Anyone who has ever had a job interview has likely been asked about their strengths. Whether it’s the straightforward “Tell us about your strengths” or a more behavioral-based question like “Talk about a time when you had to use your strengths,” employers are interested in candidates who are talented and capable in specific areas. However, employers are also interested in learning about your strengths even before you come in for an interview. By incorporating them into your resume, you’re able to show a potential employer what you bring to the table and why you are the best fit for the position. As you write your resume, include your most relevant strengths, as well as those that employers most look for in new hires. You’re likely to still be asked about your strengths during the interview, but by including them in your resume, you can reference specifics and reiterate what makes you the best candidate for the job.
What Makes Something a Strength?
Most of us think of strengths as something that we are good at, but that’s only part of the story. All too often, job seekers confuse their strengths with skills; they are experts in a specific computer coding language, for example. While that might be a strength in terms of a particular job, interviewers often ask about strengths and pay close attention to the strengths on a resume because they want to know the specific personality and character traits that make you a good fit for the job. In many cases, the majority of applicants have the same skills and qualifications as you, so it’s important that you highlight what sets you apart. For example, did you revamp a process that saved a former employer a significant amount of money? That indicates strengths in organization and analytics.
This isn’t to say that your skills can’t be strengths – after all, not everyone is a whiz with an Excel file or can write compelling copy in no time flat – but when you are highlighting your strengths, think the overarching qualities and value that you can bring to the job, and how your skills fit into them.
Examples of Strengths: Organization
The first strength that many employers value is organization. When you think of someone who is disorganized, what comes to mind? Probably someone who is often late, misses deadlines, can never find anything they need or forgets about important details. Working with someone like that is frustrating at best and detrimental to the company at worst. That’s why employers look for individuals who are organized, as they not only tend to get work done, but they are also efficient and valuable members of the team.
It’s important to recognize that being organized means more than having a tidy desk and a to-do list. Sometimes people who appear disorganized on the outside are quite pulled together. Organizational skills can refer to various types of skills, including time management, managing teams, scheduling and planning, and coordinating resources. For example, did you coordinate a fundraiser that involved recruiting volunteers, delegating tasks, securing donations and overseeing the actual event? That indicates multiple types of organizational skills and reveals a strength in this area.
Examples of Strengths: Collaboration
Rarely will you find a job that is completely autonomous. It’s more likely that you’re going to be working as part of a team, and employers want to know that collaboration is a strength. Even if you prefer to work independently, your resume should reveal that you have some skills in this realm. Employers are going to want to see evidence that you have successfully worked as part of a team and are capable of collaborating effectively. Highlighting your experience in team environments, especially skills like consensus building, conflict management, motivation and problem-solving shows employers that you are a team player and that you will be a valuable contributor.
Examples of Strengths: Communication
Communication is another highly sought-after strength among employers. Your ability to communicate both in writing and orally can be a determining factor in your overall career success. In almost any role, you are expected to communicate both internally and externally, and how well you express yourself is a reflection not only of your abilities but also of the organization.
Your resume and cover letter themselves are the earliest indicators of your communication skills, and how you present your skills, experience and interest in the job may make the difference between getting an interview or not. Your application materials also indicate your attention to detail and grammatical and spelling abilities, underscoring the need for them to be perfect. You also want to highlight your communication skills in your application to show your strengths, though. Some of the experience and skills that reveal this strength include writing (have you contributed to school or company blogs or other publications? Developed killer proposals?), presentations (note that you presented at a conference or that you’ve taken public speaking training), teaching and training (be sure to mention your experience helping others learn) and listening. Listening is a key part of communication, and it’s just as important to show employers that you have great listening skills as it is to show you can talk and write.
It can be challenging to demonstrate this on a resume, but consider how you respond to the employer’s requirements for the job. Read between the lines and do your homework to determine what the employer is asking for and what their needs are. Tailor your resume to those needs to show that you are a good listener and can help the company meet its goals and overcome challenges.
Examples of Strengths: Analytics
Another sought-after strength among employers is analytics. Businesses want to hire individuals who can analyze information and think critically to make good decisions and solve problems more efficiently. Being a strong analytical thinker doesn’t necessarily mean that you need skills in data analysis or statistics, although demand for those skills is booming, but rather that you can efficiently and accurately process information and reach a conclusion. Showing familiarity with process-based decision-making or problem-solving theories and evidence that you’ve put them to work can help highlight this strength, but simply providing quantified examples of how your contributions have made a positive impact can also reveal your analytical strengths. Other skills and traits that can show your strength in this area include creative thinking, being solution-oriented and open-minded.
Examples of Strengths: Leadership
Even if you aren’t applying for a leadership role, employers want to hire individuals who are good leaders. Leadership isn’t just about telling people what to do and providing directions. Leadership is about relationship building, motivating and inspiring others, and providing a positive example to co-workers, just as much as it is about making plans and seeing them through. Being a good leader means being able to interact with other people, taking the initiative and going beyond the minimum expectations. An employment history with increasing levels of responsibility indicates your leadership strength as does highlighting specific leadership roles. Any specific training in leadership is also worth mentioning. Absent those specific leadership examples, though, highlighting accomplishments that demonstrate your communication, consensus building, conflict management, strategic planning and organizational skills also reveals a strength in leadership.
Examples of Strengths: Technical Proficiency
Almost every job requires some level of technical proficiency, even if you are doing simple clerical work. Employers expect new hires to be able to use basic word processing and spreadsheet software, presentation software and – depending on the job – database, graphics or bookkeeping software. Even if your particular technical skills aren’t part of the job description, highlighting your abilities to design websites, maximize social media, write code, or work within multiple operating systems shows employers that you have a technical aptitude. It demonstrates that you keep up with the latest trends and are willing to consistently grow and develop your skills, which is a strength that any employer appreciates.
Examples of Strengths: Character Strengths
While stressing that you are punctual and responsible isn’t necessarily going to wow an employer – they expect you to show up on time and do your work – highlighting some of your character strengths can help you get a callback. Employers want to hire people who are adaptable, persistent and resourceful and who get along well with others, so look for ways to reveal those traits through your accomplishments. Avoid “humble bragging,” or turning character flaws into strengths. Claiming that you always work later than everyone else doesn’t necessarily show your commitment to your work, but it could raise a red flag that you have trouble with time management and getting your work done during the day. However, if you are used to working in a fast-paced environment and switching gears with little-to-no notice, don’t hesitate to stress your adaptability.
Showing Your Strengths
One of the best ways to highlight your strengths is to use a functional style resume in which you highlight your skills and strengths first, before your work history. With this resume format, you draw attention to the "what" rather than the "where" or "when" of your work experience. This is especially useful when you have worked in a variety of fields or have limited work experience. You can also highlight strengths via a chronological resume by listing the most relevant experience and achievements, although this format is preferable if you have a defined career path and your experience is in line with the job you seek.
You might also consider incorporating a key strengths statement in your resume. Approach this as you would an elevator pitch to an executive about why they should hire you. Keep it short and sweet, no more than a few lines, and highlight the traits that differentiate you from others and make you the perfect candidate for the job. Be specific and offer an example or two of your skills and try to avoid generalizations. For example, you might include a statement like “A proven sales leader with a track record of meeting and exceeding sales goals. Known for delivering excellent customer service, effective communication and efficient problem-solving. Achieved sales leader status in four consecutive quarters and was selected to represent XYZ company and provide sales training at the most recent national industry organization conference.”
Regardless of the format you choose, incorporating strengths into your resume requires more than just telling employers that you are a great communicator or problem-solver. Without evidence to support your claim, you’re asking them to take your word for it, which isn’t a good job search strategy. Provide quantifiable and specific examples from your work history, incorporating words from the job description and aligning your achievements with the employer’s requirements. When you do, hiring managers get a clearer view of who you are and are more likely to call for an interview.