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What are strengths-based interviews and how can you use them to demonstrate your strengths?

18 May 2020

We are proud to have introduced strengths-based interviews to our graduate recruitment process. Charis McGowan, Emerging Talent Officer at DWF shares her top tips for a successful interview.

Strengths-based interviews are increasingly popular with graduate recruiters for a number of reasons. A strengths-based interview focuses on what you are good at (i.e.your strengths) and also what you enjoy doing. 

Strengths-based interviews tend to be more forward thinking than competency-based interviews, which have a tendency to ask you to reflect on past experiences and provide an example of when you have performed well (e.g.‘Give me an example of when you have worked successfully as part of a team’).

In a strengths-based interview, you may be given a scenario and asked how you think you may react, or asked how you would feel about being placed in that situation (e.g. ‘imagine that you are currently working as a trainee solicitor at DWF. You are busy working on a research task and see that a paralegal in your team is struggling to meet a deadline. What would you do?’)

Strengths-based interviews are considered to be an inclusive and fair way to assess applicants. In theory this is because everybody has their own strengths, so are able to perform well regardless of their past experiences or opportunities. It is also more difficult to prepare rehearsed answers for strengths-based interviews, so assessors are more likely to receive more genuine and energised answers to each interview question.

How to prepare for strengths-based interviews

As you cannot rehearse answers for a strength-based interview, you may go into it feeling slightly more apprehensive about what to expect. However, there are ways of practicing this interview method without preparing rehearsed answers.

  • Think about the role of a trainee solicitor and consider what your strengths would be if you were a successful trainee. For example, one strength of a successful trainee might be resilience. How do you think that you would you react in a situation where you might have to show resilience? Would you enjoy being this type of situation? Can you imagine yourself performing well in this kind of scenario?  
  • Consider your values and how these may translate to strengths. Following this, you should try and identify your own individual strengths and think about what approach you could take to show these strengths.
  • Generally think about what your strengths might be. You can draw on strengths from university, hobbies, sports and more, so don't feel like you have to focus purely on strengths you've learnt from previous/current work experience.
  • In the same way that you would for a competency based interview, research what a typical strengths-based interview question might look like. You can practice how to answer these types of questions, and perfect your technique ahead of the interview. Some example questions are included below to get you started:

- 'Imagine that you are a trainee solicitor at DWF. Your manager has set you a piece of work which is due shortly. What methods would you use to ensure that your work was accurate before submitting it to a supervisor?'

- 'How do you keep yourself motivated?'

- 'How do you motivate others?'

How can you succeed if faced with a strengths-based interview?

Remember that we're not looking for one set answer with strengths-based interviews; in theory each answer should be personal as it will assess what you're naturally strong at, what you enjoy doing or what you are passionate about. Bearing this in mind, you should always try to explain your response fully and try to link back to the question you've been asked. Assessors will not only be assessing your response, but also looking at your body language to assess whether you genuinely enjoy each strength, so you should also bear this in mind when giving your response.

As a consequence of this style of interviewing, it is not necessary to provide examples of previous experience for each answer. However, if you feel you have a suitable example, you are able to use it. As an example, if you were asked about something that you enjoy doing, you should first try and answer why you enjoy the task and then provide an example to support your statement if it's relevant. If you fail to answer why you enjoy the task and solely provide an example, you could lose out on some marks.

Make sure that you fully understand what the question is asking you before answering. With a competency-based interview, you may be able to easily pick out key words such as 'teamwork', and instantly provide an example of when you have demonstrated teamwork in the past. With strengths-based interviews, you will need to understand the full question in order to prepare the most effective answer. If you need to ask for the question to be repeated, or you need a little bit longer to respond then don't be afraid to say!

Finally, don't be put off if the interviewer doesn't engage with you much during the interview. During a competency-based interview, an interviewer may ask you to provide an example and then probe/ask additional questions off the back of the example that you provide. As you don't necessarily have to provide examples in strength-based interviews, it's likely that interviewers will be asked not to probe for additional detail during any of your answers. Again this keeps the process fair, as it means that someone who provides an example isn't given an additional opportunity to give a more in-depth and rich response.

With this in mind, you should make sure that your answers are detailed and that you offer as much evidence as you wish to provide. The interviewers may not probe you for more information, so it might be your only opportunity to provide the desired level of detail.

We're looking for partners of the future; applicants who are excited about the opportunities that being a trainee at DWF would present, and who can demonstrate this accordingly. You should ensure that you do plenty of research about DWF before your interview, and are able to demonstrate why you are passionate about potentially joining us. 

Example strengths-based question & answer

Q1. Imagine that you are a trainee solicitor at DWF.  Your manager has set you a piece of work which is due shortly.  What methods would you use to ensure that your work was accurate before submitting it to a supervisor? 

A. Prior to submitting my work to my supervisor I would print it out and read it through with a highlighter to hand to ensure that I hadn't missed anything when I had originally produced it. I would compare it against the original briefing I was given for the task to ensure that I had met the required objective. I would then ask a colleague within my immediate team to read over it and check that it makes sense, and also to flag whether there are any spelling/grammatical/formatting errors that I should amend. I would then amend anything that myself and/or my colleague had flagged, do a final spell check on the computer and then submit it to my supervisor. Attention to detail is critical as a trainee so these are the steps I would take with every piece of work to ensure accuracy. 

Q2. 'Be Better Together' is a key value at DWF.  What would you do as a trainee solicitor to demonstrate this value?

A. I would always be a team-player. For example, I would offer to help individuals in my team regardless of what level they are and be proactive and helpful, making suggestions where appropriate. I would notify them when I have capacity to help balance out the work load wherever possible. I would also get involved in the fundraising activities for the DWF Foundation to help develop relationships with individuals from different parts of the business and help support our wider business aims. Finally, I would always ask for feedback on my work and also praise others for their hard work.

Remember that there is not necessarily a right or wrong answer to a strengths-based question, but you should ensure that your response is logical, specific and clear. 

We hope that the tips in this blog will help with your preparation and wish you the best of luck in the recruitment process!
 
 
Charis McGowan, Emerging Talent Officer
 

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