Founder of Virtus Career Consulting, speaker and author of the career empowerment book
Most job seekers begin their search with updating their resume (CV, for international readers). If that’s your approach, I hope to convince you to take a step back, because it can make all the difference.
From the time, I started working at “the golden arches” at age 16, I’ve held exactly 13 positions. In 27 years, every interview I’ve had resulted in an offer, yet it’s not because I was the most qualified candidate. I wasn’t. Not once, in fact. I’ve had two hiring managers tell me I wasn’t technically qualified, but they wanted to hire me anyway. Why?
I know myself. My mother is an Executive Coach, and she’s had me take every assessment known to man. I know what I can’t do (and what I can), and I only compete for jobs where I know I’ll succeed.
I can articulate my strengths. Because I know myself, I ‘m able to easily demonstrate to an employer how and why I will do a job with excellence.
Peter Drucker was a leadership genius way ahead of his time and was a pioneer in the conversation on strengths. Really it was more of a monologue, because the conversation had not yet begun in the corporate world.
Here are two of my favorite Drucker quotes:
“Most [people] do not know what their strengths are. When you ask them, they look at you with a blank stare, or they respond in terms of subject knowledge, which is the wrong answer.”
“It takes far less energy to move from first-rate performance to excellence than it does to move from incompetence to mediocrity.”
If you don’t know your strengths (your actual strengths, not trendy buzz words sprinkled throughout your resume) you are taking a shot in the dark. Your cover letters, resume, networking conversations, interviews, and over-all branding, will be substandard to what could have been.
In my experience, the most insightful strengths assessment is the Clifton StrengthsFinder, created by the Gallup organization. It’s an assessment based on a 40-year study, and is a catalog of the 34 most common talents in people.
Why do strengths matter?
According to Gallup, 1 in 33 million people share the same top five strengths. This means your job performance will have a unique approach. You won’t accomplish the job the same way as another candidate.
It’s your job to explain that your approach is better. Simple awareness of your approach is compelling and powerful.
Also, working within one’s natural talents impacts productivity, stress, and quality. If you know your strengths, you can target roles that will use them. Your stress will decrease, and your productivity and quality will rise. Awareness of your natural talents equips you to be intentional in using them every day. When you play to your strengths, your work is energizing.
Where do your strengths lie?
In addition to knowing what your strengths are, you can learn where your strengths lie. There are four thematic buckets for the 34 strengths:
Relating Themes – These themes explain how you build connections with other people
Impacting Themes – These themes explain how you motivate others to action
Striving Themes– These themes explain what pushes you toward results
Thinking Themes – These themes explain how you analyze the world
Knowing where your strengths lie not only reveals your advantages – which you should leverage and develop – it also highlights blind spots, which enables you to target strengths you can use to compensate. I do this all the time. Most of my strengths are Thinking Themes (Strategic, Learner, Intellection, and Input).
I can’t impact people or build relationships if I live in my own head, which is the tendency of Thinking bucket dwellers. To avoid this, I rely heavily on my Impacting Theme: Maximizer.
StrengthsFinder advises people with Maximizer: “Seek roles in which you are helping other people succeed. In coaching, managing, mentoring, or teaching roles, your focus on strengths will prove particularly beneficial to others.” Hmm…That’s interesting. My desire to help people succeed draws me out!
I have a client who told me she was in a job interview last week and was asked what words she would use to describe herself. How convenient! I had created a one-page summary of her assets based on the assessments she’s done. She pulled it out and summarized her results for them, something like this:
I’m committed, accountable, independent, trusted, and conscientious. (Responsibility)
I’m a problem solver, troubleshooter, and I find improvements and solutions. (Restorative)
I’m always learning and I catch on quickly. (Learner)
I grow talent in others, and enjoy helping others succeed. (Developer)
I’m a negotiator who sees both sides of a situation, enabling me to arrive at consensus. (Harmony)
You can bet the employer was impressed!
I know my top five strengths. Now what?
First, become intimately acquainted with your strengths.
The true value of your strengths is the interpretation. Too many people take the assessment, read their strengths, and place the report in a drawer. This is a missed opportunity. Transformation comes through the powerful narrative of knowing who you are and how you operate.
I have a client that has Communication as her top strength, and her next two strengths are Discipline and WOO (Winning Others Over). I explained to her that when WOO and Communication are working together, she’s the life of the party — she’s networking, making friends, building connections.
However, when Discipline and Communication are locking arms, she is communicating policy, standards, and ensuring people are following guidelines. One of those presentations of her personality is very task-oriented (Communication + Discipline), while the other is relationship-oriented (Communication + WOO).
Understanding how she’s perceived has enhanced her emotional intelligence and increased awareness of her effect on co-workers, who may be confused by shifts between the two personas. This is the kind of insight that can have great impact in your life.
Second, ask yourself some questions:
How do your strengths impact your current, or a desired, role?
What are some ways your strengths are unique in how you approach your work?
Are you able to identify potential gaps between critical strengths a role requires, and your strengths?
How might you leverage your other strengths to meet those gaps?
Finally, take action:
If employed, explain your strengths to your manager so they can find better ways to leverage you.
Be mindful of strengths when setting goals (you’ll perform better).
Look for special projects that need your strengths (it’s a chance to shine).
Keep strengths in mind when identifying your next career step.
Embed strengths in your networking pitch, interview answers, cover letters, and resume.
Practice discussing your strengths. It’s a language — the more you practice, the more fluent you’ll become.
All the best to you!