Strength-Based Interviews: A Survival Guide!

Heading into an interview, you probably know the answers to questions about your skills and experience by heart. So what would you do if a potential employer asked you how you feel when you break a promise, or whether you prefer finishing or starting tasks?

Some of the biggest graduate employers are replacing the typical “competency-based” questions with a new “strength-based” style in their recruitment process. Nestlé, Barclays, Royal Mail, Unilever and Aviva are among the companies who want to know what you enjoy doing, rather than what you already do.

Don’t panic; this is great news for recent graduates. If you struggle to get work experience after uni, you can still land your dream job based on your personality and interests. It’s difficult to rehearse strength-based questions, which means your answers will be more genuine. This will help recruiters match you to a role you really enjoy, which will improve your performance and your chances of career progression.

Start preparing by researching the company’s values and check the job description to see what qualities they’re looking for in their candidates. Do you have to keep calm under pressure, be loyal, be a good multitasker or resolve conflict? Nobody’s perfect; you’ll soon come up with a list of strengths and weaknesses.

So: what kind of questions can you expect in a strength-based interview? Here are some of the most popular.

“Have you ever done something differently the second time round? How do you feel if you’ve broken a promise?”

This is your chance to show thoughtfulness and initiative. You don’t have to give a work-based example, or any example at all, as long as you demonstrate that you learn from mistakes and can think on your feet when things go wrong.

“What things are always left unfinished on your to-do list? What is your least favourite part of a job?”

This kind of question is the classic “what is your biggest weakness?” in disguise. The same rules apply. You can take the road oft traveled and claim that you’re a perfectionist, someone who’s too organised for their own good. Or you could opt for honesty and highlight something that you want to get better at, showing self-awareness.

“What are you good at? What did you find easiest to learn at university?”

Are you more logical or more creative? Do you prefer to learn by doing or watching? By finding out these things, employers can gauge how suitable you are for a role where you’ll be learning on the job.

“Have you ever wanted to quit something? What gets you out of bed in the morning?”

Questions like these aim to discover your main motivations and drives. Whether it’s a mental or a physical goal that keeps you going, showing that you’re the type of person who perseveres in stressful environments is sure to impress interviewers.

Just remember that employers are looking for enthusiasm and engagement in both your words and body language, and they’ll be able to tell the real from the fake. According to Sally Bibb, director of consultancy Engaging Minds, the most important piece of advice for strength-based interviews is “[d]on’t try to be something you’re not.”

Alice Hiley is a final-year English and Creative Writing student at Lancaster University. You can get in touch on her blog or Twitter.

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