Practice Articulating Your Strengths

The hypothesis that employees are happier and more productive when their work aligns with their natural talents or strengths is based on research in the field of positive psychology. Two assessments designed to identify strengths – Gallup’s StrengthsFinder (or StrengthsQuest) and VIA’s Survey of Character Strengths – have been taken by millions of individuals all over the world; these tests are also being used in many career centres and career development workshops. While I have some concerns about the tests themselves (which I will explain), I think using a vocabulary that is recognized by more and more employers can be helpful when articulating your strengths to current and potential managers.

VIA identifies 24 different character strengths, while Gallup’s list includes 34; as you might expect, many of the strengths on one list have a counterpart on the other; VIA’s Leadership sounds a lot like Gallup’s Command; usefully, VIA and Gallup expand on how these strengths can be effective  in various workplace contexts. I recommend using one list, or a composite of both, as a guide to help you identify strengths that you think you already possess to some degree and others that you would like to develop. Think of work situations where you have felt powerful and try to identify the strengths you were using in those contexts. Share a list with three or four people who know you well (relatives, work colleagues and friends) and ask them to check off strengths they feel you demonstrate. You should see some overlap, and if you don’t, dig a little deeper; it may be that you are not projecting a strength as well as you could.

The premise behind VIA’s and Gallup’s assessments is that you are more likely to achieve career success if you build on your top strengths; they promise to identify five signature strengths you should focus on

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. A concern I have with these assessments is the potential for bias in identifying qualities associated with a given strength; qualities associated with Leadership, for example, are bound to have a male bias since most leaders are male, and the strength called Perspective is likely to have an age bias. Further, your answers to test questions, and hence your strengths profile, will be based on experiences you have already had; the fact that you haven’t had an opportunity to lead in the past doesn’t mean you couldn’t excel in a leadership role in the future.

If you are applying for a job, highlight strengths in your résumé and interview that align with the position you are seeking. If you already have a job, you will be asked about your strengths in yearly performance reviews; before meeting with your manager, think about strengths you have demonstrated in various work contexts and whether these strengths could be effective in a position with more responsibility (and a higher salary). Practicing articulating your strengths will help you project confidence and competence.

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