In our work with students, graduates and apprentices, we have seen the central role the strengths approach can take in accelerating people’s careers by building confidence, certainty in career direction and flexibility in managing careers. This article provides a little more detail on each of these important points and how you can make sure you are building for a strong, positive career ahead.
- Choosing a career direction – for those early in their career, there is often a focus on finding the ‘right’ career path: following (or maybe avoiding) advice from parents, school, college or University and getting focused on ‘getting it right’, sometimes too early. Our advice is to spend your early career years exploring a variety of work roles, tasks and activities in order to truly understand what you enjoy, what comes naturally and where your skills, talents and strengths may find their most natural home. We have also found it to be important for early careers to get clear on the type of organisation, culture and work structure that works best for them, typically through a combination of exploration and careful consideration. Do you enjoy working best in flexible, autonomous work teams, or a more structured environment? What about size of organisation – large corporate or small startup for example? And the values and purpose of the organisation – which align best with your own values and what’s important to you? This knowledge will help you navigate your career in the right general direction while staying open to new opportunities and possibilities.
- Increasing employability through your strengths – a second observation is that for many early in career, there will be a focus on overcoming deficits and weaknesses at the expense of better understanding and optimising strengths. This likely comes from school and early life experiences which traditionally tend to focus on making us ‘all rounders’ rather than enhancing our ‘spikes’ and differences. But it is these spikey differences which employers are most interested in, as it’s here where your greatest contribution can be made. So we recommend that you gain a good understanding of your strengths – what you enjoy, do well naturally and have the greatest potential – then develop confidence in presenting these strengths and differences in ‘employer-friendly’ language before applying for target job roles. This will maximize your employability by helping an employer to see where you can best contribute value, as well as helping them get a better understanding of the ‘real you’.
- Building career flexibility – finally (and this is true for anyone, regardless of career stage) getting good at dealing with change (in role, structure of work, organisation or career) has become a vital skill in today’s job market. A really effective way of building career ‘flexibility’ is to understand how to use your strengths to navigate change, as well as getting clear on any risk areas that may get in the way of your performance with the extra pressure and stress of transition. So if you know, for example, that you can use your Collaboration and Empathy strengths to get a good read on new colleagues and build rapport with them quickly, this will give you more confidence to move from team to team, role to role or even organisation to organisation. And if you know that your Courage strength can sometimes tip into being too challenging too early when under stress, or that your lack of Efficiency can lead to frustration in others when you don’t seem to follow the plan, being more aware of these risks can help you manage them so that they don’t trip you up when making your next move.
So in summary, if you want to give your career the best chance of early success, our advice is to stay open-minded in exploring different work opportunities, get clear on the strengths and unique qualities that give you an edge with employers and use that knowledge to help you transition smoothly and confidently whenever the next role change comes about.
There are lots of ways of getting clearer on these areas – we use Strengthscope® as our start point. As the Deputy Director at Cass Business School puts it, “Strengthscope® gives our students clarity on what energises them; the tool provides rich insights into what they should consider about themselves when researching what career or role might be right for them. It provides our students with the language to clearly articulate what they have to offer to an employer and what value they will bring an organisation.”
If you want to know more about our work with students, graduates and apprentices, speak to us today.
Dr Paul Brewerton