What is it?

Many employers, including EY, Barclays, Aviva, Nestlé and Standard Chartered use strengths based rather than competency questions to assess their candidates at interview. In a strengths based interview the recruiter will focus on exploring your innate strengths and what you enjoy doing, rather than questioning you about your past behaviours. This approach is seen as a fairer and more inclusive method, allowing candidates to be selected on the basis of their natural talents rather than because they happen to have had particular past experiences. Candidates are also less able to prepare rehearsed answers, making for a more animated and energised interview process.

Why use it?

Employers like strength-based questions as they bring out the genuine interest, motivation and aptitude their candidates have in relation to the particular strengths they are looking for. This will be measured in part through assessing your body language and facial expressions to see how animated you are when answering their questions and, therefore, how genuine your answer is. You can expect to face a large number of questions, both closed and open. Some might feel repetitive, but this is to allow the interviewer to calibrate the consistency of your answers and compare your body language cues from question to question to assess your genuine strengths and interests.

Do you have any examples of strength-based questions?

Yes we do!

  • Do you talk to different groups of friends differently?
  • Have you ever wanted to quit something?
  • Have you ever put the needs of a team before your own?
  • Have you ever done something differently second time round?
  • Do you prefer starting or finishing?
  • How do you know your strengths and weaknesses?
  • Why would you be better than other people?
  • How would a lecturer describe you?
  • What kind of person are you?
  • What energises you?

What can you do to prepare?

It will be useful to:

  • Research the strengths and values the organisation is looking for. Check their website, job description, person specification and include any insights you have from speaking with their representatives
  • Reflect on whether you have strengths in these particular areas, and what approach you would take to show this. Remember that strengths are things you enjoy, pick up quickly or look forward to using
  • Before attending the interview ask yourself questions such as ‘What do I do well?’, ‘When am I performing at my best?’, ‘What activities get me energised and why?’ These will all help you to identify your own individual strengths.
  • Remember there is no wrong or right answer. For some questions like, ‘Do you prefer starting or finishing projects?’ either answer is ok as long as you support your answer with sensible reasons for your preference. For example, it’s equally valid and interesting to say find it energising to start a project because you like to be involved from the beginning to help shape the project, or that you get a real sense of satisfaction when something finishes because you’ve been involved in completing something successfully
  • Review your CV and think about your prior experience as you may be expected to describe when you have used the strengths in the past. For example the interviewer may ask ‘Do you enjoy working in a team?. If your answer to this is yes, you should firstly respond with why you enjoy working in a team and then back this up with an example of a time you have enjoyed doing so
  • Become familiar with the format of strengths based questions and practice your responses whilst looking in the mirror, or video your answers, remembering that interviewers will also be looking at your body language
  • While the focus of a strengths based interview is your strengths, it’s not uncommon to be asked a question about your weaknesses. In this instance, be honest about your ‘weakness’ (no one is perfect!) but you should also talk about what steps you are taking to address/mitigate this

Remember, if you have an interview coming up, you can book a 30-minute practice interview with a careers consultant over CareerHub.

Good luck!

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