Police forces across England and Wales, Police Scotland, PSNI, and UK-wide forces (e.g. BTP, CNC) are always changing their promotion assessment processes. Change is the new constant for aspiring police promotion candidates, with the introduction of strengths based interviews and interview questions just one example. Here’s how to prepare and practice with example police promotion questions…

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

Progressive organisations constantly adapt and update how they recruit or promote people into leadership positions. Policing is no different, for which I have previously blogged about these shifting sands of assessment, see for example…

In this blog, I introduce the emerging topic of ‘Strengths-Based Interviews’. This is growing in popularity with many employers and is also being used in several UK police promotion selection processes. I define what strengths-based interviews actually are, how you can prepare for a strengths-based interview, some example questions from my premium interview guide, 5 tips to ‘being yourself’ in preparation, and other useful pointers.

What Are Strengths-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

In short, the strengths-based interview aims to find the best candidates by focusing on what you enjoy doing and what you are good at. In contrast, the traditional competency-based interview is about assessing what you can do. It gets you talking about your passions, interests and the things in which you excel.

The main aim of a Strengths Based Interview 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 strengths-based approach 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 Sergeant, Inspector, and Chief Inspector roles. 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 assessments which may form part of the promotion selection process, for example Situational Strengths Tests (SSTs).

Whilst you may not be told directly what these are at the time, a quick guesstimate of the important role responsibilities for Sergeant and the Inspecting ranks might include the following: Decision-making; Developing and implementing plans; Leadership; Collaborative working; and Wellbeing. What are your strengths in these areas?

The College of Policing advises force assessment processes should be competency-based. Whilst competencies tell interviewers whether someone can do the job by assessing past experiences, a strengths-based approach 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.

Strengths-based also differs from competency-based interviews in that there is less probing and fewer 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; inspiration and authenticity for a start.

Currently, officers across the UK still face a range of assessment tests for promotion selection, including competence-based applications, interviews, presentations, briefing exercises, situational judgement tests, and more assessment tests. I’ve blogged about all of these before and go more in-depth in my comprehensive premium content. Strengths based interviews are just another addition to the rich tapestry of police promotion processes!

How to Prepare for Strengths Based Interviews (SBIs)

“Over prepare, then go with the flow.”

How do you prepare for an SBI? It’s a good question and depending on 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 always to over prepare and then go with the flow. This simple, effective, and hugely successful strategy is one I have encouraged many aspiring candidates to consider before they then successfully converted their leadership aspiration into promotion success. The essential part of this preparation is, as alluded to by the top quote in this article, check in with your self-awareness. Know yourself, what makes you tick, and what motivates you; these will all provide the basis for the kind of strengths-based questions I will come to later.

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 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. Take time for some careful consideration of the role before such interviews…

  • What aspects of the role match your strengths?
  • How do your own preferences fit the role expectations and requirements?
Video for achieving police promotion

Self-Awareness Context: Check in With Your Assumptions

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

Before we go into example strengths-based questions, some context is important. 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. So it’s not unreasonable to assume for example that…

  • You aspire to a formal leadership position because you love policing, enjoy the working environment, and have a purpose behind wanting to lead others
  • You are committed to your force’s policing mission (especially relevant for Inspector and Chief Inspector ranks!)
  • You share policing & CVF 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 staff
  • You enjoy problem solving and challenges
  • You can make good decisions, implement changemanage 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 the 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. A personal SWOT is a helpful tool for your CPD. 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 and likely to thrive in the role. These include things such as tone of voice, eye contact or body language, with 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 now, so you can be the best version of yourself when it matters for your SBI.

Example Strengths Based Interview Questions

Interview question

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

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. Therefore, expect to answer a quick-fire mix of 20-40 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 example strengths-based questions you may face, taken from the Question Bank included within my Interview Success guide:

  • What energises you?
  • How have you been able to develop your skills?
  • What are you good at? How do you know this?
  • Who or what inspires you?
  • What are your greatest strengths?
  • How 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’s 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.

Promotion board inspector sergeant
Police promotion interview detailed guide and example board questions

5 Tips to ‘Just Being Yourself’

“Be yourself, everybody 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’s more tips to help you be the best version of yourself when it matters.

  1. Develop your self-awareness (one aspect of emotional intelligence).
  2. Familiarise yourself with strengths based questions. Practice your responses to the above examples out loud. Analyse and adjust.
  3. Research the role and responsibilities. What makes you a good fit?
  4. 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?
  5. 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

I hope you found this blog useful in helping you play to your strengths, feel free to leave your thoughts in the comments below.

Kind Regards, Steve

Author’s Note: This post was first published in October 2019 as part of the additional free written content I provide for cops on the popular police news site, Police Hour. Minor updates have been made when incorporating the content here on my main blog site.

If you found this blog helpful, you can hit the ground running with your promotion preparation. Get your personal digital promotion toolkit, attend or download my Police Promotion Masterclass, or contact me to arrange personal coaching support. For more completely free, no-strings content, I have a collection of videos, eGuides, a podcast, plus more free blog content via my Police Hour guest articles.

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