As a CliftonStrengths coach, I would say that, in simple terms, a strengths-based career is one that allows you to do what you do best every day.
That is to say, it’s a career that allows you to use your innate talents, with talents being your instinctive ways of thinking, behaving, and responding to the environment.
But as a career consultant, I think it goes further than that. Our strengths as individuals include everything that makes us unique: our interests, values, abilities, learned skills, specialist knowledge, life experience, and personality, as well as our CliftonStrengths.
What you do best
The ‘what you do best’ bit relates to your ‘talents’: those patterns of thinking and behaviour that come naturally to you. Talent becomes strength when you invest in it: think about a tennis champion. He or she may have demonstrated natural talent for the game as a child, but it is only through years of investment in terms of time and energy that those talents have been turned into strength and resulted in the sportsperson becoming a champion.
The same goes for your talents – which you may not even realise you have!
There are various tools that can help you identify what those talents are. The most widely used one is Gallup’s CliftonStrengths® online assessment.
This is used extensively around the world in businesses, public sector organisations, charities, educational institutions, etc. to generate insight into people’s talents, to help them develop as individuals, and at the same time to increase work satisfaction, workplace engagement, and productivity.
On a personal level, finding out what your strengths are helps you to build your confidence and self-belief. It also contributes to defining your professional identity (what some people might refer to as ‘branding’) and appreciating what it is that you contribute to others.
Interests are those things that routinely engage your attention. The word comes from the Latin words ‘Inter’ meaning ‘in between’ and the verb ‘esse’ which means ’to be’. So an ‘inter-est’ is ‘the thing that is between’ you and what’s ‘out there’. It’s a bit like a bridge that connects you with something else.
When changing career, people often dismiss their interests & hobbies as things they only think about outside of work. But when your work itself reflects something you’re truly interested in, you’re going to feel a lot more engaged in it.
In career change, interests provide vital clues as to sectors that we should explore. This is often hard to believe. For example, if knitting is your thing, how on earth is that going to point to a sector?! Well, just take a few moments to think of all the things that might be connected with knitting: farming, synthetic fibre production, design, colour, marketing, fashion, environmental issues relating to production, economy, teaching, etc… A career coach can help you come up with ideas and provide a structured approach to going out there and exploring them.
Abilities are similar to talents in that they are innate as well. The specific abilities I’m talking about here are cognitive reasoning abilities such as abstract, spatial, verbal, numerical, and mechanical reasoning.
We each have an ability profile that looks like a bar chart. Certain profiles lend themselves to certain types of work.
For example, high verbal ability relative to the other abilities suggests an aptitude for work that involves communication, e.g. publishing, copy writing for adverts, etc.
If you’re really stuck for ideas about what you could do workwise instead of what you’re doing now, the Morrisby Online tool is worth considering. This will tell you what your ability profile is and match it to career profiles that may suit you. (Drop me a line if you’d like to find out more.)
Some skills are talents and some talents are skills. For example, someone might be naturally talented at feeling empathy for others. Someone else might need to be taught what empathy is and how to express it.
When helping people change career, I find it helpful to think of skills as things you have learned how to do. For example, digital skills such as using a word processing package on a computer, or a web browser, or spreadsheets. Or online communication skills acquired through use of social media, email, and video conferencing apps.
Other learned skills might be to do with leadership or management, for example.
Or they may relate to a particular type of work such as carpentry, accounting, graphic design, legal work, business administration.
And then there are life skills: managing health, relationships, stress/wellbeing, finances.
And, of course, career-related skills such as envisioning what you want to do, planning how to get there, drawing up a plan of action; job search skills; CV, job application and interview skills; self-promotion skills/networking; and managing one’s own continuing professional development.
A fantastic resource for learning more about skills is: Skills You Need.
Specialist knowledge & life experience
As humans, we are constantly adding to our store of knowledge. Our ability to learn and to apply what we learn is what has made us successful as a species.
Knowledge can be acquired formally through education or informally through life experience.
Here it’s important to recognise that even if on paper you have the same formal qualifications as someone else, you will have a wealth of other knowledge and life experience that melds with that formal knowledge, and therefore makes your particular knowledge base unique.
People going through career change often worry that they may have to leave a body of knowledge behind and start over. This is never the case. All knowledge is valuable – you never know when something you learned about in the past might suddenly become useful again.
A key part of career change work is making sense of the knowledge and experience you’ve acquired over the years and identifying the common thread running through it that explains to you and to others why you are now shifting direction.
This is the combination of qualities and characteristics that make someone who they are. The CliftonStrengths tool mentioned above is one tool that can help you understand your personality (as well as your talents).
Another tool that is commonly used in careers work is the Myers Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI). This can be helpful for understanding psychological preferences in terms of you how relate to the world and make decisions. I’m not trained in that tool myself but I do draw on some of the principles underlying it in my work with clients – in particular the idea of introversion versus extroversion. This continuum plays a surprisingly important part in work satisfaction. If there’s a good match between an individual’s personaltiy and the work they do, they are likely to feel energised; if there’s not a good match, they may feel exhausted and drained.
It’s always worth exploring personality preferences and needs in some detail with a career coach if you’re considering changing career. Specifically, what it is that has or hasn’t worked in the past and what the implications of this are for your career planning moving forwards.
Well, where to begin…?! When you start thinking about values, it turns out they’re an incredibly slippery concept to understand. In simple terms, we can think about things like ‘honesty’, ‘kindness’, ‘leadership’, i.e. core values that reflect our character and are expressed through everything we do and say.
But values also reflect things we need from work such as: money, status, flexibility, recognition, etc., as well as the sort of impact we’d like our work to have on others.
And we have life values such as family, life partner, health, being part of the community, being wealthy, not being money-oriented, etc.
All of these are areas that might typically be explored if you work with a career coach. The value(!) of this is that a clear understanding of what’s important helps with creating a vision of how you want your life to look. And it also helps you steer a steadier course as you move forward because you know what to focus on and what to say no to.
All of the above
To sum up, if you can express yourself fully as an individual through your work – if you can do work that reflects your interests, allows you to draw on your knowledge, use your skills, apply your strengths, while at the same time expressing your values and personality, and meeting your work and life needs – you are likely to be leading a strengths-based career.
If that doesn’t sound like you right now, please feel free to arrange an initial chat with me so that we can think of ways to get you moving in the right direction.