Blog - Leadership

Strength-Based Versus Competency-Based Hiring

By U Diverse Global

In today’s candidate-driven job market, organizations can’t afford to overlook talented international candidates with elite, hard-to-find skills.

And the stakes are high: The US Department of Labor estimates that the cost of a poor hire is the equivalent of almost one third (30%) of an employee’s potential salary during the first year. In addition, Gallop estimates that organizations lose between $450 and $550 billion dollars each year due to the impact of employee disengagement.

While competency-based hiring is a well established practice in some countries, strength-based approaches are also gaining attention. Before entirely adapting one approach over another, let’s look at what these two hiring strategies have to offer:

1. Strength-Based Hiring: Strength-based hiring allows hiring managers to conduct a person-driven interview that brings to light the candidate’s uniqueness. The methodology allows the employer to recruit candidates’ natural talents by helping them identify what energizes and motivates them most — what gives them passion, not just what they are capable of doing. The underlying belief is that what one loves to do is their strength, and is indicative of where their potential ultimately lies. When given the chance to develop that strength, this strategy concludes, the person will have a real opportunity to become a top international performer at what they do best.


  • It helps reduce the effects of an interviewer’s unconscious bias. By focusing on what tasks energize and motivate a candidate, the strength-based interview helps the interviewers select the person who is best motivated for the job based on what they love to do. This approach avoids emphasis on the candidate’s ethnicity, training, or background, allowing hiring teams to select from a pool of candidates with real potential.

  • It seeks out the most agile candidates. Within the framework of a strength-based interview, HR staff and hiring managers can ask questions that reveal whether or not the candidate practices the four values demonstrated in the Agile Manifesto. In general hiring terms, an agile job candidate emphasizes the importance of working as a team rather than working with processes and tools; achieving results over drawing up extensive plans and documentation; partnering with customers to meet their goals rather than aiming to get as many contracts / sales from them as possible; and responding to a project’s changing trajectory, rather than locking oenself into a pre-determined plan.

  • It finds a person’s passion, enhances employee engagement, and improves the company image. In other words, it can be used to assess an individual’s motivation and organizational fit. By discovering a candidate’s passion, a strength-based interview improves the chances of identifying an individual who 1) fits in well with the team and 2) who will be totally dedicated to a company’s values, products, and services. This ideal match in turn results in heightened employee engagement. After all, the highly engaged and motivated employee is most likely to develop into a true brand ambassador, sharing their enthusiasm with both co-workers and clients.

  • It reduces hiring cost. By identifying what fully motivates and engages a job candidate, strength-based interview strategies find high-performing talent that is more likely to stay with the company indefinitely. An excellent match increases the possibility of high turnover and saves the company thousands of dollars in wasted resources, training, and repeated job searches.

  • It identifies candidates with a growth mindset and future potential for learning. Strength-based hiring is ideal for international candidates from diverse backgrounds. It sets aside the differences in training, education, and nationality. Instead, it focuses on potential based on demonstrated strengths, finding candidates who are most likely to excel with the right training and educational opportunities.


  • It’s all relative. A purely strength-based approach can give candidates a false sense of competence when the strength is not developed. As this HBR article explains, if a candidate has less than satisfactory skills overall, their strengths will still stand out — even though those strengths are not on the potentially top-performing level you’re seeking.

  • It can lead a company to select low-performing candidates. Some strength-based hiring strategies focus on the belief that everyone has strengths, so everyone deserves a chance. That being said, an exclusively strength-based approach can literally lead to filling positions with low- performing candidates, rather than isolating the potentially elite performers.

  • It can focus on overused strengths. This happens when one particular skill stands out above all others. For example, an extremely gifted speaker may shine during a sales interview. Afterwards, it is discovered that they lack empathy, listening skills, and inter-cultural sensitivity, creating alienated co-workers and angry customers.

  • It can ignore the context. Used alone, strength-based hiring doesn’t allow hiring managers and HR staff to consider important factors affecting the role’s immediate tasks. By considering exclusively the tasks that highly motivate a candidate, hiring teams can forget to test for whether or not the candidate is truly gifted in performing those tasks. Likewise, they can fail to check for related competencies — such as organizational skills, social skills, time management, and the ability to work with a diverse team.

2. Competency-based hiring: Competency-based recruitment strategies focuses on assessing the skills people claim to have. It requires that candidates talk about their past experiences and give examples and statistics that clearly demonstrate how effectively they have performed in the past. Frequently, before or during a competency-based interview a candidate is asked to complete a standardized test which would demonstrate their level of competency in carrying out specific tasks.


  • It provides a consistent hiring process. Everybody is treated equally in the sense that each candidate is expected to meet the same requirements for a specific set of designated tasks that correspond to the role for which they are interviewing.

  • It can predict a candidate’s performance for similar roles. Future success is based upon past performance — that is one of the slogans of a competency-based hiring strategy. Since competency-based hiring makes a candidate provide anecdotes about work challenges they encountered in the past and how they met that challenge, interviewers can learn how the candidate will fare in a similar role.

  • It clarifies job standards for performance appraisals: It lets the candidate know precisely what skills they will be tested on, and sets clear performance expectations.

  • It gives clear candidate feedback. It can call for competency-based tests that require a specific score (as demonstrated in typing, language, or math tests). The interviewers will know precisely how well each candidate performed, and can rate them accordingly.


  • It does not take into consideration the possibility of new outcomes. In other words, strength-based hiring does not take into account the candidate’s potential performance after receiving further training or education. As a result, it may base assessments solely on data that the candidate provides from outcomes of recent projects — or standardized tests that are taken during the interview.

  • It does not work if interview questions are not worded correctly. Like strength-based questions, interviews that focus exclusively on competency can miss the mark if they do not clearly determine a candidate’s ability to complete a task. If interviewers do not ask for specific data or statistics that demonstrate how successfully a candidate completed a particular project, for example, the candidate may provide a more general response that hides less than satisfactory results.

  • Job applicants can easily provide pre-prepared answers. Nowadays, career consultants and recruitment agencies frequently offer classes and workshops that help job candidates create polished answers to anticipated competency-based interview questions. Unfortunately, this can result in a misleading interview performance where the candidate responds with well-rehearsed answers that do not provide a true reflection of their competencies — or their strengths.

  • International job candidates and/or recent graduates with no work history can easily be excluded. If the interviewers are looking for competencies that can only come from someone with a specific work history or ethnicity, international candidates and those with backgrounds and training other than the desired profile history can be overlooked — even if they are naturally talented in the job area and have the potential to become highly-motivated top performers.

  • It assesses what people can do instead than what they do well and enjoy with a passion. A competency-based interview can thus place candidates in jobs where they have tasks that are not truly their calling. This can lower their motivation, drain their energy, and leave them looking for a more fulfilling job.

What Is Best?

When you are interviewing international candidates for a role in your organization, it is best to use a combination of competency-based and strength-based questions. First, it may be helpful to use a competency-based approach to determine whether the candidates in your main pool possess the basic skills your organization requires in order to complete the necessary tasks and fit in harmoniously with the company’s organizational culture.

Then, use strength-based questions to make a short list of candidates that have already demonstrated a competency in the skills you seek. That way, you’ll determine which of those competent candidates actually enjoy applying the designated skills, and if doing that kind of work is their real passion. Also, use a combination of competency-based and strength-based interview questions to determine whether the candidates on your short list reflect the appropriate level of cross-cultural competencies. The result:

You’ll identify those international candidates who thrive in diverse environments, embrace learning and training opportunities to develop their strengths, and ultimately perform at their peak.

At U Diverse, our goal is to find careers for high-performing international candidates and expatriates using the Strengthscope Talent Tool. Our founder, Magali Toussaint, is a trained and certified talent acquisition consultant, as well as a certified leadership, career and intercultural coach and trainer. Magali and her team of consultants at U Diverse offer specific programs to train and coach organizations who seek top international talent.

If you have any questions, or would like to know how we can offer training or support to your organization during the hiring process, please contact us.


U Diverse Global helps international organizations bridge their talent gap by implementing actionable strategies & initiatives so they can attract, retain and engage diverse talents and inclusive leaders

About U Diverse Global:

U Diverse Global is a human resource consulting agency that focuses on talent management in culturally diverse work environments. We operate on a much more sophisticated level than just providing great HR advice. We also partner with your organization to find the best talents for your business projects. We are a tribe of multicultural, multilingual and multi talented professionals connected to a vast number of external coaches, consultants, facilitators and trainers globally.

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