How much thought do you give to the different types of interview you might come across when applying for a job?
You’re probably quite familiar with the competency-based interview, where you’re asked to give examples of times when you used specific skills; you may also have come across interviews which incorporate short ability tests or which ask you to give a short presentation.
But how familiar are you with the strengths-based interview?
A strengths or values-based approach to recruitment, which can include online assessments and situation simulations as well as interviews, has been steadily growing, especially in large organisations who recruit graduates and in the health and social care sector.
You’ll usually be told in advance by the employer that they’ll be using this technique at your interview, and you may even be provided with some guidance beforehand too.
This type of interview is considered to be particularly effective for determining not only whether a candidate is a good match for the post and the organisation as a whole, but also whether they’re likely to thrive and make a positive contribution within the workforce.
What are the characteristics of a strengths-based interview?
Through a series of questions, the interviewer will give you the opportunity to talk about your personal traits and values as opposed to demonstrating your specific skills.
The aim is to investigate the situations when you’re at your best; rather than exploring what you can do, think of it as an opportunity to showcase what you love to do.
Strengths-based interviews have evolved to discover:
- What motivates you
- What your values are
- What you enjoy doing
- What enthuses you
- And ultimately – your strengths
Because this type of interview can be harder to prepare for, candidates are much more likely to speak from the heart, allowing recruiters to see the real you. They’ll also be looking at your body language and your engagement with the questions – these are other cues which can guide them to the type of person you are and your approach to work.
In the eyes of the employer, higher motivation equals better performance and this type of interview is ideal for exploring what enthuses people.
But it’s not all about exploring motivation and how well you’ll fit in: the next section considers how the strengths-based interview can be used positively to increase the diversity of an organisation’s workforce.
What are the benefits of a strengths-based interview?
Recruitment is a costly process.
For employers, it’s not just about finding the right person, it’s also about holding on to those highly-valued employees. The theory goes that people who are well-matched to a role or company, tend not only to be happier and more motivated, they’re also more likely to stay for a longer period of time.
In a fast-changing labour market, organisations look to the people who can contribute positively to a working culture that needs to flex. If situations change big time, employers want to be able to take their workforce with them.
This interview technique can help employers work out how adaptable a candidate might be, whether they show resilience and how open they are to learning new skills.
Another way in which this type of recruitment can be advantageous can be seen within health and social care. Skills shortages and staff turnover are putting pressures on the delivery of some services within these sectors and strengths-based recruitment can help employers to identify the candidates who show the desirable traits and values.
It’s not that easy to demonstrate commitment, care and compassion through a qualification but an interview which focuses on personal values is perfectly-placed to do so.
And there’s another advantage to an interview that encourages people to show their true selves - more employers are recognising the huge benefits to be gained from a having greater diversity in their organisation.
Some sectors such as the civil service, construction and transport, the tech sector including cybersecurity, and creative industries, such as gaming, are actively campaigning to attract a broader range of people to their workforce.
Lived experiences, neurodiversity, cultural backgrounds and gender can all have a bearing on our viewpoints, values and approaches, and employers are placing increasing value on these.
They may feel that they have specific gaps in their team, that there are untapped markets to be explored or that problem-solving is better tackled when multiple points of view are involved. GCHQ, for example, is actively seeking neurodivergent women to strengthen its workforce; NHS Digital is looking to increase ethnic diversity and employ a higher share of people with disabilities.
Strengths-based recruitment can be used to seek out difference in a positive way and celebrate it, rather than always be on the lookout for who will ‘fit in’ best.
From a candidate’s point of view, a common frustration can be having that knowledge that you have the ability to do the job well but not the experience to prove it. Strengths-based interviews are great for people who fall into this category. It doesn’t matter if you don’t have a lot of work experience - everyone is on a more equal footing because rather than drawing on your past, the focus is on your existing talents and traits.
This type of interview can also a good way for you to figure out whether the job or organisation is for you. Interviews are a two-way street and both sides will agree that you’re more likely to excel and progress in a role or organisation if there’s alignment with values.
Which qualities are employers looking for?
Sought after traits and qualities will depend on the advertised role, but you should be able to gain an impression from the job specification and by researching the organisation if you haven’t been provided with any information in advance.
Typical questions might include:
- What do you enjoy doing in your spare time?
- Do you prefer starting or finishing a task?
- How do you motivate others?
- What tasks on your to-do list never get completed?
- How do you motivate yourself to do something you’re not that interested in?
- What would your perfect day be?
- Are you a good listener?
- What does success look like to you?
- What are you most proud of?
- Do you prefer detail or the big picture?
- What makes a good leader?
- Do you ever get bored?
You may also be given a scenario and then asked how you would react in that situation. For example, if you’re applying for a team leader role you might be asked how you would deal with a team member who has regularly not been completing the tasks they’ve been assigned.
How to prepare for a strengths-based interview
You might have read that you can’t prepare for strengths-based interviews because they’re designed to prompt more instinctive responses as opposed to rehearsed ones.
It’s true that where a method such as the STAR technique can be incredibly effective for competency-based interview preparation, it may not be as helpful for interviews which aim to gain an insight into your personality traits. However, there are still ways in which you can prepare.
Research the employer
As with all interviews, make sure you’ve done your research on the organisation you’re applying to work for. Make use of all avenues – find your way around the website, any social media including LinkedIn, and if possible, speak to current staff.
Get to know yourself
Strengths-based interviews are about who you are and what makes you tick, so gaining some serious self-awareness is a good way to prepare.
Get to know yourself. Engage in self-reflection. Ask yourself…
- Which of my capabilities do I enjoy using the most?
- What’s important to me?
- Does the path I’ve taken so far reflect my true self?
- When am I at my best?
- Do I make big decisions with my head or my heart?
In considering these questions you’ll naturally picture yourself in a range of situations, many of which won’t necessarily be work-related. You can draw on these past experiences in the interview to help illustrate your responses but it isn’t essential to do so.
Another way to prepare is to use a visualisation technique. Not everyone can manage this easily but it can be incredibly effective. Try to picture yourself in the role you’ve applied for.
How do you feel? What are you doing? Do you think you would enjoy performing the tasks or working with others? Where do you see yourself in five years’ time?
Not only can visualisation help you to imagine how well-suited you might be to a role, if you can envisage yourself being successful, it can also help to build your self-confidence.
Tools to help you prepare…
If you’re struggling with where to start, why not try one of these tools to kickstart the process of exploring your traits and qualities?
Personality assessments, such as the Myers Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI), are often used by companies to identify employees’ strengths. You can buy a Morrisby pass, and take the Morrisby Type Indicator personality assessment, based on the MBTI assessment, to find out about your personality type.
Coupled with the aptitude and aspirations assessments you can take on Morrisby, you will also find out about your workplace style and receive tailored careers suggestions, honed over 55 years. Use your results as a starting point for self-reflection.
Another useful tool is Schein’s Careers Anchors. Here, you rank eight values – or ‘anchors’ – by their importance to you. This activity can be useful for identifying what you want or need from your career or from an employer. Helpful in itself but your responses could also prompt questions for you to ask the interviewer during your interview.
Finally, consider whether you need to work on developing a confident body language. There are some good top tips out there.
And even if you aren’t successful this time, you’ll know yourself much better!
Six top tips for on the day
- Try to appear natural – recruiters want to see the real you and they’ll be able to sense pride or passion if it’s there.
- Be honest – give a truthful answer not the one you think they want to hear. But it goes without saying that you don’t want to hone in on your negative traits too much.
- Appear confident and open – see above for getting some top tips on body language. And don’t forget to smile!
- Give full and detailed answers which keep linking back to the question asked. Very brief answers are to be avoided but also don’t make your responses too long! Just make sure you say everything you want to say, the interviewer is not likely to probe you any further on that topic.
- Draw on all areas of your life – hobbies, travel and education are all acceptable.
- Lastly, don’t see the interview as a test - relax and enjoy the experience!
Strengths tend to be found in the activities we enjoy so try not to overthink things as you approach this type of interview questioning. Interviews flow better when we have the opportunity to talk about the things which enthuse and motivate us, so try and see it as a chance for you to shine.
Helen is an experienced information and careers professional working as a freelance writer and trainer. She writes about careers and the labour market for a wide range of audiences and organisations and aims to produce easily accessible, informative content that reflects the current jobs and careers landscape.