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When a recruiter asks "what are your top 3 strengths?" I have trouble interpreting the question. I don't believe something as nebulous as a persons strengths can be effectively ordered. A suggestion from a Google search is to pick any 3 skills they are looking for in the job description that I have. Is this a good strategy, to pick any 3?

For example in a small portion of a job posting it has

What you would bring:

• Proficient in web development using Drupal • Experience with basic server administration tools such as: Active Directory, Group Policies, Network Shares
• Experience with Windows Deployment Services and Linux Bash scripting
• Ability to work independently or as a team

So would I really just quote 3 of these points when answering the question? e.g. "my top 3 skills are Drupal, Linux Bash scripting and working independently and as part of a team"

One thing that confuses me is what type of granularity are they looking for. For example Drupal in general or something specific like creating device specific displays?

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  • Why not just ask them for clarification? "Are you asking for top three technical skills, or my top three soft skills?"
    – nick012000
    Feb 26 at 12:04

7 Answers 7

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They look generally more for transferrable skills, like "I can communicate really well" or "I can understand things on my own".

The type of skills you are talking about are usually discussed during the review of your resume and experience.

However, when you are asked this question, if you want, you can pull out this type of technical answers. Remember that interviews are bidirectional, if you give an answer out of the interviewer's expectations, they might clarify what type of answers they look for and let you answer again.

Also remember that companies look out for people who can fit their culture and resolve the particular type of needs they have, so you'd do well studying the company and trying to figure out which type of employee they need, then give answers that satisfy those requirements (always in the line of your actual skills, of course), for example, if the company is a consulting agency, you can include skills like communication, dealing with clients, etc.

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  • 1
    To piggyback, if you insist on technical skills, wrap them in soft skills: “I excel at documentation lookup, I learned and became my current company’s expert in Drupal’s documentation.” Feb 23 at 2:07
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A suggestion from a Google search is to pick any 3 skills they are looking for in the job description that I have. Is this a good strategy, to pick any 3?

That's a very good strategy.

Give them 3 skills you have that are both strong, and relevant for the job you are seeking.

One thing that confuses me is what type of granularity are they looking for. For example Drupal in general or something specific like creating device specific displays?

If creating device specific displays is an important part of the job you are seeking, and if it is one of your strengths, then this specificity makes sense.

Remember, anything you list as a "top strength" will likely generate some follow-up questions to probe the depth of your strength. Be prepared with strong answers.

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I think they are mostly looking for soft skills, so they could be looking for things like your ability to communicate, team-playing easiness, and tendency to delegate tasks to your team, showing you trust them.

You can also read more about upward communication if you feel you can turn that skill into one of your "top 3 strengths."

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A suggestion from a Google search is to pick any 3 skills they are looking for in the job description that I have. Is this a good strategy, to pick any 3?

It is an excellent strategy, with a slight caveat. Most interviewers have google as well, so they are aware of the tactic. If you go this route, expect hard hitting follow up questions, and be ready to be able to provide some in depth answers. Just be ready

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If you don't know your strengths, how will you sell yourself?

Surely you know the things you're good at. Personal strengths aren't nebulous, they are known by most of us. Understand that they will be looking for concrete examples of these things in the interview so just regurgitaging back the things in the posting will likely be seen as fluff. If your actual strengths don't match the posting, you should question if it will be a good fit for you.

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As far as I understand, when asked about strengths and weaknesses they are asking about personal strengths and weaknesses. Something about you and/or your personality, not skills.

example strengths:

I keep detailed notes about my things-to-do and things-done
I brainstorm potential pitfalls or things that need clarifying, put them together and ask as soon as possible to prevent confusion and misses.
I like big bu**s and cannot lie, (song reference, a joke) so I cannot help but tell the truth 

example weaknesses (its something that can be spun as a positive):

I am meticulous and have trouble ignoring seemingly small things that can snowball out of control.
I have trouble not thinking about the work 24/7 once I get into it.
I like talking a little too much, but I always get along with everyone and am good at being the mood maker

General personality stuff is what is being asked. Its not really a secret in the HR and management world, and should be lots of stuff on google about it.

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+100

This is a tricky kind of question. Usually it is just pro forma BS from an HR magazine, but they could also be using the question to match you against their needs. This is especially the case if you are one of those people who lists 20 different "skills" on your resume. For example, if you list proficiency in 10 different programming languages and they want proficiency in just one particular one, then the question becomes important.

The best strategy is to sidestep the technical aspect of the question and just answer it generically in terms of personality traits, i.e., (1) I work well in teams and collaborating with others, (2) I am a self-starter that takes initiative, and (3) I am careful, thorough and fastidious in my work. Be prepared to give examples if they ask you later.

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