A New Breed: The Strength-Based Interview


In a recent interview, I was a little thrown after 30 minutes of answering traditional competency-based interview questions, to be asked; "are you a perfectionist?"

I had been thrown the curveball known as the strength-based interview question.

Strength-based interview questioning, according to a recent article by The Guardian, is an increasingly popular technique being used by employers. The method of questioning is thought to be near foolproof in helping employers to select, not just the right candidate, but the one that will stay long-term.

If you have not heard of strength-based interviewing, read on to find out what a strength-based interview is, how it differs from a traditional interview and how you can best prepare should you find a strength-based interview come your way.

Whether you are job hunting now or planning to in future, strength-based questioning might be sneaking into your traditional competency based interview or taking it over completely.

Competency V. Strength

A competency-based question is one that is based on, well, your competencies. It's designed to show that you are competent in the tasks required for the job. For example, if the role involves creating appointments in diaries, you might be asked, "describe a time when you have arranged a meeting for a number of attendees."

A strength-based question on the other hand is more personal - it tries to find out if you are a good match to the job based upon your strengths and what you like to do. For example, in a strength-based interview you might be asked; "do you like organising appointments?"

If you say "no", and this task figures high up in the job specification, then it might be best for both you and the employer that you are not appointed to that particular post.

If you practically glow with enthusiasm while talking about how much you enjoy organising large meetings, then the odds are that you will probably be a very good match.

Other examples of strength based questions, according to Warwick University Careers Service, include:

How do you judge if you've had a good day?

Tell me something you learnt last week.

What energises you?

What activities come naturally to you?

What gets done first on your 'to do' list?


Why ask?

What are employers up to and do these strength-based interview techniques work better than traditional ones. More importantly, how can you prepare?

The strength-based style of question is designed to find out your interests and to see if the role is the best fit for you.

Companies such as Barclays, Nestlé and Ernst and Young are using strength-based interviewing, or "Strength Based Recruitment (SBR)" as a large part of their recruitment process.

Matt Stripe, Nestlé UK & Ireland group HR director told The Guardian:

"Strengths is particularly useful when recruiting individuals who don't have a lot of experience – such as graduates. It allows us to identify potential and individuals who have the same passion about our industry as we do. It also generates fewer fake, pre-prepared answers, and gives a genuine insight into candidates."

The strength-based question is more difficult to prepare for because the employer is looking not just at what you say, but how you say it. When we talk about things that we love to do, we really light up, talk more confidently and gesticulate.

You can still prepare somewhat, however, according to Sally Bibb of Engaging Minds, who told the Guardian.

"The preparation is about mental state, i.e. be relaxed, be prepared to be open, think about what you love doing (in life, not just work) and don't try to be something you're not. The feedback we get from the thousands of people who our clients have interviewed for a range of roles is that they enjoyed the interview and the interviewers learned a lot about them as people."

Strengths-based questions will also inevitably show what you don't like, as much as what you do like. The key to success here is honesty.

The advice from the Guardian is to prepare for both styles of interview questions; strength-based and competency-based; "as long as you're prepared for both competency and strengths-based questions, this trend seems to be a good thing for potential candidates."

And am I a perfectionist? Well, the editorial team at Career Addict might have something to say if I claimed I was. I answered, "I'm not a perfectionist. I like to get things done although I do have high standards for myself and others." Good answer? I think it must have been, as I was offered the post and start next month!