‘Strengths’ in Recruiting
How to find the missing piece of the puzzle when you want to recruit a star performer, by Rebecca Stevens
A common challenge
One of the common challenges in recruitment is finding someone with the right motivation who is going to be really engaged and a high performer in the role. You need to know not only that they can do the job, but also that they want to, and will actually meet or even exceed expectations.
Trying to pin this down is difficult with traditional competency-based approaches in recruitment.
To understand the difference a psychometric measure of ‘strengths’ can bring, it is important to be clear about existing approaches and the benefits they have. This article doesn’t argue for a replacement of the existing competency-based approaches; rather it argues for adding a ‘strengths’ measure to the recruitment equation.
What are Strengths?
For the purposes of this article, ‘strengths’ are defined as “underlying qualities that energise us, contribute to our personal growth and lead to peak performance”, Brewerton and Brook, 2006.
What about competencies in recruitment?
The typical competency based recruitment approaches involve creating a long list of candidates through various screening and sifting methods e.g. application form, telephone interview, verbal and numerical reasoning assessments, situational judgement tests, etc. Through various stages, a long list of candidates is whittled down to a short list to meet face-to-face. At that stage assessment may include a structured competency-based interview, a group discussion, a role-play, a presentation, further testing, etc. These exercises are typically focused on competencies, knowledge and skills required for the job. The primary focus is: does the candidate ‘fit the box’.
How are Strengths different?
Exciting developments in the field of positive psychology have encouraged a different type of focus. Rather than the traditional deficit model, i.e. what you are not and what you need to do to be ‘normal’, the focus is on identifying assets, i.e. who you are and how you can nourish and flourish to be the best you can be.
In a nutshell: ‘strengths’ in recruitment is about understanding who the person is, what they bring to the role and how they would be engaged and motivated by the type of work in that role. It is very focused on the individual.
Significantly, this approach also looks at how individuals are going to make the most of what they are good at to be an excellent performer. This is described as ‘stretch’, i.e. helping people understand their limits, their areas of potential excellence and mastery potential (see references).
Existing IQ, competency and personality assessment approaches are the first steps in finding out how someone would perform in a role. Assessing strengths is another key step and, in a sense, the missing piece of the puzzle in measuring motivation and engagement.
How can you use strengths in recruitment?
There are a few different strengths measures on the market. For illustrative purposes I’ll focus on the application of Strengthscope® from Strengths Partnership. Candidates complete this questionnaire in advance of face-to-face meetings, then have a discussion at those meetings about their stand-out strengths, as identified with this tool, exploring:
- Their level of personal awareness about their own strengths, i.e. do they choose tasks which play to their own capabilities?
- How they have productively used these strengths in the past, i.e. looking for evidence of effective use of the strength.
- Their awareness of performance risks of their strengths, i.e. what triggers them to use the strengths too much or inappropriately?
- How they flex their strengths and how they would use them in the role?
You can also look for evidence of their strengths through a telephone interview and assessment centre exercises utilising this same criteria.
So, whilst competency-based approaches to recruitment are valid and useful, adding a strengths measure to the equation can really improve the impact and outcome for the hiring manager and the person hired. It helps organisations find high performers because they identify those who not only can do the job, but who love to do the job.
- 2012. Brook, J. And Brewerton, P. (2012) STRETCH: Leading Beyond Boundaries, Leicestershire: Troubador Publishing.
- Brook, J. Strengths Partnership Ltd. “At full stretch…” Talent Management, see: www.thehrdirector.com
About the author
Rebecca Stevens is Director of Work Brighter, helping managers recruit and develop the right people for their business.
Rebecca is a Chartered Psychologist with the Division of Occupational Psychology, Associate Fellow of the British Psychological Society and Principal Member of the ABP.