Anyone involved in interviews, or interviewing, over the last 10 plus years cannot have failed to notice the rise of the competency based approach. Its emphasis on work behaviours and on proving important transferable skills has moved from its original public sector domain and is now commonplace in recruiting at all levels, across many industries and business areas.
But it seems that in some quarters the model is beginning to be seen as outdated. A victim of its own success perhaps, as candidates are now turning up at interviews so well-prepped and so rehearsed in their answers that recruiters are struggling to really differentiate the good candidates from those that have just learned the script. Let’s face it, competency interviewing holds few surprises. Recruiters tend not to be very original in their questioning and companies are usually very transparent (and so they should be) on what the competencies are that they are interviewing against. It is with little wonder that companies are looking for new ways to identify and select the best candidates.
What is strength based interviewing?
Strength based interviews take the emphasis away from what the candidate can do and focuses instead on what they enjoy doing. It looks at interests rather than behaviours in an effort to make a better candidate/role match. The psychology behind it is straightforward – if you are working in a way that you really enjoy, focusing on tasks that interest you then you will remain more motivated, be more productive and generally be happier at work. That’s a win-win for the employer and the employee.
How is the interview likely to differ?
It is likely to be faster paced with more questions for a start. This is to encourage genuine answers rather than giving candidates the opportunity to try and second guess the motives behind each question. And interviewers are likely to probe less for detail than happens in a typical competency based interview, preferring instead that candidates expand, without prompt, on the reasoning behind their answers, giving appropriate examples to demonstrate. Another key feature is that interviewers are likely to be looking more into not just what you say, but how you say it. Body language can be a real give away when it comes to talking about things we like and don’t like, so they will be looking out for clues as to whether the candidate is speaking honestly, or saying what they think the interviewer wants them to hear.
How should candidates prepare?
The key here is to be genuine and, as a rule of thumb, there is less preparation required than for a competency based interview. However, it certainly wouldn’t hurt for candidates to spend time reflecting on their strengths and identifying situations that can be used as evidence of these (whilst practising the art of putting these ideas forwards with minimal prompting). Typical things to think about would be what you enjoy doing, how you work when you are doing things that interest you, how other people view you and would describe you to strangers and what makes you feel energised. It is also important to think about things you don’t enjoy doing, to avoid a job mismatch. There are some useful websites that will help candidate to prepare for a skills based interview. Jobmi allows people to create a free skills profile and the process of doing this will get you thinking about some of the questions recruiters may wish to focus on. Similarly the University of Kent Careers Service has a useful skills test which helps to make people consider the way they work best and the skills they bring to the table.
What are typical skills based questions?
- “What do you do well?”
- “What activities give you a buzz of energy?”
- “Are you a starter or a finisher?”
- “Describe a successful day that you’ve had.”
- “Are you a big picture or a detail person?”
- “When would your friends say you were at your happiest?”
- “What things are always left unfinished on your to-do list?”
Are strength based interviews working?
A growing number of employers are now adopting this approach to recruitment and it is proving particularly popular with graduate employers as candidates often lack the relevant skills based examples required for competency interviewing. EY, Nestlé, Barclays, Unilever Royal Mail, and Standard Chartered Bank, among many others, have been using this technique with positive results. Employers feel it allows them to more easily identify genuine applicants who can offer potential for the roles they are interviewing for, and the candidates themselves generally find the focus on strengths to be a positive and refreshing recruitment experience, with the added bonus that they have a clearer understanding at the end of it of why they were or weren’t offered the role. With encouraging results on both sides, and a growing number of companies showing willing to give this recruitment style a try, it does seem that strength based interviews will become more and more prominent in the future.
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