Strengths Based Testing

Where has Strengths-Based Recruitment come from?

Strengths-Based Recruitment (SBR) is the relative ‘new kid on the block’. Since the early 2000’s the world of psychology has been changing. Moving from trying to fix the ills of the world toward the scientific study of human strengths and happiness. ‘Well-being’ and ‘Happiness’ are key terms that have come from this movement and that now play a big role in the language and aspirations of many employers. It is this movement that is at the core of SBR.

One of the first big players to move to SBR was Standard Chartered Bank. Other big names include the NHS, Boehringer Ingelheim, Nestle UK, Barclays, EY and Capgemini.

What are ‘Strengths’?

A strength is something that someone loves doing, is motivated and energized by and is naturally good at. You may be more used to competencies but according to those leading the SBR movement, competencies tell you whether someone can do the job, whereas strengths tell you whether they will perform well and thrive in the job! Assessing your strengths is assessing whether you will be happy, energised and ready to thrive.

According to Capp, a strengths-based consultancy “We may use our strengths to a greater or lesser extent – sometimes without even realizing that we are using them. In comparison, a competency typically looks to understand what somebody has done in the past, rather than what he or she does well and finds energizing.”

What is a Strengths-Based Interview?

The over-arching goal of a Strengths-Based Interview (SBI) is to find out whether a candidate has the natural strengths that are needed for the job in question. According to Alex Linley from CAPP, “SBIs draw from people’s natural talents and preferences for particular ways of thinking, feeling or behaving, and these natural aptitudes, recurring over time, are indicative of what it is the person is most likely to continue doing – with energy and engagement – into the future.” Simply put, the interviewer is looking for the things you LOVE to do and that you do well so that they can match them to the requirements of the role accordingly. They don’t solely focus on prior work experience either. You may have had a very process-based work history and never had the chance to showcase your creative side! A SBI would allow this to come out and your natural passion for the creative would be allowed to shine through.

Currently there are two commonly used types of SBI:

1. The recruiter has a pre-determined strengths profile that has been developed specifically for the role in question. This gives interviewers prior information about the strengths that really good performers in the role actually have.

2. The interviewer is trying to generally find out what the candidates’ strengths are and whether they are the same as those that they judge as being needed for the job in question.

Whatever the approach, the interviewer’s role is to find out whether someone has the innate strengths for the job in question, whether they will thrive in it and love doing it.

Why do recruiters use SBI?

As a candidate, you are likely to enjoy the experience more than other approaches. Boehringer Ingelheim (a pharmaceutical company), for example, found that 95% of candidates enjoyed the SBI more than other interviews they had undertaken in the past and of those who were offered a position, 99% believed they had a greater awareness of their own strengths as a result of the process they undertook.

But the reason for using an SBI isn’t just to give candidates a more positive experience. Research has shown that job satisfaction and happiness are positively correlated and that when people have satisfying jobs they believe they fit better with their work environment. These ‘satisfying jobs’ include working in environments and on tasks that are suited to our skills, talents and preferences, that give us some autonomy, that are intrinsically rewarding and that offer some variety. On top of all that, happy workers are more productive workers so it goes without saying that it can be a win-win situation. As more and more employers recognise this, they are creating work situations that match the skills, strengths and preferences of employees. This can only be a good thing for you as a candidate, right?

When an organisation decides to move to SBR they will make changes, not only to their interviews, but also to the job adverts you see, the application forms you fill in and the tests that you take. When done properly, the entire process is likely to have a positive feel. Take this job advert for example. Traditionally you might see something like this:

We are looking for an experienced project manager who is a self-starter, willing to go the extra mile and deliver projects on time and to budget.

You will be required to work in a multi-disciplinary team so must have strong communication and influencing skills and the capability to build a collaborative network of colleagues both within and outside of the department.

A degree is essential and specialist project management training is desirable but appropriate experience will be considered.

Then look at this:

Do you get a buzz from organising others and overseeing multiple projects? Do you like rolling up your sleeves and getting started on a project? Do you find that you go to extremes to ensure your projects run as you intended them to wherever you can?

Is it important to you that you have a strong network of colleagues to work with from many different disciplines? Do you find yourself motivated when working with others? Does communicating and influencing seem to come naturally to you?

If this sounds like you, then this project management job could be right up your street and we would love to hear from you.

Here’s what one of our existing project managers said: ‘This job keeps me interested every day. I am delivering projects that have a big impact with a team of equally motivated colleagues from a wide variety of backgrounds.”

Can you see the difference? You’ll notice that the first advert tells the potential applicant what they want the project manager to do. There are some ‘buzz words’ in there that could put people off or leave them confused! The second advert very clearly describes the type of person who would excel as a project manager and having the quote from another project manager helps the potential candidate to decide whether this job would be right for them. The second one would sit under the ‘SBR’ umbrella and adverts like this will become more common as SBR increases in popularity.

Example SBI questions

The following are taken from Sally Bibb’s book (an expert in the field of SBR), ‘Strengths-Based Recruitment and Development’.

  • What do you enjoy doing the most in your job?
  • What energizes you?
  • What makes a good day for you?
  • What activities come naturally to you?
  • What are your greatest strengths?
  • What do you really dislike doing?
  • What gets done on your ‘to-do’ list? What never gets done?
  • How do you stay motivated?
  • How do you make sure you always do your best?
  • What makes you feel like you’ve had a rewarding and successful day?
  • What has been your most significant achievement?

Note that unlike competency-based interviews, they don’t have a list of follow-up probing questions. This is intentional; the interviewer doesn’t tend to ask follow-up questions as this can lead the candidate and ‘turn a poor candidate into an average one’.

Another expert in the field, Alex Linley lists the following questions as being good ‘strength spotters’.

  • What sort of everyday things do you enjoy doing? What makes for a really good day for you? Tell me about the best day you remember having?
  • What would you describe as your most significant accomplishment?
  • When you are at your best, what are you doing?
  • What gives you the greatest sense of being authentic and who you really are?
  • What do you think are the most energising things that you do?
  • Where do you gain most energy from? What sorts of activities?
  • What are you doing when you feel at your most invigorated?
  • Tell me about a time when you think that “the real me” is most coming through.
  • Do you have a vision for the future? What is it about?
  • What are you most looking forward to in the future?
  • Thinking about the next week, what will you be doing when you are at your best?

You may remember that there are two types of SBI. The questions above are those most likely to be used where the interviewer is trying to find out what the candidates strengths are in general. Where a strengths profile has been pre-defined you may encounter questions more like the below:

  • How would you say you manage your time?
  • How does it make you feel when you have explained something to another person?
  • Would you describe yourself as someone who is eager for action or do you like to plan carefully before doing something important?
  • Do you prefer the bigger picture or the finer details?
  • How important is doing the right thing to you?
  • How important are close relationships with work colleagues to you?
  • Do you prefer to have a lot of variety or a routine way of working?

How can I prepare for a SBI?

Unlike the competency-based interview, you will not have been provided with a list of the key competencies for the job. This means that you won’t be able to prepare for the SBI in the same way.

The best thing you can do is to expand your self-insight ahead of the interview. It can be surprising how little we actually know about ourselves and our passions.

Think about what you love in your current role and the activities you undertake outside of work. Think about what you really don’t enjoy doing.

Look at the interview questions we have provided. Don’t try and learn model answers for them but use them to get a better idea of what might be expected of you.

Talk to others about the strengths you feel you have – talking them through outside of the interview can make the interview itself easier.

The list below offers some ideas about the kinds of things you might really identify with. Whilst this list is by no means exhaustive it might get you thinking about which ones describe you as you prepare for an SBI. It can be hard to narrow a list this long down so try and rank order them and then think about those in the top third. What do they say about you? What activities have you undertaken that reflect your passion in these areas? What would you like to try?

  • I love hard work, and I have stamina.
  • I am happiest when I am going with the flow and taking one day at a time.
  • I like to organise people and resources.
  • I am happiest when I am in charge and taking control of a situation.
  • I love competition and winning really matters to me.
  • I am happiest when I am given the space to think about my decisions and choices.
  • Structure and order are what keep me going.
  • Keeping myself and others on track comes easily to me.
  • I thrive when I am working in an harmonious environment where people get on.
  • I believe it is so important to look out for others and make sure they feel included.
  • I love intellectual debate and the chance to introspect.
  • Working with people I call friends makes me happy.
  • Give me a problem to solve and I will be happy for hours!
  • I love it when others recognise my efforts.
  • Put me in a room full of strangers and within minutes I’ll have a bunch of new friends.
  • Creating a way forward is something I thrive on; finding new approaches andstrategies.
  • I truly believe in myself and have confidence in the decisions I make.
  • I believe in honesty and loyalty and do what I promise.
  • I get very excited and enthusiastic and others pick up on it.
  • I want to learn, I want to improve and I want to expand my skills and knowledge.
  • I thrive on information – I can’t get enough of it and want to hold on to it.
  • I have a real knack for knowing what makes people tick and for utilising that.
  • I am an ideas person; I find ideas fascinating.
  • I love contemplating the future; what might it hold for us, what might change?
  • Empathising seems to come naturally for me; I can put myself in your shoes very easily.
  • When I have helped someone to develop themselves I get a real kick out of it.
  • History excites me; I love finding out about the past and how it relates to the present.
  • Presenting to others is a complete buzz for me.
  • Having conversations with others is what keeps me happy.
  • I have a strong set of values and beliefs and acting on them is a core part of me.
  • I look for cause and effect, and consider why something has happened.
  • I might be impatient but I make things happen!

Talk to people who know you well, but consider people from all arenas of your life. If you have been in the same job for a while but are not really happy there, it may be that your colleagues don’t know the ‘real you’ so talk to friends and family too. Ask them what they think your strengths are. Now is not the time to be afraid of asking.

Also, think about your weaknesses. You may be asked about them and now is not the time to come up with a strength hidden as a weakness. Interviewers have all heard ‘I am so organised it can sometimes annoy people’ or ‘My perfectionism can wind others up’. What do you genuinely not enjoy doing? This can be a useful area to discuss with others before the SBI.

Whilst we are told there are no right or wrong answers in SBIs, all companies have strengths that they value more than others so do some research. Use the research to help you decide whether the company is right for you. If you think your strengths match the strengths they are looking for, make sure they shine through on the day!

If you are really struggling to understand what your strengths are, make a timeline of the last few years in terms of the jobs you have held, courses you have undertaken and hobbies you have been involved in. For each one, consider what you did and didn’t enjoy. This will help you form a picture of ‘you’.

Top Tips for SBIs

  • Interviewers are not just listening to your words; they are observing how you say them.
  • Don’t try and fake enthusiasm. It is likely to come across as contrived plus, you could end up in a job you are not at all suited to.
  • If you are discussing a subject you love, your passion will come through so don’t try and force it.
  • Be yourself and don’t worry about giving the ‘model answer’; there isn’t one!
  • Answer the questions as best you can and be honest in your responses.
  • When you are engaged and passionate about something your tone of voice will change, you will become clearer and more focused.
    • You will have a natural pace to your speech
    • You will demonstrate energy
    • Your confidence will be more evident
    • You will seem happier and more relaxed
    • Your knowledge and insight will be apparent
    • The passion you have will be evident
    • You may even become so absorbed in the subject that you lose track of time. Interviewers are trained to look for the cues in your speech.
  • Try and enjoy it. Most candidates prefer this type of interview so try and find your stride, relax and make the most of talking about topics you love.
  • SBIs tend to last 30 minutes to one hour; be prepared to answer a lot of questions in that time.