When should you use a strengths based interview? Guest blog by Emily Dean
By Emily Dean
19th June 2014

There has been a big trend in recruitment over the last 10-15 years towards competency based interviewing – a skills interview which tests how candidates have approached particular situations in the past. This is especially prevalent in IT where experience of specific software, project methodologies or data warehouses is often required.

Preparing is relatively simple for the candidate. They work out which competencies or skills are required for the role from the job description and then create mini-storyboards for each one. For example your competency interview question may be something like: “can you describe a time when you have had to use your skills of persuasion?”  The prepared candidate would answer by setting out an example situation, the specific task involved, the action the candidate personally took and the result (see STAR technique for preparing for competency based interviews).

The advantage of using this style of interview over CV or experience based interviews is that the interviewer gets a good insight into real life examples and can probe the candidate’s approach and decision-making processes.  What it assumes though is that the way a candidate approached a situation in the past will inform their future performance in your organisation. This style of interviewing is great if you want to work out whether the candidate CAN do the job but where it falls down is that it doesn’t show whether the candidate will ENJOY doing the job.

Playing to your strengths

If an employee enjoys doing the job, they are almost certainly working to their strengths. And when they are using their strengths they demonstrate:

  • a real sense of energy and engagement
  • being thoroughly engrossed in a task such that they often lose a sense of time
  • that they can rapidly learn new information and approaches
  • higher levels of performance
  • that they are drawn to do things that play to their strengths – even when tired, stressed or disengaged

Strengths are all about what you engage in, where you get your energy from and what you enjoy. So if you adopt some strengths-based questions in your interviewing, you can establish whether the candidate in front of you not only displays the skills for the job but is also going to perform well.

In the age of employee engagement and the realisation that engagement means real success and profit, (see Engage for Success) it is definitely worth testing candidates on their strengths during the recruitment process. Obviously you still need to test whether a candidate can do the job and whether they fit into the organisation culturally, but introducing a second stage of strengths based interviews could significantly impact your retention rate and the performance of the individual in the role. Strengths interviewing ultimately gives better results.

What sort of questions could you use in a strengths based interview?

  • What are you good at?
  • What comes easily to you?
  • What do you learn quickly?
  • Describe a successful day you have had.
  • When did you achieve something you were really proud of?
  • Do you prefer to start tasks or to finish them?
  • Do you find you have enough hours in the day to complete all the things you want to do?

How your recruitment process could improve

  • Strength spotting is easier at CV and first interview stage so you could end up spending less time at second interview and assessment stages.
  • It’s harder to prepare so you get fewer pre-prepared answers from candidates
  • Candidates have to reflect on the questions which gives better insight into strengths
  • Candidates enjoy the interview more, so are attracted to the organisation
  • Successful candidates will deliver results more quickly as they are built for the role rather than adapting to fit the role
  • Those who don’t succeed hopefully realise they wouldn’t be happy in the role anyway
  • Those employed are more likely to stay in the job and will perform to their strengths

Adopting a strengths based technique is very useful when you are recruiting employees who don't have much direct work experience such as graduates or apprentices where you are looking for potential and passion for the job rather than experience of the job. Many established companies such as Standard Chartered, Barclays, Aviva, Royal Mail and EY have adopted strengths based interviews particularly for their graduate recruitment.

I’d love to hear your experiences and whether you’ve found switching to strengths based interviewing successful or not. Please leave a comment below.

By Emily Dean of  MacMaster Dean HR.

Emily is a commercially focussed HR generalist, having spent eight years in the professional services sector, most recently with Montpeller Group and another five years in consultancy. Her strengths lie in HR strategy, people development & performance and employee engagement. Visit her website here.


"interesting article – thanks for sharing – very useful" - Johnny


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