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When appearing for interviews you should be ready to answer the questions like- "Tell me about yourself" or "What are your weaknesses" or "Where do you see yourself in 5 years". In addition to these questions, there is one more question lot of candidates doesn't exactly know how to answer correctly and that is- What are your strengths. This question seems to be very simple or to some candidates may seem unnecessary or innocuous but it is quite important for you to know how to answer this question.

In my personal opinion answering this question is an opportunity to sell your candidature and consequently, grab the job. What are the different ways in which this question can be asked? There are different ways an interviewer may ask this question. You may sometimes not be asked this question directly and therefore, it is important to know when does the interviewer want to know your strengths:

Tell me your strengths; or

Why should we hire you; or

Why are you the best person for this job; or

What makes you a good fit for this job.

By asking the above question, the interviewer is basically trying to ask the same thing, albeit in a different way. You should be quite attentive in the interview and the moment you hear any of the above questions, be ready to answer in the most perfect way.

Before I tell you the strategy to answer this question, it is important to understand why do interviewers ask this question. If you analyse from the HR manager's perspective, he/she interviews more than 50-100 candidates for any particular job. And after meeting so many candidates it is quite difficult to take a decision simply on the skills of the candidates because most of them would have the desired skills written on the CV. What the he/she perhaps wouldn't have on the CV is following:

Do you have strengths which align with the company's needs; or

Can you really do this job and perform like a champion; or  

Do you have any quality or strength which stands you out from others; or

Can you make a good addition to the existing team? And therefore, by asking the question "tell me about your strengths", he/she is basically trying to assess whether you have the above-mentioned necessary skills and attributes.

By now you would have come to know that this question requires you to tell positive things about yourself, things which might interest the interviewer to look for quality attributes and therefore, identify whether you are the right person for that job. Whilst you know you have to answer right things about yourself, a lot of times we may not be able to articulate the answer to this question well.

That's because the majority of us, especially who are slightly introverts, feel shy telling good things about themselves. And consequently you may completely sabotage your chances to land your dream job. Here are some of the mistakes I have experienced while interviewing the candidates, which I feel should be avoided: Choosing weak strengths

Lot of people has the habit of using adjectives like dedicated, hard working, punctual, etc and the interviewer would have heard about them from almost all the candidates. During the later part of this article you will learn how to use these terms properly and narrate them as a story rather than just mentioning them. Being Modest In my personal opinion, majority of the students pursuing chartered accountancy are introverts or I would say people who do not get enough opportunity to speak and therefore, are not comfortable talking a lot either on different subjects or even about themselves. And therefore, if someone asks them their strengths, they are very modest answering that question. In order to get your dream job it is important to get over your shyness and get over the hesitation to answer good things about yourself. Lack of self awareness. What I experience whilst I take interviews is that candidates are not well prepared when they come for interviews.

They don't spend time analyzing on their strengths and which of them would be relevant for the job. Understand the job requirements and then try to link your strengths that are relevant for that job. By doing this, you will increase your chances to perform better in the interview. Now that you know what are the reasons for asking this question and where do you generally go wrong, I have mentioned below some of the key points you should keep in mind whilst preparing for this question.

1. Quality over Quantity- Be specific and be relevant Please don't start answering this question with a long list of adjectives such as I am a hard working person, I am very polite, I am very sincere, I am very passionate, I am a team worker, I am a friendly person and get along with other people well etc.

These are very commonly used sentences whilst answering this question. There is no harm in using these sentences to answer your strengths but then bragging about it for a long time in the interview without actually making any sense is of no use. You need to cut down using these buzzwords and focus on answering just a few of your real qualities.

Ã…lign your strengths with the requirements of the job and accordingly, sell your fitment. Does the job require client interaction? Communication and relationship building skills make sense.

Does the job require attention to details? Research skills might be important. If the industry is fast paced, like a consulting firm then your ability to adapt fast to changes and multitask might be relevant. It is quite critical to assess the requirements of the job, requirements of that industry and then listing your strengths that are relevant for that job or that industry.

You wouldn't want to talk about a strength that is not required in that job.

2. Brainstorm Before appearing for the interview, sit down and take a piece of paper to write down the requirements of the job and against it write your strengths that will make you the right fit. STOP being modest about yourself and just start to brag on your skills on that piece of paper. List down everything that comes to your mind and delete the irrelevant later. There can be enough strength that could be relevant for interviews:

(a) Education/training -“ which firm did you do your articleship from or in how many attempts did you clear your exams etc;

(b) Talents-“ there can be lot of talents which might interest the HR person such as ability to sell, or ability to do quick research, organizing events, social media capabilities etc;

(c) Experience- Your experience in handling similar job could be your biggest strength. For fresh and young chartered accountants, the experience in articleship would matter;

(d) Soft skills- One of the biggest strength is your ability to communicate well and articulate your thoughts. Companies want candidates who are good in communication and can interact smartly with their peers.

3. Prepare Examples- Back up your strengths with stories I am a very strong believer of creating story around your candidature and selling it vehemently to the interviewer, albeit without overselling. Write down examples of your experience in real life that highlight your strengths. It will be much easier for you to narrate your own story and at the same time capture all the strengths necessary for you to get the job. If you think from HR manager’s perspective, he/she would want to have some evidence of your strengths and what better than to build real life examples out of your life and craft them in a story.

BELIEVE ME, this really works and works well. For example: I believe my greatest strength is the ability to research on variety of topics including taxation. In one of my previous assignments we were required to provide an opinion on applicability of service tax on trading activity. I did research not only on the CBEC website, but also on other relevant websites such as www.taxindiaonline.com and www.taxsutra.com and got answers to our questions. This resulted in the client getting a comprehensive answer to his question.

4. A good way to manoeuvre the interview Believe me, if the HR manager asks you this question you should be extremely happy. Because, this is the chance for you to show off your skills that are actually important and perhaps you may not have got the chance to narrate during the interview. If asked this question, JUST GO FOR IT. Tell him/her how you have those killer abilities to justify your fitment for the job and why they should hire only you and not anyone else. If this question is asked towards the end of the interview, you have an opportunity to make your final pitch to the HR manager.

If you have done research on the company and know about their values and vision, then it might be a good opportunity for you to tell them how your own values align with them (if they actually do) and how you can be a great asset in achieving those values to the best. Though, there is no one answer to let you know the best way to answer this question, I believe with proper preparation you can do well. If you don't know what your strengths are then go and ask your friends or colleagues or relatives and ask them to help you with this question. Dig out your feedback sessions in your previous employment and take clues from it. I am sure you would find them with ease.

All the best and wishing you green lights

Authored by Nimish Goel (www.nimishgoel.com), a qualified chartered accountant who's passion is to coach young chartered accountants and aspiring students achieve the best in their life. Nimish used to work with EY and PwC in India and has also worked with KPMG in Europe. He now runs his own consulting company and runs a blog www.nimishgoel.com. He can be reached for any queries and issues on his blog.


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Nimish Goel
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