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How to devise strengths-based interview questions

A love match?

Increasingly employers want to know more about their job candidates. Not just – can they do the job? But also – will they love the job?

Savvy employers know that if an employee enjoys what they’re doing they’ll do it better, give more discretionary effort, stay, be a better representative of the company and provide better customer care.

But how do you assess whether a candidate will love the job on offer?

A competency-based interview will assess skills and experience. But it won’t get to the heart of whether a candidate will enjoy or is passionate about doing the role.

Welcome to the Strengths Based Interview.

By focusing on someone’s strengths – i.e those things that energise and motivate them – employers can identify candidates with the potential to become peak performers in their business.

But how do you construct a Strengths Based Interview?

Here’s how.

1. Competency to strengths – a shift in mindset

It can be quite a lot for managers used to conducting strengths based interview to get their heads round. Competency-based interviews measure someone’s skills and experience, and provide a way to measure and score a candidate against the requirements of the job.

How can you identify and measure how a candidate feels about a job, whether they’re going to love doing it?

And anyway, why would you want to? Surely, the more important thing is that they can do the job. Whether they love it or not is neither here nor there.

Actually, it’s very much here. Research shows that energised, passionate employees have a direct and positive impact on a company’s bottom line.

And strengths provide a way to determine whether a candidate will be energised and passionate about the job on offer.

The first step then in developing your strengths based interview is to help your interviewers and managers understand the principle and the thinking behind using strengths instead of (or as well as) competency-based interviews.

2. What does the job involve?

The next step is to break down what’s involved in the job itself.

Let’s take a call centre role as our example. The job is likely to involve:

  • Talking to customers on the phone
  • Following a set procedure or script
  • Having an eye for detail.

Looking at that list, it’s easy to see that some people will love it and some people will positively hate it.

And it’s obvious really, that if you can attract someone who likes detail, enjoys talking to people even if those people are unhappy, and is energised by structure then they’ll be good at their job, easy to train and great ambassadors for the business.

But how do you identify someone who loves this list from someone who doesn’t in an interview?

3. Devise questions that explore the candidate’s strengths

No one is good at/energised by everything a job entails so you’ll need to prioritise which of the job tasks is most critical to success in the role.

I would also recommend using a psychometric tool such as Strengthscope® alongside the interview to provide an objective measure of a candidate’s strengths.

For the interview, you’ll need to create a question for each of those key areas or tasks.

They need to provide the candidate with an opportunity to talk about a specific example of when they’ve performed that task previously.

Your follow-up questions or probes should then dig deeper into how a candidate felt about that activity.

In this way, you’ll start to gather evidence about whether a candidate pursued a task with glee or trudged despondently through it. The difference will make all the difference to whether they’re right for the role.

For instance, ask a sales candidate how they feel when they get a no from a potential customer. One person might feel disheartened, even rejected while another loves getting a no because that means the challenge to turn that to a yes has become just a bit more exciting. Who’d you prefer to employ?

4. Preparing the candidate

A strengths based interview is not just a mindset shift for interviewers. Interviewees can find it a challenge too.

Candidates are used to competency-based interviews. They’re used to talking about their skills and experience. They’re not used to talking about how they feel about a job.

This may mean that they revert to facts rather than feelings – an interviewer needs to be able to spot when someone’s steering the conversation to how they do something rather than what they enjoy about it.

One way to tackle this issue is to prepare candidates in advance. Tell them you’re going to be conducting a different kind of interview. That you’re interested in who they are as a person and what they’re motivated by.

5. Scoring strengths

You can’t score motivation in the same way you’d score competencies. What you’re looking for is how closely a candidate’s motivations match the role requirements, the tasks involved, the outcomes you need them to achieve.

What are they bringing to the role in terms of what they are energised by and drained by? How close is that to the role you’re hiring for? Is it close enough? If there are gaps, are they critical? Or who else on the team could fulfil those gaps using their strengths?

6. Giving feedback

I think it’s incredibly important to give feedback after any interview, but particularly so if using a strengths based approach.

It’s as if you’ve opened a door to a more individual, more positive, more insightful way of interviewing. To not provide feedback is like slamming that door in the candidate’s face!

By sharing your insight into why a candidate was unsuccessful – that their motivations didn’t match with what the job entailed and therefore you felt they wouldn’t enjoy the role – you can help them start to identify what roles they should be applying for. Those roles that do require their specific strengths-set. Those roles where they would be happy.

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