Thursday, February 11, 2010

Strengths (again)

My last entry was on the book Now Discover Your Strengths so obviously it’s a key element in the Notes From the Job Search (NFJS) approach to job search. Another component of NFJS is our suite of weekly support groups for professionals looking for new jobs. What these groups provide is a continuing reality check for ideas and strategies in general. This includes the ideas expressed in Now Discover Your Strengths. (

This book, as well as the others in the series, positions our strengths as tools we have choices regarding. Which isn’t the experience NFJS has of them, or at least isn’t a complete description of our experience with strengths. The Top Five Strengths, which is the report we get when we take the test, look far more like a description of how we approach the world. One friend of mine took the test last summer and found her number one strength is “woo”. This means she always finds ways to embrace the people around her and have them embrace her. This is who she is. One example of this is she has never been in a job interview without getting a job offer. She is certainly smart and hard working and other good things, but so are lots of other folks. Her consistent approach to relationships—all relationships—is to find ways for people to align with each other.

As I mentioned in my last entry, my greatest strength is “ideation” and my second greatest is “strategic.” I also wrote about how those have played out in my career. Turns out that is a darn good description of how I function. I always want to understand the ideas that drive how something works and I always approach it strategically first. When working on new development, this can be a huge advantage. It allows me to create clear coherent programs that do what they are supposed to do and that can be changed over time, etc, etc.

When working on maintenance (fixing/modifying something someone else created), I still approach it looking for the ideas behind the whole, and then how a particular piece fits. That doesn’t work—essentially it’s as big a problem as it was an asset for new development.

There is just very little that is as much fun for me as a discussion of how something works. It’s part of what drives me at NFJS. What is the suite of tools, the process that allows people to identify and achieve their dream job? That’s what I can build on. It’s a strength; it’s also not especially negotiable. I can acknowledge it and build on it, or I can frustrate myself and everyone around me by ignoring it and trying to be what someone else wants.

I can give lots of examples: A “learner” I know is always investigating new ideas and new areas of knowledge and new ways to do his current job. He is partially motivated by the enjoyment of solving problems, but mostly he is simply trying to learn something new.

Where taking the “strengths test” helps in the job search is by giving us words to describe what we do and why we are special. Then as we examine our work history, it helps us identify more easily where we were successful and how that success occurred. It gives us a coherent set of characteristics to build our “brand” around. What is it that makes you special? Looking back at your career through the filter of your strengths will help you identify those characteristics and help you identify the proof required to make you stand out in this market.