Focusing on what you enjoy doing rather than what you can do, strength-based interviews are being used by a growing number of employers

What is a strength-based interview?

Strengths interviews are more personal and allow recruiters to gain a genuine insight into the personalities of candidates and to see whether they'd be a good fit for the company. They also allow you, as the interviewee, to be selected on the basis of your natural abilities.

But don't be fooled, while you're talking about what you like and dislike, the employer is learning about what you’re good (and not so good) at. Strength-based interviewing has its foundations in positive psychology. The theory is that by identifying your strengths and matching them to the role you'll be happier in your work, perform better, learn quicker and stay with the company for longer.

Why do employers use strength interviews?

Competency-based may be the most common type of interview, but strength-based interviews are gaining in popularity as an increasing number of organisations recognise the benefits, including:

  • they're useful for those who don’t have a lot of work experience.
  • candidates have less opportunity to prepare and rehearse their answers, meaning that interview questions are more likely to bring out the genuine interest, motivation and aptitude of interviewees.
  • most people come across best when they're talking about things they enjoy, so strength-based interviewing makes for a more pleasurable interview experience all round, for both the interviewer and interviewee.

Strength-based interview questions

The strengths that employers look for depend on the job. For example, for a client or customer-facing role you'd be expected to enjoy, and be confident in, communicating with a variety of people and have experiences to back this up. Supporting examples could include volunteering with community groups, being a member of your university debate or social team or part-time retail work.

As the recruiter is trying to get a sense of who you are in a short space of time, expect to answer a lot of questions. You could be asked as many as 30 questions in an hour-long interview.

Here are some examples of strength-based interview questions:

  • What do you like to do in your spare time?
  • What energises you?
  • How would your close friends describe you?
  • Do you most like starting tasks or finishing them?
  • Do you prefer the big picture or the small details?
  • Describe a successful day. What made it successful?
  • What are you good at?
  • What are your weaknesses?
  • What did you enjoy studying at school or university?
  • When did you achieve something you're really proud of?
  • What do you enjoy doing the least?
  • Do you find there are enough hours in the day to complete your to-do list?
  • What tasks are always left on your to-do list?
  • How do you stay motivated?
  • How do you feel about deadlines?
  • Have you ever done something differently the second time around?
  • Do you think this role will play to your strengths?

How to answer strength-based interview questions

Strength questions don't have a right or wrong answer. It is, however, important that you answer all questions honestly - failing to do so will give the interviewer a false impression of you.

Just like in any other interview you'll need to include examples to back up and illustrate your responses. You can draw these examples from all areas of your life including your studies, work experience, previous employment, volunteering or extra-curricular activities.

If you're asked to identify your weaknesses stay away from generic responses such as 'I'm a perfectionist'. Think of things that you've struggled with in the past and select a real weakness, such as a lack of organisational skills that impacts on your ability to meet deadlines, or low confidence when it comes to networking or public speaking.

Ensure that you explain how your strengths compensate for this weakness and what you're doing to overcome it. For example, for a lack of organisational skills you could explain how you're using alerts and apps on your smartphone to positive effect and how a combination of lists, spreadsheets and a daily planner help keep you on track. End this response on an upbeat note.

When you're answering their questions, interviewers will be taking note of your body language and tone of voice, which can provide clues to your sincerity. If you're genuinely describing something you enjoy, you'll be animated and your enthusiasm and motivation will shine through.

Preparing for a strength-based interview

Many recruiters believe it's impossible to prepare for a strength-based interview. The technique is designed to prevent candidates from planning or rehearsing their responses, as you have no idea what you're going to be asked.

However, just because you can't practise your answers doesn't mean that there aren't other things you can do to make yourself interview ready.

No matter the interview technique you still need to do your research into the company and the role. Read the person specification to identify what strengths and qualities the company is looking for. Then make a list of your own strengths. Include your academic, work and social achievements, when you're usually at your best and what motivates you. Think about activities you enjoy doing, subjects you've enjoyed learning about, and also about things you don't like doing and your weaknesses. Think about how all these strengths could be used to the advantage of the organisation you're hoping to work for.

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