The themes of both the 2016 and 2017 NCDA conferences explore the importance of career counselors’ role in helping people find meaningful and joyous work. There are many resources and methods to help clients in this process, including StrengthsFinder 2.0 (SF 2.0). This particular tool enables counselors and clients to focus on strengths, creating outcomes that improve happiness, engagement, and confidence. SF 2.0 is grounded in research that analyzes how individuals who focus on investing in their natural talents and using their strengths every day have a higher quality of life and are more engaged in their work (Gallup Strengths Center). Through this research, the SF 2.0 was created as a 177-question instrument in which a individuals self-assess their innate talents and tendencies. Upon completing the assessment, a report is produced to name and describe an individual’s top five strengths. While this report is full of practical information and strategies to apply the information, it is crucial that career counselors conduct some type of personalized interpretation with individuals who have completed the assessment.
As a career counselor in a higher education setting, I conduct individual and group interpretations, working through a pre-set roadmap so that individuals can view the results and identify steps towards creating positive change in their lives. As part of this roadmap, we work through three steps to:
Step One: To recognize strengths, counselors and clients review the following formula and definitions:
Talent x Investment = Strength
Talent = naturally recurring pattern of thought, feeling, behavior
Investment = intentionally cultivated skills and knowledge
Strength = consistent, positive performance
During this initial step, the client should be asked to think about one thing they do really well, and one thing they do not currently do well. After this acknowledgement, counselor and client can analyze potential improvements in each area, based on what the client wants to spend time doing and developing. More often than not, clients recognize that continuing to hone and display a current talent will be more engaging and take less effort than trying to improve a current weakness. Counselors can then share relevant research regarding the importance of focusing time and effort on natural talents to see the most change happen, given the equation above. When individuals invest time developing skills and knowledge on a natural talent, they see exponential growth. SF 2.0 helps those in career transition step back and evaluate what they are naturally doing well, and then provides strategies to build on those positive outcomes and tendencies. In addition to reviewing the theory of strengths, clients can help interpret their Signature Theme Report, taking time to highlight what they agree and disagree with, to make the assessment feel most applicable and authentic before next steps are taken.
Step Two: With a focus on growth, it is vital to strategize how to develop strengths. Typically, clients are using these strengths in some way every day, but what happens when they are stressed, tired, or overwhelmed? What are present or potential obstacles to using their strengths in their work life? Through this step, it is important to evaluate how talent can help and hinder professional progress. Thoughtful counseling questions include:
Step Three: The final and most important step is for the client to integrate these strengths into their daily life. In order to do so effectively, it is important for the client to know what they want to use their strengths towards. Strengths are not the end result; they are tools that help us achieve our goals. Thus, it is important for the client to identify their specific, ideal end result(s) and applicable goal(s). Questions counselors may want to ask include:
Putting Strengths into Practice
The process of recognizing, developing, and integrating one’s strengths into daily practice typically happens over time, and with some trial and error. It can be helpful for counselors to identify small steps clients can take along the way. One recent example of how I used this process involves a student I currently supervise. This student identifies as male and is as a sophomore college student studying environmental engineering. In his student employee role, he facilitates discussions with his peers. When he first started in the position, he was really focused on improving areas where he lacked, specifically that he does not have any strengths in the Influencing Domain. This course of action had a negative impact on his confidence. He had already recognized how his strengths of Achiever, Input, and Responsibility allowed him to dive deep into the information he was facilitating, but the actual task of facilitating felt overwhelming. I asked him to think critically about how he could develop and reframe how he uses his top five strengths, in order to facilitate in a way that felt genuine for him. Using this approach, working towards the same outcome of feeling confident when facilitating, he integrated his strengths instead of trying to work on strengths that do not come as naturally to him, and is now more confident and engaged in his position.
StrengthsFinder 2.0 is a thoughtfully-developed, easy to use tool for the journey towards individual fulfillment and success in the workplace. The process of identifying and exploring strengths shifts client thinking to focus and build on what is working, versus focusing on fixing or adding what is deficient or missing. While there are numerous applications when using SF 2.0 with your clients, identifying a specific process for interpretation and integration is critical so that your clients (and you!) can find meaningful and joyous work.
References and Resources:
Buckingham, M., & Clifton, D. O. (2001). Now, Discover Your Strengths. New York: The Free Press.
Rath, T. (2007). StrengthsFinder 2.0. New York: Gallup Press.
Rath, T., & Conchie, B. (2009). What Makes a Great Leadership Team? Gallup Business Journal. Retrieved from http://www.gallup.com/businessjournal/113338/What-Makes-Great-Leadership-Team.aspx
Gallup Strengths Center. Retrieved from https://www.gallupstrengthscenter.com/Home/en-US/About
Cori Shaff, M. Ed., is an Assistant Director for Career Services at the University of Colorado, Boulder. She earned her B.A. in Communication from CU and a master’s degree in career counseling from Colorado State. She uses a strength-based approach in her counseling, leadership, and supervision and leads the campus-wide effort to build a strengths based campus at CU Boulder. Cori can be reached at Cori.Shaff@colorado.edu.