Internships and other work experiences
Internships and other work experiences

Start this free course now. Just create an account and sign in. Enrol and complete the course for a free statement of participation or digital badge if available.

Free course

Internships and other work experiences

2.2 Strengths-based questions

Employers are increasingly interested in exploring the strengths of job candidates. Strengths are skills that you are good at, feel energised by and use regularly.

Watch this video from EY explaining why employers use strengths-based questions.

Video 5
Interactive feature not available in single page view (see it in standard view).

You’ll now have a go at identifying your own strengths.

Activity 3 Identifying my strengths

Timing: Allow about 30 minutes for this activity
  1. Look back at the skills audit [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)] you did in Week 3. In that case, you were trying to identify gaps that you could develop or fill through work experience. But you can also use your results to identify strengths.

    Which were the skills that you labelled yourself as competent or proficient in (a score of 2 or 3)? List them in the box below.

To use this interactive functionality a free OU account is required. Sign in or register.
Interactive feature not available in single page view (see it in standard view).
  1. Of those you listed in the box above, consider which you most enjoy using – the ones where you don’t notice the time passing as you are so immersed in your task, or the ones that you use all the time, almost without realising. List them in the box below. The skills you list here are the most likely to be your natural strengths.
To use this interactive functionality a free OU account is required. Sign in or register.
Interactive feature not available in single page view (see it in standard view).


When you look at the list you generated in that last box, does it feel like an accurate description of your strengths? Remember, you can be really good at something without it being a strength. A strength is something you feel energised by when you are using it.

As EY explained in the video, if employers can find staff who are able to use their strengths in their work, they are more likely to have a happy workforce.

Strengths-based interviews can sometimes feel more relaxed and comfortable, but don’t forget they are still assessing you for a role in their organisation – so keep it professional.

The following video from the University of Glasgow explains strengths-based interviews in more detail. It is a little longer than most of the videos included in this course, but it does cover a lot of relevant material, including what you should expect and how to prepare.

Download this video clip.Video player: Video 6
Skip transcript: Video 6

Transcript: Video 6


Many employers are moving towards a strengths-based approach to interviews. Whereas a competency-based interview says past behaviour can predict future ability, a strengths-based interview looks a candidate potential. Identifying someone's strengths can look at how successful they might be in a role, even if they haven't had previous related experience. A strengths-based interview is sometimes a little faster paced than a competency interview and can be more challenging to prepare for, but that's the point. The interviewer is hoping to see the authentic you.
Often, employers will start with an opening question about what you're like and what you're good at, such as, tell me about a really good day you've had recently. This might seem odd, but they are trying to look out for indicators of when you're talking about something you enjoy and are energised by. For example, you might use your hands a lot. You might sit up straight or smile more.
Don't be scared about giving a real, even personal, response. The employer is trying to find out what really energises you. So don't just say what you think they want to hear. This is the measure they'll use throughout the interview to identify when you're discussing true strengths, which you might not even be aware of yourself.
To demonstrate how someone responds when discussing their strengths, next time you see a friend or family member, ask them to talk about something they really enjoy doing. It doesn't matter what it is. What you'll normally notice is they can talk about this effortlessly, give spontaneous examples, their body language is very energised, and you might hear them using words like "always" and "love."
Then ask them to describe something they don't enjoy. What differences do you think you might see? Often, we find it more difficult to continue a free-flowing discussion on something we don't enjoy. Our body language becomes more closed, and it's difficult to be enthusiastic about the topic or think of examples.
The rest of the interview will focus on finding out your true strengths. They'll do this by asking you paired questions, which elicit a response such as, do you prefer working on a team or on your own? And open questions like, how do you stay motivated?
Let's look a how two candidates tackled this strengths-based question: What do you think of networking?
Networking, for me, is something that I really enjoy, actually. It's a part of my job that-- I just seem to love it when I do it. For example, for me, meeting new people is something I really enjoy.
Last week at the careers fair that we ran, when I wasn't doing anything in the rota, any spare time I had, I went around to all the stands and talked to all the people, which I really enjoyed. One of them I spoke to was Morgan Stanley. And I managed to get them to agree to come and do some CV clinics with me with computing students that I'm doing next week, which was really good.
I've just enjoyed it all the way through, even if it's interview to interview, and seminars that I go for, or interviews that I go for. I really enjoy the networking part of that. It's something that I love.
Networking is really important. It's something I've had to do in previous jobs that I've been in. And it's really important to meet new people. For the work, I've always done it. Yeah, it's something that I've had to do.
Did you notice the difference? Steven was enthusiastic in his response. He spoke fluently, clearly, and at length. His eyes were wide, and he used words like "love," "to be honest," and "enjoy." He gave a spontaneous star example, which he was able to recollect straight away with no effort, and sounded authentic.
Gail spoke briefly and used words like "have to" and "kind of," which shows that this is something she does as part of her job, but without enjoying it. She was matter of fact and didn't give any examples. In comparison to Steven, her hands stayed still, whereas his hands moved expressively.
So can you prepare? Well, yes. The first step is to really understand your strengths. What do you actually enjoy doing? And what are you good at?
Think about your experiences. If you loved working in your part-time job, why was that? What part of the job did you especially enjoy? What strengths did you utilise? Understanding this will help you to articulate this more freely in an interview.
Do your research. What strengths might the employer need in this role? Most employers will tell you this information upfront.
And finally, for both competency-based and strengths-based interviews, our general tips of preparation for interview will still apply. You should always prepare answers to common interview questions and remember your star stories. They will never let you down.


End transcript: Video 6
Video 6
Interactive feature not available in single page view (see it in standard view).

Mason (2019) has compiled the following list of strengths-based interview questions:

  • How would your close friends describe you?
  • Do you prefer the big picture or the small details?
  • What are you good at?
  • When did you achieve something you're really proud of?
  • What do you enjoy doing the least?
  • What tasks are always left on your to-do list?
  • How do you feel about deadlines?
  • Do you think this role will play to your strengths?

If you want to practise one of these questions, there will be an opportunity in the next section where you will look at the video interview – something that is becoming increasingly common.


Take your learning further

Making the decision to study can be a big step, which is why you'll want a trusted University. The Open University has 50 years’ experience delivering flexible learning and 170,000 students are studying with us right now. Take a look at all Open University courses.

If you are new to University-level study, we offer two introductory routes to our qualifications. You could either choose to start with an Access module, or a module which allows you to count your previous learning towards an Open University qualification. Read our guide on Where to take your learning next for more information.

Not ready for formal University study? Then browse over 1000 free courses on OpenLearn and sign up to our newsletter to hear about new free courses as they are released.

Every year, thousands of students decide to study with The Open University. With over 120 qualifications, we’ve got the right course for you.

Request an Open University prospectus371