Strength-Based Interviewing. All Change For Graduate Recruitment

“Everything changes,” said Heraclitus, “and nothing stands still.” Isaac Asimov expanded the thought. “The only constant is change, continuing change, inevitable change, that is the dominant factor in society today.”

It seems that the recruiters at some of the major graduate employers have been reading one of those deep thinkers. Probably Asimov, he’s much more accessible.

What’s the evidence that change is afoot? For many years the major graduate recruiters used ‘competency-based’ interviewing. It stood them in good stead. Then along came Asimov, pointing out the inevitability of change. Now, sweeping through the recruitment world faster than Fresher’s Flu, we have ‘strength-based’ interviewing. What’s the difference?

Let’s look back to the days of competency. Competencies are what an organisation needs and – relatively – are easy to test and assess. Sit the candidates down, each with an identical set of questions, and their answers let you rank them in a quasi-scientific way. Add a case study and you can measure analytical skills, flexibility and creativity. Then conduct a face-to-face interview to establish that the candidate ‘fits-in’. Hey presto, you’re sending out job offers – or rejections if the candidate’s competency didn’t clear the hurdles you set. Tough on the rejects, though, who in other respects might be great employees.

That’s a thought that Asimov disciples took aboard, because a competent organisation is not necessarily a successful one. Question papers don’t allow recruiters to assess ‘success’ characteristics; essentially how much a candidate will like the job, and thus how much energy and enthusiasm they will put into it.

Hence, the new world of strength-based interviewing. Whereas competency-based finds what the candidate can do, strength-based finds out what the applicant enjoys. It’s an important distinction because even a process-driven large employer performs better when staff enjoy their work – and they can always be trained in the necessary competencies.

Psychology provides the theory behind strength interviewing: we are born with strengths but few of us know quite what they are. Today, recruiters are tasked to identify your strengths. They’ll then see if there’s role that you will enjoy. Because you’ll be doing something that comes naturally, you’ll perform better than someone who has little enthusiasm for it.

What does this all mean if you’re about to start job hunting? You might disregard the advice of friends who preceded you into the workplace; your recruitment process may not reflect theirs. Don’t Google too far back when looking for interview advice and tips. And you can’t (in the best Oxbridge tradition) get hold of previous papers and mug-up on the interview questions and answers.

Instead, embrace your strengths. Find ways of expressing your interests and abilities that don’t sound hackneyed and formulaic – we can advise you on this. Work out what you love doing and engineer the opportunity to discuss it; again we can help you.

Be honest about what you don’t enjoy and think how your strengths might fit the organisation’s culture and job requirements. Don’t pretend to be brilliant in front-line client contact if you really enjoy statistical analysis – organisations need more analysts than account executives. But if a column of numbers makes you yawn and you love talking with people, make that clear to the person on the other side of the desk.

The odds are stacked in favour of rejection letters – Ernst and Young receive 16,000 graduate applications a year, but only appoint about 600 graduates. So, your very first job is to find ways of tilting the odds in your favour.

Interview Advantage’s services include mock interview coaching and training covering strengths based interviews.

Image on previous page © R/DV/RS