How To Better Describe Your Strengths In An Interview

By Crystal Cory, CPDC Undergraduate Career Coach

Hardworking. Detail-oriented. Organized. Passionate. Over the years, I’ve heard students use these words to describe their strengths in practice interviews more times than I can count. (I did count once – and I had 26 separate students tell me that they were hardworking over the course of four weeks!) Why is it problematic that all of these students used the same four words to describe their strengths? It makes everyone sound the same!

Because I’ve heard these words used so frequently, I’ve taken time to reflect on why I’ve heard these words so much. I believe that these four words are what our U.S. society thinks a great worker should be. They should work really hard at their jobs, be super passionate about their work, and let no detail or deadline fall through the cracks. Inherently, these aren’t bad qualities to have. But by using the same words as everyone else, you are doing yourself a disservice.

The entire point of an interview is to make yourself stand out from the rest of the candidates in the pool and highlight what makes you a unique fit for the position. If you use the same words as the rest of the candidates to describe your strengths, you completely ruin your chances of standing out in the employers’ memory. But don’t worry, there is a way to dig deeper to help yourself stand out!

The first strategy you can use is to think about how you would personally define these very broad terms. Let’s take hardworking, for example. For one student, hardworking could mean that no matter the obstacle, they are going to get the job done. For another student, it could mean that they will keep trying until they reach their goals. What do you think of when you read these definitions? Sure, they both fall under the broad term of hardworking, but the first student could say instead that they are perseverant, while the second could say they are persistent. Completely different, right?

Another strategy you can use is to think about the reason you are the way you are. For example, I consider myself to be pretty organized. I keep to-do lists and color code things whenever I can. But upon further reflection, I realized that my organization allows me to be efficient in my work. I pride myself on getting tasks done quickly and effectively, and my ability to organize is just one strategy I use to do that. Saying that you are efficient (instead of organized) will help you stand out more in an interview.

While these common words aren’t inherently bad to use, you run the risk of sounding like all other candidates when you use them. Dig a little deeper and really reflect on what you uniquely bring to the table. If you’re struggling, Undergraduate Career Coaches and Graduate Career Coaches are at the ready to help you! Give yourself the best shot of standing out in an interview by reflecting on what makes you, you!