In our work with students, graduates and apprentices, we have seen the central role the strengths approach can take in accelerating people’s early careers by building confidence, certainty in career direction and flexibility in managing careers. I’d like to give you a bit more on each of these points to make sure you can build the best career for you and enjoy every day of it too.
How to choose a career
So with 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.
It’s also important to get clear on the type of organization, culture and work structure that works best for you, by exploring different ones and reflecting on what works for you and what doesn’t.
- Do you enjoy working best in flexible work teams where you’re left to your own devices, or do you like a more structured environment where you’re given plenty of feedback and guidance?
- What about the size of organization – large corporate or small startup for example?
- And the values and purpose of the organization – which align best with your own values and what’s important to you?
Working out answers to these questions over time will help you chart a path in the right general direction but still being open to new opportunities and possibilities. So, in short, try stuff and think about what you liked, what you didn’t and why.
A second thing is that for many people early in their careers, you’ll probably have a focus on overcoming your deficits and weaknesses at the expense of better understanding and finding a place for your strengths. This probably comes from school and early life experiences which traditionally try to focus on making us ‘all rounders’ rather than enhancing our ‘spikes’ and differences.
What are your Strengths?
But it’s your spikey differences which employers are most interested in, as that’s where you make your best contribution. So I recommend that you get a good understanding of your strengths – what you enjoy, do well naturally and have the greatest potential – then develop confidence in presenting those strengths and differences in ‘employer-friendly’ language before applying for your target job roles. This helps massively 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. Be you, in a smart, employer-friendly way.
To do that particularly when you’re early in a role, find ways to showcase your strengths and talents. Look for opportunities to test out different projects and activities to see where your strengths fit best, and build confidence in communicating the value you’re bringing to the organisation using these strengths. When you focus on your strengths and talk about them to others, it’s much more likely your employer will keep giving you the kind of work you enjoy. So then you get to do more of the work you love, which you then smash, resulting in you getting more of this kind of work to do, as well as making your future position in the organisation more secure.
Understand your strengths to navigate change
Third thing I wanted to talk about is building career flexibility and resilience. So it’s true that for everyone everywhere, getting good at dealing with change (in role, structure of work, organisation or career) has become vital in the world of work today. 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.
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 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.
So in summary, 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.
To find out more on how to discover your strengths, get in touch with the amazing team at Strengthscope.