcome potential weaknesses - for example, when explaining actions taken you may highlight the use of time management software to avoid overworking.

This last section is the O & T of SWOT > Identifying opportunities your strengths could be used to benefit the company and explaining how you minimise and/or avoid threats that cause weaknesses to occur.

As a final note for this article, we suggest taking the skills list written in part one, combining them with the job description - and creating STAR examples relative to your identified capabilities that meet each of the vacancies requirements.

This will help you overcome issues with self-awareness, will give you the confidence to present accurately, will save you from being irrelevant, will ensure only your best skills are recognised and will prevent you from being unprepared - no matter the questions you face.

For more articles like this, follow us on LinkedIn - or for support with interviews why not take a look at our 4-part interview guide!

Alternatively, contact us via, or call +44 (0) 1202 979 700 to speak with one of the team.
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