Strengths-Based Interviews and How You Can Ace Them

Interview Tips

June 17, 2021

Job interviews of any kind can be nerve wracking. No matter how many self-help books you read or how many YouTube videos you watch, the quintessential questions like “Where do you see yourself in five years?” or “Why do you want this job?” remain tricky as ever. As the answers to such questions become over-rehearsed and monotonous, employers have taken to a new format of interviews known as a strengths-based interview.


What is a Strengths-based interview?

Rooted in positive psychology, a strengths-based interview aims to evaluate potential employees based on their strengths and how they align with the requirements of the job. By focusing on what you’re good at and what you enjoy doing, such an interview ensures a higher level of job satisfaction, intrinsic motivation, as well as job retention and loyalty to the company. This format is used especially when the candidate doesn’t have a lot of prior work experience, which makes it all the more essential for recent graduates to prepare themselves for it. By taking the focus away from the interviewee’s past experiences, it also serves as a more inclusive method of recruitment. 


Graduate Recruiters are increasingly using this format

Many companies are now using this format to interview potential employees as part of graduate recruitments, including Unilever, Barclays International, Ernst and Young, Standard Chartered, Aviva, Microsoft, and Royal mail, among others. While professional service firms and banks have taken the lead when it comes to this approach, other industries such as technology and consumer goods are also catching up. According to the Institute of Student Employers (ISE), 50 per cent of its graduate recruiter membership used strengths-based recruitment approaches in 2019, while 69 per cent combined it with more traditional approaches like the one based on competency.


How To Answer Specific Questions: A Cheat Sheet

In a strengths-based interview, you’re likely to be asked deeper, more personal questions that help the interviewer understand if the job is something you’d love to do, rather than it being something you can do. Remember that all your responses help an employer judge your suitability for the role. By paying attention to your body language and facial expressions, they will be able to tell how genuine your answer is. Tricky questions are best answered open-endedly. Let’s look at some popular questions asked in a strengths-based interview:


1. How do you keep yourself motivated? [Answer with a unique gusto about what drives you. Your tone should indicate your passion]

2. Do you prefer starting a task or finishing it? [Use this opportunity to express what you like about both the beginnings and endings]

3. Do you make to-do lists? What are the tasks that always go unfinished? [Talk about any organisation methods you use. Make sure your answer reflects that work and personal life are equally important to you]

4. Do you usually stick to deadlines or fail to meet them? [Apart from explaining the concrete ways in which you stick to deadlines, feel free to mention a time you failed to meet a deadline and how you made up for it]

5. Have you ever wanted to quit something? [Don’t forget to mention the various scenarios you considered or options you weighed before deciding you wanted to quit]

6. What are some things that energise you? [Bring up your unique passions and hobbies that highlight your well-rounded personality]

7. What is an achievement that you’re extremely proud of? [Talk enthusiastically about the process that led you to the achievement and why you’re so proud of it]

8. How do you handle working with someone you don’t particularly like? [Try focusing on the changes you’d bring about in your behaviour in this situation rather than your equation with the other person]

9. What would you describe as a successful day? [Try to tailor your answer to the job you’re interviewing for]

10. What would your close friends describe as your greatest strengths? [State some realistic, likeable traits and back them up with a relevant anecdote]


You can be asked a wide variety of questions in an interview like this. If some of them seem slightly repetitive, that is only a way for the interviewer to gauge how consistent you are in your answers. Because of the unpredictability of such questions, it can be more difficult to prepare for a strengths-based interview in advance than one based on your competency. The questions are designed in a way that makes it difficult to rehearse answers. However, here are some tips you can keep in mind to ace a strengths-based interview:

  • Listen to the questions carefully. Don’t be afraid to ask the interviewer to repeat a question if you’re not sure what they meant. Considering the fact that we’re still in a pandemic, many interviews are likely to take place online, and technical glitches are unavoidable.
  • Take some time before the interview to reflect on your strengths and weaknesses. You can use the above questions as a starting point to jot down some talking points that can help you answer questions about yourself. 

  • Focus not only on the content of your answers but also on your body language and facial expressions. If you’re animated while talking, the interviewer will be able to tell you’re interested in what you’re talking about, which is exactly what they want. If your answers are genuine and not sugar-coated, the honesty is bound to shine through.
  • Even though the focus of the interview is not on your past experiences, make sure to bring them up as and when they’re relevant to your answer. For example, if you’re asked how well you do when working in a team, link your answer back to a time when you were part of a team and did really well.
  • While the interview will revolve around your strengths, for the most part, you might also be asked about your weaknesses. If this comes up, be honest, but also talk about the ways in which you’re trying to address them.
  • A strengths-based interview is likely to be fast-paced, and the interviewer might not engage with your answers or probe into them. Don’t get fazed by this. 
  • Remember that there is no right or wrong answer in an interview like this. Regardless of what your answer is, make sure you back it up with as much context as you can. There’s no need to be nervous about giving the right answer.

If you’re not sure if the interview is going to be strengths-based or a mix of multiple approaches, make sure to ask the HR department of the organisation in advance, so you can prepare accordingly. If a job description alludes to “behaviours” in addition to “skills” and “qualifications”, you can be fairly certain that the recruitment process will involve a strengths-based approach. Remember, being self-aware and genuine in your answers is the key to nailing a strengths-based interview. 

Written by Snigdha Bansal

Photo by Gustavo Fring from Pexels

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