Whether you’re a graduate, an apprentice, or someone else early in their career, or whether you’re someone who works with those in early careers, today’s episode is for you.
What I want to share is how strengths can really help those who are coming into the workplace in a variety of ways. Here are 5 ways, straight off the bat:
- Making sure you know how you can make a difference and add value
- Having a language to describe how you can make a positive impact
- Making strengths-based decisions on how you deliver your role
- Choosing a career direction that helps you play to your strengths
- Using your strengths to stay flexible
Making sure you know how you can make a difference and add value
For most people who come into the world of work and particularly while you’re finding your feet in a new environment, you’re probably going to still be bringing the mindset you developed from school, college or university. That really it’s all about test results, getting it right, fitting in, conforming, keeping your head down. Basically, playing by the rules of those systems. But the world of work has a load of new rules. And mainly those rules are looser and employers expect you to be more self-sufficient and more self-confident than you’ve ever been before.
The other thing that almost certainly you’ll have been taught is to focus on getting better at the bad stuff that if you don’t focus on might get you an F, that you need to avoid failure at all costs, and that perfection should be your goal. Truth is, if you keep going with that approach, you won’t have much fun at work and you probably won’t find out how your unique gifts, talents, energies and strengths can make the biggest difference.
So the first thing to do is to understand your strengths – the unique qualities that mark you out as different. Get that self-awareness and you’ll be able to see how you can confidently make a positive impact right from the start. You are unique. Other people don’t have the strengths that you have, they haven’t had the experiences that you have and so they won’t be able to make the same contribution that you can. Ask people where they see you at your best – being the most energised and making the most positive difference. That should help give you a head start in understanding your strengths.
Having a language to describe how you can make a positive impact
Secondly, you kind of need a language that employers will understand to describe how you can make the best impact. It’s your spikey differences – your strengths – which employers are most interested in, as that’s where you make your best contribution.
So I recommend that once you have a good understanding of your strengths – what you enjoy, do well naturally and have the greatest potential – the next step is to develop confidence in presenting your strengths and differences in ‘employer-friendly’ language before applying for job roles you’re interested in.
This helps with your employability because employers can see where you can best make a positive difference, as well as helping them get a better understanding of who you actually are, not who you think you should be presenting to them. So, be you, in a smart, employer-friendly way.
Making strengths-based decisions on how you deliver your role
Role-crafting is something that we’re hearing more and more about. And if you take a strengths approach, it’s actually pretty straightforward. What it means is that once you’ve figured out your strengths, make sure that you have looked carefully at the different tasks and elements that make up your job and that you’ve figured out how you can use your strengths to deliver your role.
For example, if one of your job tasks is to call 15 customers a day to check on the company’s service levels, you could use your Efficiency strength to plan the calls, Results focus to deliver them, your Collaboration or Empathy to make the connection with each customer and get energy from the interaction, and your Resilience to kick off each day even though you know 15 calls is a lot, because you’re excited for the challenge.
Taking this approach will also help you figure out the strengths you don’t have and when you can best call on others for their help because they do have the strengths you need. So knowing the strength areas that drain you is equally important so that you can get most enjoyment from each day.
Choosing a career direction that helps you play to your strengths
When it comes to choosing a career direction if you’re an early careerist, there’s often a focus on finding the ‘right’ career path: following (or maybe avoiding) advice from parents, school, college, University or mates and getting focused on ‘getting it right’, sometimes too early. My advice is to spend your early career years exploring as wide a variety of work roles, tasks and activities as you can so that you can truly understand what you enjoy, what comes naturally and where your skills, talents and strengths may be at their most naturally powerful.
Using your strengths to stay flexible
Building on that point, career flexibility marks out the most successful early careerists and studies have shown that if you stay flexible and keep moving role early in your career, you’re going to earn more money (Lam, Ng and Feldman, 2012).
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 change.
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 you’re under stress and you might say something career-limiting, or that your lack of Efficiency can lead to you frustrating other people 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.
Conclusion – taking your early career from strength to strength
If you want to give your early career the best chance of early success, my 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.