timthumb.phpAs my colleague Jane Simm showed in her recent post, for many years ‘competency-based’ interviews have been the mainstay of the selection process for UK employers. This kind of interview is based on the belief that past behaviour is the best predictor of future performance. Therefore, having identified in advance the skills and personal qualities (i.e. competencies – see this resource from Syracuse University) that are essential for effective performance in the job, the employer asks candidates to describe past situations in which they have demonstrated these.

Competency-based interviews are widely respected as a reliable tool for selection and they introduce objectivity and consistency into what can otherwise be a very subjective exercise. However, employers have come increasingly to recognise that applicants can be coached to perform effectively by using well-rehearsed answers based on the ‘STAR’ (Situation, Task, Action, Result) formula. Hence many (but by no means all) employers have now started to use a ‘strengths-based’ approach to interviewing. Put simply, this approach focuses on what the candidate ENJOYS doing rather than on what he/she CAN DO.

The theory, based on positive psychology, is that everyone has strengths they are born with. By identifying your strengths and matching yourself to the role you will enjoy it more, thereby performing better and being able to rapidly learn new information. If you enjoy what you are doing, you may become engrossed and lose your sense of time – the state of consciousness referred to as ‘flow’ – where you are driven to do things that play to your strengths, even when tired, stressed or disengaged. Employers who now use this approach include: Aviva, Ernst & Young, Reckitt Benckiser and Royal Mail.

The following are examples of the kinds of strengths-based questions that employers use:

  • What energises you?
  • What makes a good day for you?
  • In your life, what have you done that you are most proud of?
  • What does success look like to you?
  • Do you keep your promises? How do you feel if you can’t keep a promise?
  • Do you find life fascinating?

The aim of these questions is to uncover what kinds of activities engage and energise you. A strengths-based interview is likely to be faster paced than a competency-based one as the interviewer will be hoping to obtain a genuine response by giving you only a very short time to come up with an answer. Candidates have reported being given up to 30 questions in the course of a 60 minute interview.

From your point of view there’s probably no way of preparing systematically for strengths- based interviews, apart from reflecting on what makes you happy in your work and what you (and others) think you’re particularly good at. In the interview itself it’s important to be honest and not try to be something you’re not.

You will find additional information about this approach to interviews, including further lists of likely questions on the websites of the careers services at the Universities of Kent and Sheffield.

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