Fundamentally interviewers are looking to answer the following 3 questions:
- ‘Can you do the job?’
- ‘Do you want the job?’
- ‘Will you fit in?’
Many people with be familiar with competency-based questions which form the basis of most job interviews. These look for evidence of transferable skills and are designed to answer the question ‘Can you do the job?’ They can be anticipated by looking through the person specification of job role you are applying for, and may highlight examples such as teamwork, problem solving and organising events or people. Typical examples of competency questions include: “tell me about a time when you successfully solved a challenging problem”, or “describe the role you typically play in a team.” Highlighting the skills required by the recruiter means that it’s possible to anticipate and plan for potential competency-based questions before the interview.
But what about those questions which are designed to look beyond your skills? How do recruiters get the answers to ‘Do you want the job?’ and ‘Will you fit in?’
The questions which can answer these are best described as strengths questions and they are designed to elicit your motivation and values. With strengths questions the interviewer wants to know who you are – the authentic you.
Graduate recruiters using strengths
Ernst and Young, Barclays and Nestle are graduate recruiters who have incorporated a strengths-based approach to their recruitment and selection processes as a more effective way of eliciting responses from applicants. Standard Chartered Bank in Asia, one of the largest global graduate recruiters have also adopted strengths as part of their Graduate Development programme.
These recruiters will have a range of strengths that they look to appoint against, although they will not expect all successful candidates to fulfil each and every one of these. However if your strengths don’t broadly align with the recruiting organisation’s then perhaps there may not be a good organisational/individual ‘fit’? In this case perhaps the recruiter is doing you a favour if they don’t appoint you.
Here are some examples of strengths-based questions:
- Are you a starter of a finisher?
- What do you love to do in your spare time?
- What do you find quick to learn?
- How would a close friend describe you?
- What qualities would you bring to this team?
- Are you a big picture or a detail person?
- What activities give you an energy buzz?
- Give me an example of a weakness?
Honesty is the best policy
The best way to answer strengths questions is honestly. You can’t prepare for these. These questions don’t have a right or wrong response, so if you attempt to reply in the way you think the recruiter wants rather than what you actually think or feel, it’s likely that inconsistencies in your body language, a lack of genuine enthusiasm and expression may give you away.
When you are describing the things you enjoy doing and are good at, your enthusiasm will come through in your answers. You’re likely to become more animated and your motivation will become apparent to the interviewer, which can only be a good thing.
Tricky question: what are your weaknesses?
For the ‘weakness’ question it is best to select a real weakness, (everyone has weaknesses after all) and to explain either what you are doing to overcome it – or how you use your strengths to compensate. This is a more honest way to respond that trying to ‘cleverly’ disguise a weakness as a strength. For example ‘my friends say I can be a bit annoying as I tend to be over-organised and write to do lists for absolutely everything.’ Recruiters see straight through this and it can be irritating.
What if you don’t know your strengths? Student Careers and Skills run central strengths workshops each term which enable participants to complete a free Realise 2 Strengths profile. The profile identifies both your strengths and your weaknesses which can help you become more aware of what you have to offer as well as reflect on what you might say in response to strengths-based questions.
Our careers consultants are qualified strengths practitioners and can provide 1 to 1 feedback on your profile. Feedback from students who have previously attended a workshop:
“Just to let you know that since the strengths programme I’ve had 3 interviews, with the last one being yesterday. I’m delighted to be able to tell you I got two placements off the back of those interviews. I certainly think that the programme has helped me during these interviews so thank you very much for running the sessions.” Law Third Year Undergraduate
“The strengths profile program really helped me. It gave me a lot of confidence about who I am and what my scope for improvement is.” Maths and Economics Second Year Undergraduate
If you can’t wait for a workshop you can choose to complete a Realise 2 Profile at a discounted rate. Just enter enter your Warwick e mail address and the code Warwick 2010.