Atkins – strength based recruitment approach

Atkins is one of the world’s most respected design, engineering and project management consultancies, employing more than 18,000 people worldwide, including around 8,500 in the UK. They are part of SNC-Lavalin, one of the leading engineering and construction groups in the world and a major player in the ownership of infrastructure. They support public and private sector clients with the delivery of complex infrastructure projects, from upfront strategic advice to large, outcome-focused programme management. Whether it’s providing social and economic infrastructure to enable cities to flourish or the connectivity of people and places fuelled by technology and big data, Atkins helps achieve success.

What did they do?

During the past twelve months, the energy business has been implementing a strength based approach to realise the benefit that current and future employees have to offer to Atkins and its clients as an organisation. 

Strengths-based recruitment provides an innovative attraction and selection methodology that encourages employers to rethink how roles are constructed, how to attract people to them and ultimately how candidates are assessed.  As an engineering consultancy with a large number of clients within the nuclear sector, Atkins have opted to implement a strengths-based approach to increase productivity, build effective teams, engage employees and improve the diversity of its teams. 

Atkins implemented recruitment aspiration is to increase the diversity of hires across all levels through using strength based recruitment principles for all energy vacancies. 

Implementation of the strength-based approach began with discussion and interaction at board level through a presentation designed to inform business stakeholders of the business benefits of the approach. These were followed by presentations by the energy business change lead to counterparts in the UK and globally. 

The business leadership teams were also encouraged to complete the CAPP[1] strength assessment to further enlist their engagement and understanding of the process.  Their results meant that they benefited from having more self-awareness and understanding of their own strengths, effecting how they perceived and interacted with their teams.  The strengths-based recruitment approach was initially tested on a small number of nuclear roles in the south east of England, which had been advertised for some time with limited success. After adopting a strengths-based recruitment approach that led to a review of the role and how it was advertised, there was an immediate increase in the diversity of applicants to the roles, as well as an  increase in diversity of applicants reaching interview and subsequent offer stage. 

Due to the success of the trial, the energy business decided to implement the approach to all energy vacancies.  This approach was led by the energy recruitment manager and involved upskilling the recruitment advisors supporting the energy business in both experienced hire and graduate recruitment.  Presentations were delivered by the energy learning and development administrator and recruitment manager to the energy graduate representatives across the business to inform them of the benefits of the approach and to continue to deliver the message regarding the need to improve gender diversity.  A similar presentation was also delivered to the Women’s Development Forum, attended by men and women employees and client representatives. 

Initially, recruitment advisors were trained, who in turn trained and  supported hiring managers to identify the strengths required within their teams. These skills were incorporated  into strengths-based job adverts, which were followed by strengths-based interviews. Previously, the company had always used only competency-based interviews.

Tools that they used

All Atkins vacancies are reviewed using the gender decoder website, a website which identifies masculine and feminine words. It is available free of charge at

Companies are able to analyse and adjust the language of job adverts to appeal to everyone.

What was the impact?

The implementation of strengths-based recruitment has had an incredibly positive impact on not just the recruitment process, but has created recognition from the entire business of the need to improve diversity across its workforce.  Implementing strengths-based recruitment meant thorough conversations with hiring managers regarding how using more engaging language in job descriptions (the strengths-based approach) would lead to increased candidate attraction and make its job adverts more appealing in a saturated market.

Adopting a strengths-based approach in the pilot created a 23% increase in applications in comparison to previous Project Management roles. At line manager review, 32% of applications were from women, 28% of candidates interviewed were women and 60% of offers made and accepted for this role were from women.   

Studies conclude that longer job descriptions with wish lists amongst the criteria will have adverse impact on women, candidates from certain cultures and candidates with certain disabilities who will not apply for roles that they do not meet all or almost all of the criteria for. 

The new job adverts are shorter and focus on the strengths required for a particular team, (using more descriptive, and engaging language) ensuring that candidates recognise themselves in the adverts and are drawn to apply. 

In addition, Atkins also use technology to ensure that all job descriptions are gender neutral.  Ensuring their job descriptions are gender neutral has also led to reviewing general business communications to change the descriptive language used in those, leading to additional engagement of current staff in business communications. 

Where there any challenges?

The main challenge in delivering this project involved upskilling of recruitment advisors supporting the energy business as well as all hiring managers across the business. All job descriptions had to be rewritten to incorporate the strengths-based approach while still retaining the required technical competencies for each role.  Ongoing support is required from recruitment advisors to hiring managers with regards to ensuring that job descriptions are written in a strengths-based manner. 

Hints and tips

Ensure that sufficient time is put aside to roll out the training required to upskill the recruitment and hiring manager community. This is an ongoing approach that will require continuous training for new hiring managers over and above the standard selection skills training.

“By implementing a strengths-based approach to recruitment, team workshops, and leadership development, we’re finding that diversity naturally comes as a by-product of inclusivity. This is resulting in better business performance as well as creating a culture that enables people to be at their best and to feel fulfilled and engaged. An unexpected bonus of strengths based recruiting has been the increased energy levels and engagement of interviewers – not only are they motived by creating the best environment for each candidate to shine, but they are personally more comfortable and at ease while interviewing too.”

Caroline Brown, Business Change Director – Energy, Atkins