Interview Tips: Strengths vs. Skills


Your resume says a lot about your career, but it doesn’t tell your whole story. The totality of what you can offer to a potential employer isn’t just a sum of places worked, tasks performed, and education received. It’s an interesting tale of strengths discovered, lessons learned, interests pursued, and plans hatched. This is the kind of narrative that can truly engage an interviewer, so it’s time to start putting it together

Many job applicants confuse strengths with skills. Skills are abilities that can be cultivated with a certain amount of training, such as facility with a software application. In most cases, these can be acquired. A training course will get you up to speed on the software program; if the company is sufficiently impressed with you, it will invest the time to get you up to speed.

Strengths, on the other hand, are your best personal attributes. Some you were born with and others you have cultivated during the course of your life experience. They’ll speak as strongly to your interviewer as any specific skills you bring to the table.

These traits can’t be acquired through training. That’s why interviewers tend to be more interested in candidates who have all the strengths needed to do the job well than those who bring mere skills—no matter how impressive—to the table. A skill might be something you’ll deploy on an as-needed basis. But your strengths will shine every day you report for work.

You might not be aware of your own strengths. Here are some exercises that will help you bring them to the fore:

• While looking over the job description, make a list of the personal strengths that will probably be required for this job. Is this a position that requires handling large sums of money? Then the right candidate will be someone who’s responsible, reliable, and ethical. If it’s a customer-care position, they’ll be looking for someone who is personable, patient, and empathetic. If it looks like you’ll be working with customers overseas, your comfort with other cultures is a definite bonus.

• For each of the necessary personal strengths for this position, think of an anecdote that illustrates your strength in this regard. Let’s say you can recall a time when you caught an oversight on the annual report, and from then on were entrusted with double-checking the financial numbers on all investor communications. That anecdote will help show you’re thorough and responsible enough to handle fiscal responsibilities. Maybe your thriftiness led you to track down a reliable small accounting firm in Virginia to handle an audit instead of going with that expensive Big Four firm that was later charged with fraudulent accounting methods.

 From the WetFeet Career Insider Guide: Ace Your Interview


  1. says

    Great post! A lot of job seekers mix up skills with strengths, but employers are looking for well-rounded candidates who bring innate strengths to the table. Understanding your own strengths isn’t as easy at it sounds, so think critically about your past work experience. In particular, think about the parts of your former jobs you’ve enjoyed the most. For instance, if you enjoyed working with customers this is probably because you have strong communication and people skills. Once you’ve identified what you like doing the most, come up with concrete examples of how you’ve excelled in these aspects to share with employers in the interview. Remember you can train for skills, but the strengths you bring to the table are unique.

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