US firms consider new interview techniques

US-headquartered firms Shearman & Sterling and Reed Smith are considering changing their interview methods for their training contract and vacation scheme applicants.

Shearman is currently trialling the change from competency questions to ‘strength-based’ questions on its vac scheme applicants while Reed Smith is considering whether to make the change but has not yet trialled the method.

A strength-based question is one that asks a candidate what they enjoy doing, rather than what they are able to do. For example, while competency questions focus on giving examples of certain qualities, such as ‘Give an example of a time when you have shown leadership’, strength-based questions are more open-ended and designed to demonstrate a candidate’s enthusiasm for a particular type of activity, and might, for example, ask ‘What energises you?’.

Shearman & Sterling recruitment manager Vicki Bradley said: “This is really us dipping the first toe in the water, and experimenting with strength-based questions. Candidates now expect competency questions and so are often over-prepared for them.

“It makes for a more interesting interview, for them and for us, because these sorts of questions allow them to show more personality – they are all bright individuals – it is not about finding out what they can do, but what they enjoy doing. And when a candidate does start talking about something that really does interest them you see it immediately: their eyes light up, in a way that just can’t happen with competency questions.”

Shearman has just trialled the questions on its vac scheme applicants, and will extend the trial to its training contract applicants before assessing how well the switch has worked.

Reed Smith graduate recruitment manager Lucy Crittenden said: “There are a number of potential benefits to using strengths-based assessment, particularly in relation to diversity, the candidate experience and future development of talent, and we are currently exploring this innovative approach within our graduate recruitment programme.”