StrengthsFinder: Practical Applications

Can one ever become TOO self-aware?  I mean, to a fault?  It probably wouldn’t be hard to pull off, given the zillions of personality tests and assessment instruments that are available today, ranging from international powerhouses like MBTI (Myers-Briggs) and DiSC to a number of scrappy up-and-comers like the locally-based Core Value Index from Taylor Protocols and Thomas Indicator Profile from CereCore.  Heck, I even took a test years ago called Kingdomality that pegged people into the roles they’d likely play in a medieval village, based on their personality type.  For the record, and oddly enough, I was cast as the Black Knight…

While all of these different instruments have their pros and cons, as well as their ardent followers, I’ll admit that the one personal development tool I’ve found to be more valuable than any other is the StrengthsFinder assessment offered by the Gallup organization — a tool that was popularized, initially, through the best-selling book Now Discover Your Strengths by Donald Clifton and Marcus Buckingham.  This is the only assessment tool I use in my work with clients on a regular basis.  Not only do I love the simplicity and cost of the instrument (buy the book for $20, take the test it contains, and bingo, you’re done!), but I also find that the results it spits out are eerily on target for many people, including myself.  Additionally, unlike many assessments, the StrengthsFinder tool isn’t built around “quadrants” or another such rigid construct where certain personality traits are mutually exclusive by definition (e.g. you can either be introverted OR extroverted) and it also doesn’t make the assumption that only certain personality types can succeed in certain career roles.  I find people to be much more complex than this.  And I know tons of people who have performed like champs in various job roles that wouldn’t typically be associated with their particular personality type.

At any rate, that’s why I love the StrengthsFinder tool.  So if you haven’t taken it, I’d encourage you to do so, and if you happen to believe in your results and buy into the philosophy that Gallup espouses, there are nine different books you can track down that talk further about the tool and its various applications.  I want to take a moment and put my own unique spin on things, however.  I want to discuss how the results from this tool, and similar tools, can actually be harnessed to make a practical difference in the outcome of your job hunt — versus just being one more indulgent, feel-good personal development activity that you ponder for a while, but that you don’t actually end up applying in any productive way.

So here’s a quick list of ideas I’ve come up with in terms of how a person might apply their StrengthsFinder results in “tangible” fashion to the career planning and job-finding process:

1)  List your five StrengthFinder themes on your resume or LinkedIn profile.  Sure, it’s unorthodox, but this step will at least make you stand out from the crowd, and if the recruiter or hiring manager reading your resume is a fellow fan of the tool, you’ll likely get some extra brownie points!  Want to be REALLY wild and crazy?  Add them as a line in your e-mail signature block, as well…

2)  Tailor your job search game plan directly around your core strengths.  If your StrengthsFinder themes provide some keen insight into how you’re wired and the types of activities you’re naturally most successful at, why not apply this information to the method, routine, and strategy of your job search, itself?  While a “Woo” person might have the best success out building relationships at casual networking events, an “Input” or “Analytical” person like myself might avoid embarrassing themselves at such functions and instead focus on gaining publicity via a blog or on-line networking tools — or work on gaining a competitive edge through superior pre-interview research.

3)  Explore career options by searching for jobs that specifically call for your strengths and talents.  While this step can be a little tricky, at first, we ‘re fortunate to have sites at our fingertips today like Indeed.com that contain millions of bytes of real-time occupational data from around the entire country.  Have you tried isolating one of your key strengths, as well as some closely-related synonyms, and then running these keywords through the entire job database to see which career niches relate to them in some way?  Which jobs and careers have a non-obvious requirement for a person with strong Empathy, for example?  Or for an individual naturally oriented to the Connectedness of various things in the world?

4)  Brainstorm some fresh Talent/Skill/Knowledge pairings.  Let’s face facts.  If you’re looking to change careers or increase your marketability for mid-to-senior-level positions, your natural talents alone aren’t going to be enough.  As the NDYS book emphasizes, you have to pair up your natural gifts with some black-and-white skills and educational/knowledge elements before you truly have a “Strength” that companies will value highly (and pay you handsomely) for.  So as an exercise to help with this step, try browsing through the course catalog of your local community college, since these institutions are the best game in town in terms of acquiring new Skill/Knowledge elements.  Along the way, as you flip through the course offerings available, ask yourself “How would my natural Talent for X pair up effectively with the Skill in (or Knowledge of) X, Y, or Z that I could learn through this school?”  You might be surprised at the creative ideas that surface by brainstorming in this outside-the-box way.

5)  Use your StrengthsFinder themes to identify new target company/contact possibilities.  While there are thousands of well-intentioned job seekers out there doing their best to “network” in some capacity, many people still struggle to help the people around them come up with good referral possibilities.  One way to stimulate this thinking is to ask people if they know of companies where a certain Strength is lacking in the organizational culture — and causing problems, as a result — or whether they know of any particular leaders/managers who AREN’T good in a particular area and might value a complementary subordinate on the team.  These questions might sound like “Are you aware of any companies suffering from a lack of Strategic thinking and who might need somebody to help them figure out which products to support going forward — and which to shelve?”  Or “Do you know of any executives who are smart, but tend to avoid conflict, and might therefore value somebody with thick skin (the Command theme) willing to help them hold people accountable and communicate tough decisions?”

6)  Leverage your Strengths to overcome Knowledge/Skill deficiencies.  In cover letters, as well as the interviewing process, you sometimes have little choice but to trot out your natural gifts/talents as a way to offset the lack of “hard skills” and “specific industry experience” you might have for a given assignment.  In my opinion, this is the single greatest benefit the StrengthsFinder tool can potentially contribute to the job search process.  It’s also the hardest to execute.  Hiring managers hear candidates claim to be fast learners, people people, and results-oriented drivers all day long, so will be almost completely closed down to the idea that your natural talents are worthy of important consideration once they learn you don’t possess the full laundry list of skill and knowledge elements they’re seeking.  You’re going to have to sell them HARD on this idea, which takes a fair amount of preparation and practice.  You’re going to have to map out specific ways in which your innate gifts would contribute to success in the job at hand and then convince the employer you truly have these gifts, compared to all the other candidates they’ve met paying lip service to the exact same words.  When you see this done, it’s an amazing thing, but it’s a rare occurrence!  To help with this step, I’m going to be writing a follow-up post shortly that discusses some tips, tricks, and methods you can use to gain more credibility in this area, so stay tuned…

7)  Give your new boss a gift; tell them exactly how to get the best out of you! You’re know you’re going to work again, right?  I mean, despite the conditions out there, you realize it’s a near-impossibility that you’re destined for permanent unemployment?  Given this fact, let’s fast-forward to the first exciting week of your new job.  Assuming your new manager appears to have at least one iota of self-awareness, you might consider entrusting them with a printed copy of your top five StrengthsFinder themes, as well as the pages from the second half of the NDYS book that talk about “how to manage” somebody with your particular orientation.  Tell them that since you’re just getting to know one another, you wanted to give them a cheat sheet about your work style so that you can avoid unnecessary misunderstandings and so they know all the right levers to pull to get the best out of you.  Honestly, if my last boss had kept a copy of my “how to manage this person” results taped to their desk, they could have manipulated me like Pinocchio all day long — to the positive benefit of all concerned!

So for what it’s worth, these are just a few pragmatic ways in which I feel the StrengthsFinder results can be applied for fun and profit as part of your job search adventure.  What other ideas come to mind?  What other applications have you tried, yourselves?  How else can one transport the results from such assessments (StrengthsFinder or otherwise) out of the realm of “academic curiosity” and into the world of “Wow, those test results played a critical role in helping me select a perfect career path — or land my next job”?

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9 Responses to “StrengthsFinder: Practical Applications”

  1. I am a huge proponent of the strengths philosophy. I would, however, disagree, that with your signature themes in mind, you can ignore your weaknesses. Playing to your strengths does not excuse bad behavior nor does it give you a pass to ignore career derailers or job responsibilities. Employing a strengths-based philosophy can provide you with a career road map by giving you a means to more clearly articulate the behaviors that give you energy and those that drain it. Understanding strengths can also help you to better understand interpersonal relationships and an approach to better managing them.

  2. Seth: Interesting feedback, thanks for sharing it. Personally, I find that $20 to take one of these tests is INCREDIBLY cheap compared to most similar assessments (that often require hundreds of hours of intepretation by trained administrators) and in terms of the validity of the tool, that honestly doesn’t concern me much, since to me the results either ring true with a person — or they don’t. And the vast majority of people I’ve met who have taken the SF test seem to feel it nailed them, myself included, and can corrobate the results with plenty of evidence in their own lives. At the end of the day, though, it’s still just a test (like MBTI or any instrument) and people are complex creatures, so I certainly don’t think anyone should consider these types of assessments infallible. Lastly, I don’t recall any passages in the StrengthsFinder series that encourage a person to ignore their weaknesses, as you’re suggesting. Encouraging somebody to play to their strengths, which is the book’s central theme, doesn’t automatically suggest we should turn a blind eye to potential areas of improvement. So I think you’re unfairly characterizing the SF series in that regard…

  3. I am NOT a fan of Strenghsfinder because: (1) You can only take the test once per $20 so it is costly to verify the result over time. (2) Unlike Myers-Briggs It’s a proprietary system, therefore, it has not been subjected to the same level of scrutiny as MB. (3) The premise that you ignore your weaknesses could get you fired! I know as I have fired a few otherwise competent people who refused to address weaknesses I pointed out to them. (4) I question the accuracy of a test that includes dozens of vague or unanswerable questions like: I am passionate about education or I am passionate about eliminating violence. For over half the questions my answer was “Yes” but that was not a choice, therefore, I gave no answer or selected “Neutral” which is not “Yes”. Save your $20!

  4. I’m an IT recruiter and have been a fan of the StrengthsFinder before even becoming a recruiter in this industry. I perceive a person who has used it to be very self aware and very good at knowing where they excel and where they are weak. In that sense, I personally do not spend time asking them much about how they are “fixing” their weaknesses, but more time on how they excel in their strengths and manage delegation of areas where they need improvement.

    Excellence, Strategy, Communication, Individualization, Self-Assurance

  5. Very good blogging experience, thanks…

    Let’s Talk Personality

  6. Great post! I’m currently employed, but looking for a change to better match my personal ethics/style. Thanks!

  7. I couldn’t agree with you more. I have referred to my top 5 Strengths (Individualization; Positivity; Developer; Empathy and Connectedness in different parts of my cover letter and Linkedin profile, as well in the interview.
    Sometimes I follow up with how these strengths have helped me on the job. For example, positivity has helped me with Change Management, by influencing others to look at the glass “half-full.”

    I also refer to my Strengths when I’m asked “What makes you different from the other candidates?” Or,”tell me something about you that I don’t already know.” I somehow try to work in my top strengths during the interview.

    All good stuff!

  8. Good news. I do appreciate with this post. Useful to the readers. Many thanks.

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  1. Career Guidance - October 4, 2011

    Career Search…

    [...]StrengthsFinder: Practical Applications « Career Horizons: The Blog![...]…

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