Using strengths to improve your job interviewing skills


interviewing with confidence


Interviewing can be nerve-racking, especially if you’ve been doing it for a while without any luck. You may be the perfect candidate, but if you can’t communicate that it doesn’t matter. We’re not used to talking about ourselves, much less talking about areas where we excel. Worse, it’s often difficult to find the words to express how we function in the world and work. We live our lives without running commentary. Then we’re suddenly expected to describe what we do well, what our roll is on a team, the kind of supervisor we want, how we handle conflict, etc. Even the most seasoned candidate can get anxious.

The good news is there’s a tool to help you describe yourself, what you’re good at, what you need, your role on a team, and more. Dr. Donald O. Clifton spent decades studying talent and human behavior. Together with Gallup, he created the CliftonStrengths (formerly StrengthsFinder 2.0) assessment to help people recognize, understand and talk about their unique talents and express how they interact with others.

When you take the CliftonStrengths assessment, you’ll receive a list of your top five strengths, or talent themes (a collection of similar talents). Dr. Clifton and his team identified over 250 different talents, which they bundled into 34 themes.

Note: Some talent theme names sound familiar, like Responsibility, Adaptability, or Communication, while others are more nuanced, like Activator, Relator, or WOO (Winning Others Over). As you come to understand your themes, you may need to explain them to others so the technical name might not always be the best option unless they also know about CliftonStrengths. 

So how do your talents become strengths? By investing in them! Once you take the assessment, read your Signature Themes Report. It will give you a summary of your talents and how they may show up for you every day. As you read, you’ll begin to get a better idea of how to communicate what you’re already doing. Your talents should seem familiar to you, but phrased in ways you’ve never thought of before.

For example, I’ve always known I'm creative but in CliftonStrengths it’s described as Ideation. My report states: “An idea is a concept, the best explanation of the most events. You are delighted when you discover beneath the complex surface an elegantly simple concept to explain why things are the way they are. An idea is a connection. Yours is the kind of mind that is always looking for connections, and so you are intrigued when seemingly disparate phenomena can be linked by an obscure connection.” So true! But before I took the assessment I wouldn't have been able to put that into words.

Once you know your top five strengths (aka themes, or talents), then what? Then look at what you do, what you’ve done, and what you can offer through that lens. Think about what you’ve accomplished – maybe a project, a well-running staff, a well-researched report, etc. How did your success stem from your strengths? Write a list – ask current and ex-co-workers to help you remember things that have slipped your memory. Watch for patterns. When people ask you your strengths, mention your top five strengths.

Ahh, but what about weaknesses? Same thing. Think back and write down times that didn’t go well for you. Now look at your Top 5. Surprisingly, the things that usually get in our way are not talents that we lack, rather our weaknesses are usually a misapplication or overuse of one of our dominant strengths.

Back to my ideation strength. I love doing things in new, inventive ways. In fact, doing the same thing repeatedly bores me to death. I remember challenging my staff in higher education, to come up with NEW ways to talk about things like dating violence or study skills. I'd get frustrated if they only suggested minor changes. Finally, I realized that while I thought new and different is always better, others are fine with the same thing. Once I realized that, I could better navigate working with my staff and I saved my Ideation strength for special occasions and new initiatives.

Knowing and understanding your talents can prepare you to answer interview questions. If asked about your role in a group, think about how your talents play out when you work with others. If asked what you want in a supervisor/co-workers/team, think about how you work best with your current team. The more you understand yourself and how you operate in the world the better you’ll be to answer any question they ask. 

Each person will have different answers based on their Top 5. Because of my Ideation strength, if an interviewer asks, "What role do you typically play on a team?", I might answer, “I love finding new ways to solve problems, so I’m the one listening to everyone’s ideas, looking at them from different angles, and then connecting their ideas into an innovative solution.” Doesn’t that sound more dynamic than, “I’m the creative one on the team?” Keep in mind I have other strengths that would add dimension to my answer, but you get the idea.

Here’s a more tips to help you maximize using your strengths in an interview:

  • Be yourself. Saying what you think they want to hear leads to canned answers and even if you get the job, it may be a terrible fit. Be true to who you are and what you do best. It won’t do you any good to get a job doing things you hate or that doesn't highlight your talent set.
  • Understand your top 5 strengths. Memorizing key phrases won't help interviewers understand who YOU really are. Know what your Top 5 mean to you. If you have Responsibility in your Top 5, give them clear examples of how you've personified responsibility. There’s plenty of people who say they’re responsible. What sets you apart from them?
  • Don’t just repeat your Top 5. CliftonStrengths has rich language to help you describe yourself. Don’t just repeat that you’re Strategic or a Relator. People may not know what these terms mean. Find at least three different ways to describe each of your talents so you don’t sound like a boring, broken record.
  • Focus on experiences. Write down your experiences – positive and negative – to see how your strengths play out. Hypothetical questions like, "What would you do in X situation," are fairly meaningless. ALWAYS refer to how you’ve handled a similar situation. What you WOULD do means little, but what you HAVE done lets the interviewer picture you in the role.
  • Invest in your talents. Utilize the many resources Gallup has online. Find a Strengths Coach. A good coach can help you better understand and own your talents and develop them into consistent strengths.

In conclusion, use your strengths to improve your interviewing skills! 



Guest post by Anne Brackett.

Anne Brackett is the Chief Engagement Officer at StrengthsUniversity (strengthsuniversity.org/)

She is a Gallup Certified Strengths Coach and Engagement Champion. Her Top 5 Strengths are Ideation, Context, Adaptability, Input, and Strategy.

Complete this form to express interest in her services.  
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