Strengths-Based Interviews: They're All About You!

Instead of just finding out what you are capable of, many employers are also interested in listening to what you like too. Here’s a quick guide to help you through such strengths-based interviews!
The gradsingapore Team
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Where employers once wanted to hear about “a project that you’ve led before” or “a challenge that you’ve successfully solved in the past”, many are now beginning to angle their questions differently, asking questions like “What are your favourite subjects while studying in university?” and “Would you sacrifice a tree for the forest?”

For a long time, competency-based interviews were the most common format of graduate recruitment interviews.

However, because of their popularity, candidates often turn up at interviews with predictable, practised answers, making it difficult for recruiters to determine their actual capabilities.

For this reason, interviewers are beginning to lean towards a different approach – the strengths-based interview – to help them with their hiring decisions.

Unlike competency-based interviews where you’re asked about what you can do, strengths-based interviews focus on finding out what you enjoy doing – hence questions that are more personal and individual-oriented.

Underlying this approach is the belief that passionate employees tend to have increased productivity and motivation. At the same time, it also “humanises” the recruitment process by offering insights into applicants’ innate attitudes, preferences, and work habits.

EY, Aviva, Standard Chartered, Barclays, Nestlé, and Unilever are some examples of companies that apply strengths-based interviews to their assessment processes.

What to expect from a strengths-based interview

Most strengths-based interviews last about 45 minutes and will not go beyond an hour, but due to the speed and succinctness with which you can answer each question, there will be more questions asked than in a competency-based interview.

Keeping questions prompt also ensures that your responses are genuine and not overthought.

The interview topics covered can be wide-ranging – your recruiters want to find out as much as they can about your interests, and it will be your responsibility to pinpoint and elaborate on them.

Your ability to do this without prompting will also indicate to interviewers your degree of self-awareness (i.e. how well you know yourself, as well as your initiative and motivations).

Note that interviewers will also pay attention to the little details – such as your body language and tone of voice – for cues as to what you like and dislike.

Recruiters may also try to determine certain abilities such as teamwork and leadership skills through how you describe your past experiences or what you like.

How to approach a strengths-based interview

One of the best (or worst?) things about strengths-based interviews is that you don’t have to do as much preparation for it as a competence-based interview – because you can’t!

You won’t be able to predict which questions are designed to test your ability to adapt, your commercial awareness, or communication skills because strengths-based interview questions are all about your likes and dislikes.

What this means is that instead of just catching up on news about the markets, you will also have to do a lot of self-introspection.

Revisit any academic achievements and extracurricular activities that you’ve mentioned in your applications, and try to link those to your interests and passions.

Think about the things that you enjoy doing, and why you like them. Try to recall projects or past experiences that you were proud to have been involved in.

Analysing examples like these will help you identify your strengths, what you want in your career, as well as prepare you for any strengths-based interviews.

Remember, however, that honesty still reigns in this type of interview. Just because the interview is you-focused doesn’t mean that interviewers can be easily duped!

Recruiters can still gauge your sincerity and enthusiasm through constant follow-up questions, as well as through other cues like your body language and tone of voice.

Examples of strengths-based interview questions

You will find a wider array of question formats in strengths-based interviews compared to competency-based ones.

These could be open and closed questions, hypothetical questions, as well as questions about previous experiences and your personality.

Typical questions may include:

  • What do you do well in?
  • When do you feel most at home?
  • When do you perform your best?
  • Do you prefer starting or ending things?
  • How would a close friend describe you?
  • Do you think life is fascinating? Why?
  • How do you feel about deadlines that are constantly changing?
  • If you had a to-do list, what are the tasks that get done and those that don’t? 

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