In recent years strengths based interviewing and assessment has gathered pace rapidly in graduate recruitment. Pioneered by the likes of EY and Nestle, the approach is now used to some extent by many large organisations who recruit graduates, including Aviva, BAE Systems, Barclays and Unilever. Although still far less common than competency based interviews, being assessed on the basis of their strengths is increasingly something candidates should expect when applying for graduate roles.
The legal sector remains fairly traditional in its selection methods, but international law firm Shearman and Sterling last year incorporated strengths based assessment as part of their trainee recruitment. We caught up with their Graduate Recruitment Adviser, Katie Meer, to find out more:
Can you tell us a bit about strengths based interviewing, and how it differs from other approaches, such as competency questions?Strengths based questions try to find out what candidates enjoy doing rather than just getting them to repeat examples of things they’ve done in the past. You can’t really prepare for strengths based questions so we can tell a lot from the way you answer, such as body language, tone of voice, gesture, or length of answer.
Why did Shearman and Sterling decide to incorporate it in their selection process?
A few reasons: one is that it makes our interviews more interesting for both the candidate and the interviewer. It often means that topics will come up that we wouldn’t have usually discussed. It allows the candidate to direct the subject a little more freely. From a commercial perspective, strengths based interviewing also allows us to see what candidates truly enjoy doing and we can hope that candidates who go into a job that involves lots of tasks they enjoy will work harder and be more productive in the role.
What impact have you noticed on how candidates are performing at interview and those making it through your selection process?
I think we are seeing more candidates from diverse backgrounds excelling at interviews. After the strengths based part we often feel we’ve broken the ice and seen the candidate’s real personality so we can make a more informed decision about whether they would fit with the firm. It is also far more entertaining! I’ve heard some weird and wonderful answers from the very open-ended strengths based questions, which is very refreshing.
Do you think adopting strengths based interviewing has had an impact on the diversity of candidates you are seeing at interview, or who are making it through your selection process?
Strength based questions are very good for social mobility as they don’t require the very polished interview technique and rehearsal applied to competency questions. In fact, trying to answer strength questions in the competency method does not work well as it seems unnatural.
Do you know of any other law firms using strengths based interviewing, and how widely do you think it may be adopted by the legal sector?
I think a couple have now started but it is still the professional services firms who are very strong in this area. The legal sector is getting much better at adopting creative methods and considering new processes, but for firms with very formulaic recruitment processes I’m not sure it will work. At Shearman we have a panel of 35 partner, counsel and associate interviewers who have been trained in our interview techniques. We do not have a strict script of answers to follow, but instead recommended topics to explore and skills we want to see the candidates demonstrate, making for a more conversational interview. At larger firms who have more rigorous processes this would probably not be possible.
Do you have any advice for how candidates can prepare for a strengths based interview?
You can’t really prepare for them apart from getting used to thinking on your feet! Confident candidates with strong communication skills may find these questions easier, but everyone should enjoy talking about their views, ambitions and experiences regardless of preparation or background.
If you are interested in finding out more about strengths based interviewing, try the interview resources available through Careers Tagged, from The Careers Group, University of London, or have a look at this blog post from Capp- the consultancy who helped several firms pioneer strengths based interviewing.
This article was first posted on the Law Careers Blog.