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Monday, July 4, 2022

Strengths-Based Interviews: Coming to a Force Near You!

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“Knowing others is intelligence; knowing yourself is true wisdom.” – Laozi

Police Promotion is changing again. If you listen carefully, you may be able to hear the joyful cries of qualified officers ring out across UK forces: “Good heavens above, how marvelous!”, “I simply can’t wait!”, “How exciting!”… or words to that effect!

Progressive organisations adapt how they recruit or promote people into leadership positions. From the perspective of police promotion candidates however, there are real frustrations: having just prepared ahead of one process, a new one is implemented or runs alongside an existing process. I have previously blogged about these shifting sands of police promotion, for example with…

These cover the range of assessment tests used in selection processes, and how change is the new constant for aspiring police promotion candidates.

In this blog, I introduce the emerging topic of ‘Strengths-Based Interviews’ (SBI). This is growing in popularity with many employers and is also now being used in some police promotion selection processes, e.g. most recently in North Yorkshire Police.

What Are Strength Based Interviews?

“What great leaders have in common is that each truly knows his or her strengths and can call on the right strength at the right time.” – Tom Rath

Police Promotion InterviewIn short, the SBI seeks to find the best candidate for the job by focusing on what you enjoy doing. In contrast, the traditional competency-based interview is about assessing what you can do.

Guidance from the College of Policing to police forces states that tests used for promotion selection should be competence-based. Further to a competency-based assessment, for example a written promotion application, some officers may now also be assessed via a strengths based interview (SBI).

The main aim of a Strengths Based Interview (SBI) is to find out if a candidate has the natural strengths needed for the role in question. Questions about your preferences, work style, strengths and weaknesses are asked in quick succession to identify innate strengths, to assess if you are a ‘good fit’ for the position. The SBI helps interviewers understand your motivation for the role and to judge your enthusiasm, energy and engagement. Questions used are based around strengths required within the organisation, especially those required to perform in leadership and supervisory roles effectively. A bespoke strengths profile is likely to have been developed against specific roles, for example Sergeant/Inspector. This provides interviewers with information about key strengths that high performers in that particular role have. If a ‘strengths profile’ is used, questions can be clearly aligned to the role dimensions and functions. The profile can also support other strengths-based tests, for example Situational Strengths Tests (SSTs), which may form part of a selection process.

Strength Based Interview practice
Try out the Strengths-Based Interview with further guidance on ‘Job Test Prep’

Whilst competencies tell interviewers whether someone can do the job by assessing past experiences, an SBI helps to indicate whether you will do the job and whether you are likely to enjoy it and thrive in it. Questions about what you do well, what you find motivating and energising or when you believe you are at your best are intended to facilitate authentic responses.

An SBI also differs from competence interviews in that there is less probing or follow up questions. Instead, there is more noting of body language and tone of voice. Not just listening to your words, but also observing how you say them to determine whether you have certain valued strengths.

Whilst you may not be told directly what these are at the time, a quick guestimate of the important Sergeant / Inspector’s role responsibilities might include:

  • Decision-making
  • Developing and implementing plans
  • Leadership
  • Collaborative working
  • Wellbeing

What are your strengths in these areas?

How to Prepare for a Strength Based Interview (SBI)

“Over prepare, then go with the flow.” – Steve Cooper

Go with the flow

How can I prepare for an SBI? It’s a good question and depending on what you read or where you look, you’ll find different opinions and guidance. Some say you can’t prepare for an SBI or cite the cliché “Just be yourself” – I’ll come back to that particular gem later! Others believe that because you have not been provided with a list of competencies, you can’t prepare for an SBI in the same way. Others still advise that you shouldn’t ‘over prepare’.

Having read opinions such as, “You can’t prepare”, “Just be yourself” or “Don’t over prepare”, you might be forgiven for thinking, “Thanks Steve, but none of that is particularly helpful, they can’t all be right, so what can I do?”

My response is to over prepare and then go with the flow. This simple, effective, successful strategy is one I have encouraged many aspiring candidates to consider before they successfully converted their leadership aspiration into promotion success. Currently, officers across the UK still face a range of assessment tests for promotion selection including competence-based applications, interviews, presentations, briefing and in tray exercises, situational judgement tests or a combination of these. We can now add strengths based assessment tests.

To paraphrase the National Decision Model (NDM), once you have gathered initial information, ‘over prepare, then go with the flow’ is a great working strategy to mitigate the risk of being unsuccessful. It correlates with some of the more helpful advice you’ll come across and the fact that no matter what you do (or don’t do) there are no guarantees whatsoever when it comes to promotion. You’ve got your force promotion policy/guidance to consult for a start. In this article, you also have some options to start preparing effectively. It’s over to you to take action and make your decision.

The most useful way to approach preparation is to elevate your own understanding around SBIs and strengths-based assessment tests. With that in mind, here’s some food for thought including some tips and guidance on how you might decide to prepare effectively. Take time for some careful consideration of the role before such interviews…

  • What aspects of the role do you believe match your strengths?
  • How do your own preferences fit the role expectations and requirements?

Context: Check in With Your Assumptions

“Most of our assumptions have outlived their uselessness.” – Marshall McLuhan

First things first, context! You are looking to progress your policing career via promotion. Questions to ascertain what you enjoy doing and what you believe you are good at will be geared to this and the needs of the organisation. It’s not unreasonable to assume for example that…

  • You aspire to a formal leadership position because you love policing and enjoy the working environment.
  • You are committed to the policing mission, e.g. ‘Building Safer Communities Together’.
  • You share policing values such as honesty, integrity and public service.
  • You have policing and/or life experiences, which stand you in good stead to apply for the role you seek.
  • You are aware of the role’s responsibilities.
  • You believe that you have potential to become a great leader of police officers and police staff.
  • You enjoy problem solving and challenges.
  • You can make good decisions, implement change, manage resources effectively and inspire others.

If the above assumptions are wrong and you don’t really enjoy any of activities alluded to, your performance in an SBI will probably reflect and amplify this. Of course there may be no prior assumptions made at all, in which case it is only your responses to the SBI questions that will paint a picture of you!

You’ll have natural strengths in some of those areas, with development needs (weaknesses) in others. But it is your energy, enthusiasm, attitude and personality that interviewers will be noting. Your non-verbal communications (NVCs) can indicate whether you are a good fit or likely to thrive in the role. These include things such as tone of voice, eye contact or body language, all being difficult to disguise in an interview situation.

If you don’t feel comfortable providing an honest account of how you feel when working at your best and what you enjoy when you are happy, that’s understandable. But it’s a clear gap you should address, to be the best version of yourself when it matters for your SBI.

Examples of the ‘Quick Fire Questions’ You May Face

“You’re thinking too much, just let it flow.” – E. Paluszak

Interview questions

Generally speaking, people tend to come across best when talking about things they enjoy doing. In an SBI, the interviewers are trying to get a sense of who you are in a short space of time, so expect to answer a quick-fire mix of 30-40 open and closed questions. This allows the interview panel to elicit your genuine motivation and interest levels, while more accurately assessing your strengths aligned to role requirements and organisational needs.

Here are some question examples you may face in an SBI:

  • What energises you?
  • How have you been able to develop your skills?
  • What are you good at? How do you know this?
  • What inspires you?
  • What are your greatest strengths?
  • What do you learn quickly?
  • Describe some of your weaknesses.
  • Are you at your best working in a team or on your own initiative?
  • How do you think this role will play to your strengths?
  • Describe a successful day. What makes it a good day?
  • What is important to you in work?
  • What is important to you in your life?

With an SBI, there may be slightly less scope to prepare or rehearse answers because the questions are introspective. However, preparation is still key to success and there’s much you can do ahead of your golden opportunity. You may still be asked a range of forward- and rear-facing questions, so don’t overlook or waste the opportunity right now to do some wider research. For example, around policing challenges or to reflect on your values to help be the best you can be.

5 Tips to ‘Just Being Yourself’

“Be yourself, everyone else is taken.” – Oscar Wilde

I said earlier that I would come back to the cliché: “Just be yourself”. It’s advice, but on it’s own it is of little value. As with any type of interview or assessment test, research and preparation ahead of your opportunity equates to being more informed, aware and confident.

Only after some targeted intelligence-gathering, meaningful practice and personal reflection does “Be yourself” become transformed into encouraging guidance and supportive advice. Here are some tips to help you be the best version of yourself when it matters.

  • Develop your self-awareness (one aspect of emotional intelligence).
  • Familiarise yourself with strengths based questions. Practice your responses to the above examples out loud. Analyse and adjust.
  • Research the role and responsibilities. What makes you a good fit?
  • Compile a list of your own strengths including your achievements and how you reached them. How might your approach be an advantage in the role you are applying for?
  • Think about any weaknesses or development areas and what you are doing to counter or offset them.


“There is only one proof of ability – action.” – Marie Ebner-Eschenbach

If you found this blog helpful and you’d like more tips and guidance on effective promotion preparation, why not download a FREE GUIDE: ‘7 Things Promotion Boards Also Look For’ to help you on your way?

You can also use code POLICEHOUR20 at checkout, to save 20% on any Rank Success digital promotion toolkits or bundles.

Alternatively you can attend an upcoming Promotion Masterclass (Early Bird discount).

Kind Regards, Steve

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Steve Cooper
Steve Cooper
Steve Cooper writes expert promotion content to support the development of UK police officers.

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