Most of us have faced the interview question, "What are your strengths?" And most of us have given an answer that is some variation on "I'm a team player" or "I'm very detail oriented."
To avoid putting the interviewer into a boredom-induced coma, why not try something different? I suggest that you prepare for this question beforehand by asking some friends or coworkers what your strengths are, or what unique quality you bring to the work experience. Then tell an interviewer that, instead of depending on your own view of what you bring to the table, you decided to quiz your coworkers. Then tell the interviewer what feedback they gave you.
The reason for this is that many people who are particularly strong in certain skills also happen to take those skills for granted and would never highlight them in an interview. Also, people very often don't see themselves as others see them.
For example, I am obsessive about returning messages or email on a timely basis. Part of this is because I hate a cluttered inbox. Part of it is that, back in 400 BC when I was growing up, it was rude not to respond to someone who was talking to you. And since I was around when email was born, it seemed to me another way of speaking to others, not just a storage place for communication that you may or may not get to in your lifetime.
I am always surprised when someone answers a response from me by thanking me for the fast response, as if it's an unheard of courtesy. This behavior of mine is something I take for granted, but it is something others see as a benefit. Something I may feel is an obsessive/compulsive tic may be viewed as a communication skill.
So before your next interview, ask your colleagues what they would consider the areas you excel at. And then use that feedback to answer the dreaded, "What are your strengths?" interview question. (Of course if your question is greeted by an awkward 5-minute silence, you might want to go with your own list.)
Toni Bowers is the former Managing Editor of TechRepublic and is the award-winning blogger of the Career Management blog. She has edited newsletters, books, and web sites pertaining to software, IT career, and IT management issues.