Hire a set of strengths? Yes and no.

by Scott Crabtree

I often present the workshop Truly Tapping Your Strengths–And Those of Your Team! The basic gist is that if you focus on what’s right with people and get them to use that more, everyone does better work and enjoys it more. A common question from my awesome audiences is “If I think a job needs a particular set of strengths, should I hire someone with those strengths?” My answer is yes and no.

What I do not recommend is picking the strengths themes discovered by taking an assessment, and trying to find someone with those particular strengths. Supposed you wanted to find someone with 5 of the 34 Strengthsfinder 2.0 strengths. If you identify the 5 strengths but don’t care about the order, your chances of finding a person with those strengths are 1 in 278,000! If you want a particular set of 5 strengths in a certain order, your chances of finding that person are roughly 1 in 33,000,000! Don’t eliminate over 99% of the population when looking for a candidate! Various strengths might be able to be applied to the job you need done.

While I advise against looking for strengths identified by an assessment, I strongly recommend hiring certain strengths you need. I just want you to go beyond assessment labels and get specific about the behaviors required. How we hired the amazing Ayla Lewis is a great example.

At Happy Brain Science we had a nice business going, but really needed to improve the quality of some of our internal systems. Katherine Cooper and I are great idea people–speakers and coaches–but do not have particular strengths for paying attention to detail, or creating and improving systems. We were using systems at Happy Brain Science, but they needed help. So we got clear on one (of several) important behaviors we wanted in a new hire: the ability to pay attention to detail and improve systems.

Trained in behavioral interviewing, we asked multiple candidates “Can you tell us about a time when you paid attention to detail and improved a process?” We didn’t ask just once, but at least three times. We didn’t just listen to the answers, we paid attention to how quickly those answers came to the candidate, and what happened to her energy as she answered.

Not once, not twice, but three times, Ayla answered quickly, with great detail, and with energy. She seemed to enjoy talking about how she paid attention to detail and improved a process.

We hired Ayla, and she has been a rock star. We now have information at our finger tips when we need it. She tracks details using systems that work well for all of us. Equally important, paying attention to detail and improving systems fills her with energy. She loves doing it.


(Ayla showing off her awesome system for organizing speaking engagements)

You can find your own rock star by identifying the strengths you need in the position, but not by using an assessment. Use your own words to describe in detail the behavior you need. Then ask candidates to tell you about a past time they’ve displayed that behavior. Ask them repeatedly, and pay attention to how energized they seem talking about it. If someone can quickly answer three times in a row with enthusiasm, you may have found your rock star.

Have you tried this approach? If so, how did it go? If not, will you?