Interviews and assessment centres

Strength-based interviews for jobs and grad schemes

21 Jun 2023, 15:39

Find out what to expect from strength-based graduate job interviews, which focus on what you enjoy doing as a way of assessing your personal attributes and innate aptitudes.

strength-based interview questions for graduate jobs

Strength-based interview questions are all about predicting your future potential, what you are particularly good at and what inspires you. By way of contrast, competency-based interview questions are all about discovering whether you have the basic ability to ‘do the job’, as indicated by what you have achieved in the past. Some employers are moving away from using mainly competency-based graduate job interviews to using a mainly strength-based interview approach.

Strength-based interview questions advice: What do these questions assess? | Why? | Example questions | How are you assessed? | Video interviews | Tips for answering | Which employers use strengths questions?

What does a strength-based interview assess?

Strength-based interview questions and assessment exercises seek to discover:

  • How well you are likely to do the job, not just whether you can do it
  • Whether you would be motivated in and energised by the job
  • Your natural behaviours: how you typically respond to situations you would face in the role

Why are recruiters using strength-based assessment methods?

The reasoning behind this approach is that if recruiters hire graduates who would enjoy the work, be able to use their strengths and feel able to be their authentic selves at work, the graduates would be more successful in the role and committed to the company; they would be a long-term investment for the employer. As these recruiters want to hire graduates who are right for the specific role, they spend a lot of the recruitment process providing you with a real understanding of what the job will involve.

It is also argued that strength-based interview questions and assessments provide graduates from all socio-economic backgrounds with an equal opportunity to succeed. The answers to the questions don’t require you to have multiple examples from extracurricular activities or internships – examples that might be easier for students from more advantaged backgrounds to obtain.

What are some example of strength-based interview questions?

Strength-based interview questions could be closed (requiring a ‘yes’/’no’ answer), open (requiring a longer answer), hypothetical (focusing on how you would act in a situation) or behavioural (focusing on how you do act).

Typical or example strength-based interview questions include:

How do recruiters assess you?

Recruiters will have previously identified the strengths that they want to assess and each question will relate to one or more strengths. These will be based around various attributes, skills, values and behaviours that are needed to be successful in the job. Common ones include:

  • relationship management and building
  • inspiring the trust of colleagues and clients
  • the ability to pick up new information and learn quickly
  • resilience
  • persistence.

When you give your answers, it is probable that recruiters will be gauging whether you would do well in the job (sometimes known as your capability or ability) and how energised or drained you are when using that behaviour/strength (known as your engagement level).

What happens in strength-based video interviews?

Large graduate recruiters may also use video interviews as part of their strength-based assessment process. These will typically be used instead of telephone interviews and online aptitude tests.

Recruiters often use two stages of video interviews and both are intended to give you an ‘immersive’ experience of the job you would be doing, its highlights and its challenges. You can expect to watch videos about the work and answer questions about what you have seen at various points throughout. For example, you might be watching a meeting with a client in which the client raises an objection and you could be asked how you would respond. The questions might be multiple choice, require free text answers or invite you to film and upload your answers. These might be known as job simulation exercises.

Our partners at Shortlist.Me offer resources that will help you practise video interviews.

How do you answer strength-based interview questions?

One of the reasons recruiters like strength-based interview questions is that they are not as easy to prepare for as competency-based interview questions can be: strengths questions often capture your instinctive, true responses. However, there are some things you can do to show yourself in the best light:

  • Make sure you listen to (or read if you are doing a video interview) the question carefully. Strength-based interviews are likely to be more quick-fire than other types of interviews and might end up asking something subtly different to what you expect at the start of the question.
  • In a face-to-face interview, don’t be afraid to: ask your interviewer to repeat the question; elaborate on a scenario given in a question; or take time to think. If you do need longer to think, indicate to the recruiter that you are thinking about the question, rather than leaving a long pause.
  • Although these questions aren’t competency-based, do bring in previous examples when answering the question if you can: it will give you more to talk about and show evidence of previous capability.
  • Try to keep in mind what recruiters look for when assessing engagement, but don’t get too obsessed by this. Your enthusiasm will shine through naturally. Recruiters often assess your engagement by looking for verbal and body language clues. Studies have shown that when we are energised or motivated by what we are talking about, we tend to give longer, more detailed answers, using positive language and an enthusiastic tone. Our body language is also naturally more expressive.
  • Don’t worry if you are an introvert, shy and/or just plain nervous. When assessing engagement levels, interviewers will have been trained to look beyond this.
  • If taking part in a video interview where you have to film your answers, read our feature providing expert performance tips on video interviews.

Which employers use strength-based interviews and assessments?

Generally speaking, professional services firms and banks have led the way in using strength-based interview questions. However, many other large employers have also adopted this approach, including Jaguar Land Rover, which uses strength-based interviews to assess how well you would be likely to do the job and whether you would be motivated by it. You are also particularly likely to be asked strength-based interview questions by technology and consumer goods companies.

While some companies may have adopted a wholly strength-based approach, other employers are mixing strength-based interview questions into their existing interviews, so you might be asked strengths questions alongside competency and traditional ‘Why have you applied to us?’ questions. The Institute of Student Employers (ISE) reported back in 2019 that 50% of its graduate recruiter membership used strength-based recruitment processes in some way, while 69% of employers combined a number of approaches, including recruiting by competency and values matching. In 2021, it reported that 21% of its employer members used strength-based online tests.

If an employer lists required 'behaviours' alongside 'qualifications' and 'skills' in its job descriptions, it’s a fair bet they will be using a strength-based approach in one way or another.

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