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The missing piece of the recruitment puzzle: selecting for strengths

With no miraculous recovery evident in the economy, we seem set for years of slow growth and raised unemployment levels. So where does this leave recruiters?

At the same time, applicants today are becoming increasingly educated in 'standard' approaches to selection, pitching up to interviews and assessment days with a glittering array of examples drawn from their working lives which show them to be a great fit for the role. In some sectors, applicants will complete the same psychometric personality tests on a number of occasions during the course of their job search and so become more savvy about their responses and more conscious of reflecting what they perceive the recruiter wants to hear.

And we know that the knock-on effect of recruiting an ill-fitting candidate into post can be significant - lower levels of engagement, possible disruption to the broader team, department and organisation, lower productivity levels and the cost of removing and replacing the wrong hire sooner rather than later.

So the significant challenge facing recruiters today is to identify people who genuinely 'fit' into a role and organisation from an increasingly sophisticated candidate pool. We have found, therefore, that there is an increasing call for tools and techniques that can assess the whole person, digging deeper than the more traditional focus on competencies and experience, and establishing how motivated, engaged and productive they will be in post. In short, whether the role will enable them to play to their strengths.

We define strengths as underlying qualities that energise us, contribute to our personal growth and lead to peak performance. The key to this definition is that it relates to 'energy', or what galvanises people to behave and perform in certain ways at work. For us, this is a core element of successful recruitment: will the candidate flourish and perform at their best given the requirements of the role and the match for the candidate's own strengths? The closest match we have found to this concept in current recruitment practice is the idea of 'motivational fit'. However, it is often the case that motivational fit isn't as rigorously assessed as role-specific competencies during the recruitment process and is rarely given equal weighting by recruiters in the final hiring decision.

So how do recruiters assess for 'strengths fit' for a given post? Well, there are a number of approaches that can be taken. The system we have developed gives the recruiter a clear indication of both competence and energy levels for a given role. This provides a much richer summary of information, and potentially separates the good candidate at interview from the right person for the job.

We have all come across those candidates who are excellent at answering competency based questions, but who may not actually be as competent when in post. It is far harder to 'fake' energy - we are energised by different things, and this can be measured, in the following ways:

How aware of their strengths is the candidate, and how have they used them productively in previous roles? How would they intend to use them in the target role?

How aware is the candidate of their potential 'performance risks' including:

Strengths going into overdrive, i.e. when a strength is overplayed and leads to unexpected outcomes?

Limiting weaknesses - areas that are having a detrimental impact on performance?

What strategies have they developed to mitigate performance risks?

In summary, this type of interviewing allows the recruiter to 'get under the skin' of the candidate, find out who they are as a person and what makes them truly tick. We have found that strengths interviewing can be introduced readily into most assessment processes, with the proper training.

We have also found that taking a strengths focus into the design and delivery of assessment centres (combining interviews with psychometric tools, role plays, case studies, presentations, etc.) significantly improves the candidate experience, as well as providing far richer data on the candidate, as they are given the opportunity to present themselves authentically during the process, while still being objectively assessed for strengths and competencies.

If you want to find candidates who will deliver sustainable high performance in post, we recommend applying strengths-based assessment techniques to genuinely get 'under the skin' of candidates and discover their strengths. It makes all the difference.

Paul Brewerton (pictured), director, Strengths Partnership