Strength Based Interviews Explained (updated 2023)
The practice of asking Strength questions in a Civil Service interview is now well established across main Civil Service Departments as part of their blended recruitment process under Success Profiles. Whilst most interviews today include a combination of Behaviaour and Strength questions some departments such as the Department of Education and Border Force favour Strength over Behaviour questions so it is very important to understand what Civil Service Strengths are and how to prepare for these types of questions.
Strengths are things which we do regularly, do well and motivate us. From a Hiring Manager’s perspective, if you can demonstrate that you have the Strength required to perform in a role and it comes naturally to you then you will probably do it well. Strength questions are very different to the Civil Service Behaviour questions which are similar to competency based questions. A Behaviour is the actions and activities that people do which result in effective performance at work. The most commonly asked Civil Service Interview Questions are designed to test for the required Competency for example, being a competent Decision Maker. Typically a question might be ‘Please describe a time when you had to make a swift decision? What did you decide and what was the outcome? You need to respond to this question giving your example based on the STAR format. Whereas Strength questions are much more varied. You could be asked, ‘Are your judgments more often proved to be right?’ Strengths and Behaviours are intrinsically linked. For example, you can demonstrate the Behaviour that you’re a skilled Decision Maker because you are highly Analytical and adept at Solving Problems, both of which are core Strengths under Making Effective Decisions.
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Why Ask Candidates Strength Questions?
How a candidate responds to a strength-based question can provide a clear indication to the interview panel as to whether a candidate naturally enjoys (or not) an activity. Based on the premise that people will be more effective, hence fulfilled, if they are doing things which come naturally to them, it is likely a company will have a happy, hardworking and successful workforce if staff are all working on things which play to their strengths.
How A Panel Assesses Your Natural Strengths
The panel will determine if something is a natural strength based on whether:
- Performance: You can perform an activity/ behaviour to a high level of capability.
- Engagement: You feel motivated, enthused and empowered when doing the activity.
- Use: You do the activity regularly and as often as possible.
Therefore, in response to a strength-based question you need to convince the interview panel through positive body language and then backing up your claim with a short example. Answers are typically marked out of 4 which covers your body language and how convincingly you came across, backed up with a credible example which demonstrated the strength.
How To Prepare For Strength-Based Interview Questions
It is more difficult to ‘fake’ an answer to a Strength-Based Question (over a competency), because it is challenging to speak with natural energy and enthusiasm about something you don’t 100% enjoy! However, on occasion you might just have to inject energy into your answer. If you have not previously considered the strengths required for a role before attending the interview, then you could be caught out at by giving a hesitant, unconvincing answer.
Whilst you should not attempt to take on a role which you really won’t enjoy, it is likely that in every job there will be good and not so good elements. Therefore to give every interview your very best shot you must prepare for all questions, so follow this procedure:
- Identify the strengths which are associated with the competencies listed in the job description (Refer to the Strengths Directory to see which of the 36 listed strengths are relevant to the competencies)
- Consider how you feel about each strength on the list – ask yourself, is it something which comes naturally to you or that you tend to avoid?
- Starting with your natural strengths consider why you enjoy doing this activity and set out a few examples from your career which demonstrate the strength.
- Consider the skills and strengths which you are either not so familiar with or that you do not enjoy doing. Set out examples of when you have demonstrated or experienced this strength and how you can make it a positive experience – it could be fine to state that it is not something you do regularly but with practice it could become more rewarding.
The 36 Strengths Listed Within the Civil Service Strengths Directory
There are 36 Strengths within the Strengths Directory – Here are some examples: Each strength is clearly defined in the directory.
- Team Player
- Relationship Builder
- Problem Solver
- Service Focussed
- Team Leader
Opening Question – Assesses Your Natural Energy And Body-language
In an interview, a strength is assessed not just by what you say but how you say it. If an activity is a natural strength of yours then it’s more likely to energise you and you’ll sound and look more animated. However, we all have different levels of energy and present ourselves differently. Consequently, the panel will want to be able to gauge how you respond to something you naturally like doing and something you do not enjoy because this allows them to ‘calibrate’ their gauge. In simple terms, how excited and motivated are you visibly by things you enjoy and things you don’t. They will use this as a guide for how you answer upcoming questions
‘Calibration’ questions could be:
- What motivates you at work?
- What do least enjoy doing at work?
General Strength Based Questions
These will reflect the requirements of the role and the required Competencies (which you have already identify produced a list), for example:
- Would others describe you as analytical? If so why?
- What helps you to bounce back when you are under pressure?
- Do you enjoy negotiating?
- What does a successful day look like?
- What is always last on your ‘to do’ list?
Answers need to short supported by a brief example. Finally you must focus on your communication style and body-language. The panel will be judging (and probably scoring) your answer based on positive body language, engaging and enthusiastic tone and delivery, moving toward the table and not away from it.
Steps To A Successful Interview
- Take time beforehand to think about your natural strengths set out short examples.
- Dissect the job description and/or person specification to identify the range of strengths required using the Strengths Directory.
- Think about possible questions and how you will react.
- Practice your answers out loud with energy, enthusiasm and conviction.
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