Dr Alex Linley, founder of the Centre of Applied Positive Psychology (Capp), looks at the natural evolution of the interview and how organisations are switching on to strengths-based recruitment.
The philosophy of strengths-based HR approaches has been around for a while, but the practical applications are only now becoming used as a mainstream approach. With increasing numbers of large organisations, including Aviva, Ernst & Young, McDonalds and Reckitt Benckiser, implementing the approach – maybe it is time for others to take action? At present, the most widely used recruitment practice is the competency-based method. The fundamental flaw with this method, however, is that it is focused on assessing what people claim they can do or can provide an example of. With most recruitment and careers advice services running sessions that help candidates practice competency-based interviews, it’s no wonder that the technique is no longer deliver its original promise. The challenge for many organisations is that candidates have become rote in their responses to competency questions, with “evidence” that is well-rehearsed and polished, rather than real. A second limitation of competency-based approaches is that they typically assess what people can do, rather than what they love to do and do well.
In contrast, strengths-based recruitment assesses and recruits people based on their natural talents, by identifying and assessing the things they not only do well, but also love to do. It is more reliable because it matches the person’s strengths to the role, ensuring that candidates are not just capable, but will actually be engaged and motivated to deliver. Strengths-based recruitment improves candidate experience by allowing candidates to be authentic and show themselves for who they genuinely are. Assessors are trained to look for energy and authenticity, together with evidence of high performance of the strength, a combination that guarantees the appointment of a genuine high performer into the role.
Strengths-based recruitment works by identifying the key strengths that will deliver success in the role – both for now and into the future. Strengths for the role would typically be decided by reviewing against the attributes of a person that will deliver high performance in role, be aligned with the organisation’s values and have the flexibility and agility to adapt into the future against the evolving needs of the organisation.
Another of the simple differences between the two approaches is that while the competency-based approach would typically be focused on a limited number of generic competencies, strengths-based interviewing is more granular according to what will actually deliver success in role. Balancing this specificity of role requirements with the need for organisational simplicity and transferability is key, but it’s clear that when achieved the recruitment of better quality talent and more high performing employees is the result.
Interestingly, despite these differences, there are many common areas of approach between competency-based recruitment and strengths-based recruitment,so the transition from using competencies to using strengths is often a straightforward one. This comes down simply to a better understanding of what success in role looks like, a more specific identification of the personal attributes that will deliver that success, and an interview and assessment methodology that is designed to detect energy and engagement to deliver performance, as well as simple ability – just because somebody can do something, is no guarantee that they will do. Strengths-based recruitment helps to draw out these essential differences.
While still in its infancy, it is clear that companies using strengths-based recruitment are already seeing significant business benefits. For example, the professional services firm, Ernst & Young, started using strengths-based recruitment across its graduate population in 2009. Ernst & Young typically has around 19,000 graduates applying each year, of which 10 percent will be offered jobs. Through using strengths approaches across attraction and candidate engagement though an online strengths tools, strengths-based interviewing and assessment centres, the difference is clear. Strengths-based recruitment delivered a 15 percent increase in the number of candidates de-selected at first interview, together with a 12 percent increase in the number of candidates appointed following assessment centre, compared with the competency approach.
So, 40 years on, it’s time for HR Directors to be looking at what has changed and what can be done better. The emergence of positive psychology and strengths approaches over the last decade is now filtering through to significant improvements in HR practice. We’re reaching the tipping point – the risk is that those who don’t jump soon are going to be left behind in this latest battle in the war for talent. Bottom line business benefits are there for the taking for HR Directors who are prepared to start making the transition to using strengths-based recruitment.