Strengths and Careers: Applying a Strengths Approach to Help Clients Move Ahead

By Jennifer Bradley and Emma Trenier

A strengths-based approach helps clients to navigate complex career transitions by supporting them to expand their perspectives and to address barriers to change. It also provides the career professional with a roadmap that can be tailored to the needs of individual clients.

Although there are a number of strengths models and tools available, such as Strengthsfinder and the VIA Inventory of Strengths, this article is primarily based on the Realise2 model (Linley, Willars & Biswas-Diener, 2010) summarized below. The three questions we focus on are:

  1. What are strengths and how are they relevant to career transition?

  2. What are the implications of using a strengths-based approach?

  3. How can knowledge of strengths be applied to specific client experiences?

What Are Strengths?

Two key questions for clients who want and/or need to make a career change are “What are they good at?” and “What do they like to do?” But it can be challenging to step outside of familiar roles and activities to really explore this question. A strengths model provides a framework that can support clients in broadening their perspectives. The four distinctions, (realized strengths, unrealized strengths, learned behaviors and weaknesses) described in the Realise2 model (Linley, Willars & Biswas-Diener, 2010) are easy for clients to understand and a good basis for further exploration.

As shown in Figure 1 below, strengths are the things we are both good at, and find energizing. Strengths may be “realized” if they are used frequently and “unrealized” if they are not used or used infrequently. Strengths are different from “learned behaviors”, which are those activities which are performed frequently and often well, but which are de-energizing. Weaknesses are activities that we are not good at and also find draining. As discussed below, change can be accomplished by building a strategy informed by the client’s individual profile of strengths, weaknesses and learned behaviors.


Figure 1: The Realise2 Model

Strengths Graphic



Although one might expect that clients, especially those with considerable work experience, already know their personal strengths, research shows that approximately eight out of ten adults do not fully understand their strengths (Linley, Willars & Biswas-Diener, 2010). For some clients, a formal assessment of strengths is an efficient way to gather information quickly before validating it through follow-up discussions. Enhancing understanding of strengths can be invaluable in helping the client to gain clarity about new possibilities for productive and satisfying work.


The Implications of Strengths-based Approaches for Change

Knowing one’s personal strengths is helpful, but a successful career transition frequently involves managing the anxiety, fear, loss or disappointment that may accompany significant change. Discussing the underlying assumptions of strengths-based approaches with clients provides a roadmap for the transition process. It is also an opportunity to help expose clients’ concerns and personal beliefs about change that may help or hinder their career goals.


The Realise2 model of strengths is founded on four main assumptions about development:

  1. The most significant growth and development occurs through developing strengths rather than weaknesses

  2. The most motivating conversations are weighted towards exploring strengths over and above exploring weaknesses

  3. Weaknesses need to be addressed as part of a holistic picture rather than ignored

  4. It is important to explore competence (performance) and motivation (energy) hand in hand.

Examples of how these principles apply to specific client situations are discussed below.


Applying Knowledge of Strengths to Specific Client Experiences

Table 1 below presents selected examples of different ways in which the career professional can tailor a strengths approach to help clients in two different situations.

Client Situation

Key Challenges

Application: Areas of Focus

A ‘manufacturing worker’ who needs to start over because work is being outsourced.




  • Lack of confidence

  • Little understanding of other avenues of work

  • Uncertainty about personal strengths

  • Use a formal assessment to increase the client’s understanding of strengths, learned behaviors, and weaknesses

  • Build confidence and self-esteem by exploring the unique strengths that they can bring to a new role

  • Use the strengths profile can be used as a ‘sense check’ against job descriptions of new roles being considered

  • Use the strengths language to build an authentic and descriptive resume and more personalized job applications

A professional who is stressed & unhappy at work

  • Moving towards ‘burn out’

  • Lack of job satisfaction

  • Feels stuck and anxious. Unsure whether to consider alternative roles, or to leave the organization

  • Explore realized and unrealized strengths to identify untapped opportunities to reshape a current role, or establish a need to move on if this is not possible.

  • Explore the impact of learned behaviors to reveal aspects of work that the professional is finding draining

  • Where weaknesses are exposed at work, discuss strategies to minimize the impact of these

  • Establish new possibilities by considering how unrealized strengths might be maximized at work.


As these examples show, individual career transitions are often complex. Strengths-based approaches provide career professionals and clients with new tools to develop the flexibility and resilience to thrive in increasingly turbulent work environments. Career transition strategies are more likely to be effective when individualized and based on awareness of both competence and motivation. Together the client and coach can discuss the relevance of particular strengths and weaknesses in light of career goals and life circumstances.



Linley, P. A., Willars, J., Biswas-Diener, R (2010). The Strengths Book. Coventry, UK: CAPP Press.

Linley, P. A. (2008). Average to A+: Realising strengths in yourself and others. Coventry, UK: CAPP Press.

Linley, P. A., Woolston, L. & Biswas-Diener, R (2009). Strengths Coaching with Leaders. International Coaching Psychology Review, 4, 1, pp 37-46

Visit the website for information about the Center of Applied Psychology, Coventry, U.K. (CAPP) and Realise2 AssessmentTool.





Jennifer Bradley is a US-based coach, consultant, and trainer. She works with individuals and groups to help them create a work life where they can flourish both personally and professionally. She holds a Doctorate in organizational psychology (University of Manchester; U.K.) and a Masters Degree in Intercultural Relations (University of the Pacific; CA) Contact her via her email

bradley jennifer@yah oo.com or http://www.careeroptionscoach.com or on LinkedIn: www.linkedin.com/in/jenniferbradleyphd

Emma Trenier is a UK-based Consulting Psychologist with the Centre of Applied Positive Psychology (Capp) and specialises in individual, career and team development. Contact her at . More information at http://www.cappeu.com/emma-trenier.htm

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