Daily English
Cultural English
Practical English

5 What are your strengths?

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SUMMARY OF TIPS:

Your Goal: To show how your strengths match the needs of the job

! Know your strengths in three categories:
" Knowledge-based skills – These are skills developed through education and experience, such as computer skills, university degrees, languages you speak, and technical ability.
" Transferable Skills – These are skills that you can take from one job to another, such as being able to manage people well, being good at solving complex problems, being good at planning, and being a good communicator.
" Personal Traits – These are qualities about you are a person, such as being dependable, being hard working, being flexible, and being outgoing.
! Review with the interviewer your strengths, which are already noted in your resume and cover letter.
! Give specific evidence or examples of how your strengths have helped you in the past.

Sample Answer 1:

As you can see from my resume, I’ve taken advantage of every opportunity to complete training to develop technical knowledge in this field. Now I’m
considered an expert in the technologies that my current company is working on. Last year, when the company decided to expand in this area, the management selected me to head the new project.

To head this team effectively, I used my planning skills to make sure that the team was on task and on time, at all times. My management skills came in
handy to get the most out of each person on the team. For instance, two of the team members came from competing departments. I work with both of them
closely and entrusted them with the most important part of the project. This way, I was able to develop trust between these two team members. This resulted in producing excellent work, while forming one of the most sought-after partnerships in the company.

Because this was a new initiative, the nature of the job changed as the project developed. Another one of my strengths is that I’m flexible and I’m able to
handle change in the company or in my job responsibilities. When I started on this project, we had four team members. By the end, we had 16. That means
that I needed to go from working one-on-one with each team member to having to delegate responsibility as the project grew. This was possible because of the trust I had built up within the team and my ability to shift gears when the project changed over time.

Sample Answer 2:

One of my biggest strengths is my communication skills. In my current job, I work with people from all over the world and many different backgrounds. I’m
able to understand that everyone has different perspectives about projects and work tasks.

One of our most recent hires comes from a developing country. It’s very tempting when talking about the latest technological developments to dismiss or at least ignore her perspective. However, as the head of the department, it was clear to me that this new employee brought a fresh perspective on why we
needed to consider different options when deciding on the type of technology to adopt. Through hard work and determination, I was able to get the rest of the department to make important changes that moved us in the same direction as the project.

I was fortunate that I was able to develop these analytical skills when I was an undergraduate student at McQuillan University. The program I was in used case-based teaching so that we worked on solving real-life problems under real-life conditions. I graduated at the top of my class, and now, I make use of the skills I learned there everyday.


Other strengths:

! I have a positive attitude.

! I’m dependable and punctual.

! I’m able to prioritize.

! I believe in myself and have self-confidence.

! I’m able to handle failures and learn from my mistakes.

! I’m a team player.

! I have good interpersonal skills.

GLOSSARY

to take advantage of (something) – to use an opportunity as much as possible to one’s benefit
* Carlotta took advantage of the company’s free computer classes to train as a website designer.

planning skills – ability to plan; ability to make arrangements for events or projects in an organized way
* A wedding coordinator must have good planning skills to manage all of the small details for a successful event.

management skills – ability to manage; ability to control and guide a business, project, or team
* Thanks to his strong management skills, Jorge was able to save the project from failure.

to get the most – to get as much as possible; to get the maximum
* I think Michael got the most out of his study-abroad experience because he tried very hard to learn the language and to spend time with his host family.

sought-after – desired; wanted; something that others would like to have
* After many years of trying, he was finally able to get a bottle of the most sought-after wine from France.

to delegate – to give responsibility to someone else; to give someone else responsibility for something
* One person couldn’t do everything, so Yvonne delegated the sales calls to Roger and the billing to Nora.

to shift gears – to quickly and smoothly move from doing one thing to doing another
* They thought the investor wanted to hear about the company’s history, but when they realized that he wanted to hear about their current projects, they
shifted gears and changed their presentation.

communication skills – ability to communicate; ability to write, speak, and present ideas clearly
* He is brilliant but his communication skills are horrible, so it is difficult for him to share his ideas with others.

hard work – strong physical or mental effort needed to do something
* Moving to a new house is hard work! It’s difficult to pack boxes and carry furniture all day.

determination – a mental decision to continue to do something that is difficult or frustrating
* We were amazed by the little boy’s determination to learn how to ride a bicycle. Even though he fell off of the bike over and over again, he never stopped trying.

analytical skills – ability to analyze something; ability to examine and understand something
* A financial analyst uses his or her analytical skills to understand a company’s past performance and likely future performance.

top of (one’s) class – the highest-ranking graduate of a school or program; the graduating student with the best grades
* Tracy received all A’s in high school and graduated at the top of her class. Naturally, she was accepted at several very good universities.

attitude – outlook; approach to life; the way that one thinks, feels, and behaves toward something else
* I don’t like spending time with Gina because her negative attitude about everything always makes me feel depressed.

punctual – on time; not late
* Why can’t you be more punctual? I have been waiting here for you for more than 40 minutes!

to prioritize – to put things in order of importance; to identify which things are more important than others
* Roland always prioritizes his wife and children over his work. He never works late at night because he wants to eat dinner with his family.

self-confidence – a belief in one’s own ability to succeed
* When I was at the school meeting, parents were told to praise their children to increase their self-confidence by saying, “Great work!” and “You’re a really good soccer player!”

team player – someone who works well with a group of people; someone good at sharing responsibility and work with others
* Tara is a good team player. She always supports the other people in her team and is willing to do extra work when needed.

interpersonal skills – ability to work well with other people; ability to interact well with other people
* Doctors need to have good interpersonal skills because it’s important that their patients feel comfortable talking to them.

COMPLETE TRANSCRIPT

ESLPod.com presents "Interview Questions Answered," episode five.

Hello, I'm your host, Dr. Jeff McQuillan, coming to you from the Center for Educational Development in beautiful Los Angeles, California.

This series is designed to teach you the English you need to know to have a successful interview. We'll first listen to some tips on how to answer the
question, and then we'll listen to and explain two sample answers for the question.

Our question in this episode is: "What are your strengths?" Let's begin by talking about some tips that will help you answer this question. Once again, this is a very typical question in a business interview, especially for a US business. They are going to ask you to tell them what your strengths are - what are some good things that you have.

Your goal, in answering the question, it is to try to emphasize strengths that you think are important for this particular job. So, you want to show that the good things that you have are matching the needs the company.

There are three kinds of strengths that you can talk about in this answer. One is what we would call knowledge-based skills, or specific skills that you've learned either in school or by working, through experience. This could include things such as computer skills, a university degree, being able to speak different languages, having some technical ability. This is all knowledge that you got from somewhere and that may be useful for this job for this new company.

A second kind of skills is more general, is what we would call transferable skills. Transferable comes from the word transfer, to move or to change from one
situation to another. Transferable skills are skills that you can take with you to different jobs, things such as being able to manage people well, being a good
leader - that's not something you study, but that is a skill that you can use in many different kinds of jobs - being able to solve difficult problems, perhaps
being good at planning projects, being a good communicator - someone who can communicate or tell someone their ideas in a clear manner. All of these are what we would call transferable skills.

A third kind of strength you could have are personal strengths, or personal traits. A trait, "trait," is a characteristic - a quality of someone. Personal traits are
qualities about you, as a person. For example, you are dependable and reliable; if you say you're going to do something, you always do it. That's a personal trait. It isn't a skill, like learning how to program a computer or managing people in your job, it's something about you. But, it is important to be a good employee; it is an important skill to be a good employee. Another personal trait might be being flexible or being outgoing - someone who's an extrovert, who likes to talk to other people. These are all personal qualities. You have to think about all three of these areas: your knowledge-based skills, transferable skills and personal traits in thinking about how to answer this question.

A couple of other things that you want to do in this answer: one is to review, or go over again, some of your strengths that may be already in your resume and in your cover letter. A cover letter is a letter that you write to a company to say that you want to apply for a job. Your resume, of course, is a list of your experiences, your education and so forth. Even though you've mentioned things in your resume or in your cover letter, this is a good time to remind the interviewer or tell the interviewer about those strengths.

Finally, you want to be able to give specific evidence or examples of how these strengths that you are talking about have helped you in your job in the past. So, you don't want to say just "I'm dependable. I'm reliable," you want to say, "I'm reliable, for example," and then give an example of how that has helped you in your jobs in the past.

Let's take a listen to a sample answer. First, we'll listen at a slow speed, followed by an explanation of this answer. Here we go.

[Start of sample answer]

As you can see from my resume, I’ve taken advantage of every opportunity to complete training to develop technical knowledge in this field. Now I’m considered an expert in the technologies that my current company is working on. Last year, when the company decided to expand in this area, the management selected me to head the new project.

To head this team effectively, I used my planning skills to make sure that the team was on task and on time, at all times. My management skills came in handy to get the most out of each person on the team. For instance, two of the team members came from competing departments. I worked with both of them closely and entrusted them with the most important part of the project. This way, I was able to develop trust between these two team members. This resulted in producing excellent work, while forming one of the most sought-after partnerships in the company.

Because this was a new initiative, the nature of the job changed as the project developed. Another one of my strengths is that I’m flexible and I’m able to handle change in the company or in my job responsibilities. When I started on this project, we had four team members. By the end, we had 16. That means that I needed to go from working one-on-one with each team member to having to delegate responsibility as the project grew. This was possible because of the trust I had built up within the team and my ability to shift gears when the project changed over time.

[End of sample answer]

Our first sample answer begins by the person saying, "As you can see from my resume," meaning if you look at what I have given you already, my list of qualifications, you can see that "I’ve taken advantage of every opportunity to complete training to develop technical knowledge in the field." She begins her answer by talking about her knowledge-based skills - the things that she has learned - that she has received training on, technical things she says she has "taking advantage of." To take advantage of something means to use an opportunity as much as possible - to get the maximum amount from an opportunity. In this case, the opportunity was to help her learn more about this particular type of job.

She says, "Now I’m considered an expert in the technologies that my current company is working on." She has special knowledge - special expertise for her job. Then she gives an example of how she has used this knowledge in her current job. She says, "Last year, when the company decided to expand in this area, the management selected me to head," or to lead, "the new project." So, she has knowledge and she's used it in her job.

Then she goes on talk about some of her transferable skills, general skills that a good employee could use in a number of different jobs - in many different jobs. She says, "To head this team," or to lead this team, "effectively, I used my planning skills to make sure that the team was on task and on time, at all times." Planning skills are the ability to plan - to organize something. This is a transferable skill; you can say, "I have good planning skills" - I'm able to plan
something.

She gave a specific example of how she used this skill in her job. She says she it's to keep her team - the group of people she was working with - "on task and on time." To be on task, "task," means to be doing what you are supposed to be doing. So, you'd be doing your job, not to listening to podcasts, but to do what the company pays you to do. So, remember that! On time means you are doing it before the deadline, during the time or by the time that you are supposed to have it completed.

She goes on to say that "My management skills came in handy to get the most out of each person on the team." Management skills are another kind of transferable skill that, in this case, means the ability to lead people - the ability to manage, the ability to organize and control and guide a team of people. She says they "came in handy," that's a expression which means they were convenient - they were useful to me, to come in handy, "handy." These "skills came in handy to get most out of each person." To get the most out of someone or something means to get the maximum benefit - to get as much as possible of something from someone or from a situation.

"For instance," and again, she gives a specific example, "two of the team members came from competing departments. I worked with both of them closely and entrusted them with the most important part of the project." So, she worked with these two people; she worked with them closely, meaning she worked with them very carefully over a long period of time - she was next to them or in communication with them for a lot of time - and she "entrusted them," meaning she gave them the responsibility for "the most important part of the project. This way," she says, "I was able to develop trust between these two team members." US companies are looking for people, often that can work together in a team and so this example is a very good one because she shows how she was able to help people work together in a team - she helped "develop trust." When you trust someone, you are confident in them - you believe them.

"This resulted," she says, "in producing excellent work, while forming one of the most sought-after partnerships in the company." When we say something is sought-after, "sought-after," we mean that it is very desirable - many people want it; it's something that other people want to have. The word sought is from the words seek, "seek," which means to look for or to search for something. Sought is the past participle of that verb, as well as the past tense of the verb.

The interviewee - the person being interviewed - continues by saying that "Because this was a new initiative," because what she is working on was something new for the company, "the nature of the job changed as the project developed." The nature of the job is what the job required - what you were supposed to do for the job.

The reason she mentions this is because she's going to now talk about another one of her strength; this time she's going to talk about a personal trait. She says, "Another one of my strengths is that I’m flexible and I’m able to handle change in the company or in my job responsibilities." To be flexible, you know, means to be able to adapt - to change yourself to a new situation. She's saying that she's flexible, and because of that - that personal trait - she's "able to handle," or take care of, "change in the company." It doesn't bother her. It doesn't create a problem for her; she's able to handle the change.

She said when they "started working on the project," they "had four team members" - four people working - "By the end," the project had 16 people. "That means," she says, that she "needed to go from working one-on-one with each team member" - individually - one-on-one - "to having to delegate responsibility as the project grew." To delegate, "delegate," means to give responsibility to someone else - to give someone else something to do. Because the team got so big, she had to, as the leader, "delegate responsibility." That "was possible," she says, "was possible because of the trust I had built up within the team." The trust that she built up means the trust that she developed - that she encouraged among the people on her team.

She also says that her "ability to shift gears when the project changed over time" also helped her. The expression to shift, "shift," gears, "gears," means to be able to change what you are doing, usually to change quickly and do something different. Maybe the project requires something different that you didn't expect; you need to change gears and do it differently - do something in a different way. This is a expression that, again, emphasizes her flexibility, one of her personal traits.

So, she gives knowledge, skills, transferable skills and personal traits, and examples of how all those strengths - those positive things - helped her in her job.

Now let's listen to this answer, this time at a normal speed.

[Start of sample answer]

As you can see from my resume, I’ve taken advantage of every opportunity to complete training to develop technical knowledge in this field. Now I’m

considered an expert in the technologies that my current company is working on. Last year, when the company decided to expand in this area, the management selected me to head the new project.

To head this team effectively, I used my planning skills to make sure that the team was on task and on time, at all times. My management skills came in handy to get the most out of each person on the team. For instance, two of the team members came from competing departments. I worked with both of them closely and entrusted them with the most important part of the project. This way, I was able to develop trust between these two team members. This resulted in producing excellent work, while forming one of the most sought-after partnerships in the company.

Because this was a new initiative, the nature of the job changed as the project developed. Another one of my strengths is that I’m flexible and I’m able to handle change in the company or in my job responsibilities. When I started on this project, we had four team members. By the end, we had 16. That means that I needed to go from working one-on-one with each team member to having to delegate responsibility as the project grew. This was possible because of the trust I had built up within the team and my ability to shift gears when the project changed over time.

[End of sample answer]

Now we'll listened to another sample answer, followed by an explanation.

[Start of sample answer]

One of my biggest strengths is my communication skills. In my current job, I work with people from all over the world and many different backgrounds. I’m able to understand that everyone has different perspectives about projects and work tasks.

One of our most recent hires comes from a developing country. It’s very tempting when talking about the latest technological developments to dismiss or at least ignore her perspective. However, as the head of the department, it was clear to me that this new employee brought a fresh perspective on why we needed to consider different options when deciding on the type of technology to adopt. Through hard work and determination, I was able to get the rest of the department to make important changes that moved us in the same direction as the project.

I was fortunate that I was able to develop these analytical skills when I was an undergraduate student at McQuillan University. The program I was in used case-based teaching so that we worked on solving real-life problems under real-life conditions. I graduated at the top of my class, and now, I make use of the skills I learned there everyday.

[End of sample answer]

The second sample answer focuses mostly on transferable skills and personal characteristics. This is a good strategy - a good thing to do - if you are applying for a job where you don't have a lot of technical experience in that particular job, but you have transferable skills and personal traits that you think would help in that position.

He begins his answer by saying that one of his "biggest strengths is" his "communication skills." Someone who has good communication skills is good at talking with other people, of getting his ideas, or her ideas, across - being able to tell or communicate things to different kinds of people. So, he mentions that this is one of his strengths, that he's able to understand people with different perspectives - different ideas.

Then he gives an example of this. He is a type of manager - he's the head of department at the company where he works. This department got a new hire, or a new person that was hired to work at that company, "from a developing country," meaning a country that may not have a very big economy, or a very
sophisticated or advanced economy. He says that it was "very tempting," or there was a possibility, that he would ignore the perspective or the ideas from
this new person - from this new hire.

Instead however, he says that he understood "that this new employee" would bring "a fresh perspective." When we say someone will bring a fresh perspective, or a fresh idea, we mean that they're new - they're unique - they're creative. So, part of his communications skills was to talk to this person and understand that they had some good things - some new ideas - they could
contribute.

He then mentions a couple of personal traits that helped him. He says, "Through hard work and determination, I was able to get the rest of the department to make important changes." Hard work is someone who is very serious about what they do, who make sure that they work a lot of hours or they work very

diligently - very seriously - on whatever it is that they are responsible for. So, hard work, or a lot of work, is one of his personal traits - it's something that he
can do.

Determination is another personal trait. Determination, "determination," means to make a decision to continue doing something, even if it's difficult, even if it causes you problems. These are personal characteristics which he used to help
change his department.

Finally, he says that he "was fortunate to be able to develop analytical skills when" he was a "student at McQuillan University," which of course, is one of the best universities in the United States. Analytical, "analytical," means the ability to analyze. Analytical come from analyze, meaning to examine - to understand something. This is, again, a transferable skill, although he talks about learning it at the University. He says, "The program" he "was in," that is the classes that he took that the University, use something called "case-based teaching," where they would work on real problems rather than just textbook problems.

He says that he "graduated at the top of" his "class, and now," he uses these skills - he makes use of them - in his everyday job. To graduate at the top of your class means to graduate as the best student - you were the best student in your school. Talking about your university performance is a kind of knowledge-based skill, and being at the top of the class, although it isn't a specific skill, shows that you have good training - you have good education.

Now let's listen to the answer again, this time read at a normal speed.

[Start of sample answer]

One of my biggest strengths is my communication skills. In my current job, I work with people from all over the world and many different backgrounds. I’m
able to understand that everyone has different perspectives about projects and work tasks.

One of our most recent hires comes from a developing country. It’s very tempting when talking about the latest technological developments to dismiss or at least ignore her perspective. However, as the head of the department, it was clear to me that this new employee brought a fresh perspective on why we needed to consider different options when deciding on the type of technology to adopt. Through hard work and determination, I was able to get the rest of the department to make important changes that moved us in the same direction as the project.

I was fortunate that I was able to develop these analytical skills when I was an undergraduate student at McQuillan University. The program I was in used case-based teaching so that we worked on solving real-life problems under real-life conditions. I graduated at the top of my class, and now, I make use of the skills I learned there everyday.

[End of sample answer]

That concludes "Interview Questions Answered," episode five.

This course has been a production of the Center for Educational Development, in beautiful Los Angeles, California. Visit our website at eslpod.com.

This course was produced by Dr. Jeff McQuillan and Dr. Lucy Tse. Copyright 2006.