The Newest Interview on the Block – An Overview of Strengths-Based Interviews

By Leslie Walters - Recruitment Director specialising in Accountancy Recruitment

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While they have been in evidence for a while now, strengths-based interviews are one of the newest approaches that some companies are moving towards as a way of finding out what prospective employees both engage with and enjoy – the theory being that when you are using your strengths, you perform your best and more rapidly learn new information.

Competency based interviews, where you will be asked questions such as ‘Tell me about a time when you successfully solved a challenging problem”, “Describe the role you typically play in a team”, or “Can you describe a time when you've successfully demonstrated good time management?’ are still the more commonplace interview format. In direct contrast to strengths-based ones, these focus on what you can do and the interviewer will concentrate on assessing whether, based on past performance, you can do the job.

One of the key reasons why strengths-based interviews are now becoming favoured is that many job seekers have been turning up to interviews, fully prepped to undergo a competency based scenario, which meant they were all giving very standard , well-rehearsed answers. This has made it more difficult for companies to really discover what individuals can offer their business, in terms of skills, experience and cultural fit and more importantly if they are employed, will they love it and will they thrive in the role?

It is important to remember that, fundamentally, interviewers are looking for candidates to answer the following three questions:

  • Can you do the job?
  • Do you want the job?
  • Will you fit in?

The first question can be answered by competency based questions, but the other two are designed to look beyond pure skills and ability. This is where strengths-based questions come to the fore as they are designed to elicit your motivation and values. With strengths questions the interviewer wants to know who you are.

So what can you expect from a strengths-based interview?

The interviewer is looking to find out what kind of activities engage you and the questions  may seek to identify your abilities, such as working with others and analysing problems, or look for pride in what you do. The interviewer will also be taking note of your non-verbal communication such as body language, how animated and engaged you are when answering and also your tone of voice. All of these elements will give them some insight into how much you have enjoyed what you are discussing. Questions are usually also asked in quite a quick fire style to ensure a genuine response.  Types of questions to expect can include ‘What do you do well?’, ‘When are you at your best?’ and ‘What do you love to do in your spare time?’, although do expect some more unusual ones such as ‘Do you prefer starting or finishing things?’ and ‘Are there enough hours in the day?’

Strengths-based interviews have seen much success when the focus is on recruiting individuals relatively new to the job market, such as fresh graduates or those who are looking for the second step on their career ladder for example. This style of interviewing does allow companies to identify a candidate’s potential but also benefits the candidates too as they can often get a really clear picture of the role and if it really is the right one for them - a crucial decision at the outset of any career.

However, before you put to one side all the preparation that is involved with competency-based interviews, these newer style interviews still require some prior planning and consideration. For example, think about how your preferences fit with the organisation's culture and the job requirements as these are still very important. Consider what you love doing in life – not just work related – and equally consider what your dislikes are too as questions will be included to identify these aspects as well. A classic question is 'What part of your job do you enjoy the least?' It's likely that those you like least are the areas where you lack natural aptitude or skill.


It is important to remember that the best way to answer strengths questions is honestly – you can’t really prepare for these as these questions don’t have a right or wrong response. If you respond with answers that you think your interviewer is expecting, rather than what you actually think or feel, it’s likely that your body language and a lack of genuine enthusiasm may not convince them. When you are describing the things you enjoy doing and are good at, you’re likely to become more animated and your motivation will become apparent to the interviewer, which can only be a good thing.

Feedback from candidates is generally that they usually enjoy the experience of a strengths-based interview. The style of question usually encourages a relaxed and positive experience where individuals feel that the interviewers have the opportunity to really get to know them.


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