I am glad to break the news and remind you that you have Jedi-like superpowers. It is easy to forget or doubt your strengths when you are in the middle of the job search and you get turned down for the 10th time with no further hope on the horizon (can you tell I speak from experience?).
It is in these moments that we need to remember our strengths now more than ever. We each have a unique array of abilities that we bring to the table and that can be difficult to replicate. I call them strengths. Other names include quirks, magic, skills, and talents. Strengths helps define “how” one would approach the work. And this, my friend, is your biggest competitive advantage!
What are Strengths?
I am a certified coach with the Gallup Organization, and trained to use an assessment called StrengthsFinder. I have used this tool with students in their undergraduate work, with MBAs, and in organizations to help develop high performing teams. The reason I like this tool, among others, is because it gives us language to explain the “how.” For example, I have commonly heard people use “hard worker” to describe themselves. And this may very well be a true statement, but it does not differentiate you among all the other “hard workers.”
Using a Strengths-based approach, the definition describes how you uniquely work hard. Perhaps it’s your Discipline superpower, or your Woo ability to bring together people and win them over. These strengths take hard work and focus, and it is likely you use these superpowers every day and don’t even realize that it’s unique to you! Not everyone sees work challenges like you do, even though it seems so obvious to you.
The Gallup Organization defines a strength as “talent x (knowledge + experience).” Let’s break this down a bit further. A talent is defined as a reoccurring pattern of thought, feeling, or behavior that can be productively applied. Once you have identified your strength, put it into practice. Every good athlete must be dedicated to improving their game or craft with knowledge and immense practice. That is the knowledge + experience part of the equation. Lastly, when you put natural talent (something you can’t NOT do) and multiply that with experience and knowledge, you get a strength! i.e. your superpower and your competitive advantage.
How to use Strengths on the Resume
Now that you have a basic understanding of a strength, let’s put it to use in the job search. I don’t know anyone who loves working on their resume and I think its because deep down we are confronted with what we have done and how far (or lack of how far) we have come. Many people approach it from a “trying to prove” energy. Perhaps a good reframe is to see it as a set of facts: hard, concrete evidence of how your superpowers have helped others. Here are a few steps when crafting the best bullets using a strengths-based lens:
1. Identify your strengths
You can take the StrengthsFinder assessment (I also provide codes with my coaching service) or you can ask close colleagues/friends to you to help you identify what you bring to the team. Ask yourself: How does my superpower show up? What did I bring that helped the team do better? And then what happened next as a result?
2. Reflect on the Team Dynamic
With each position you have held, reflect on the team dynamic. What was your role? What consistently did you do? Write the story before you write the bullet.
3. Just the Essentials
Next, take the story and turn it into the essentials – twitter-fy it! Yes, I made up that word up and it means take a bunch of thoughts/story and turn it into one sentence. If it helps, break it down like this: Action – Task – Result. Example:
- Facilitated a global team of 10 on defining group values, building trust, and aligning on annual team goals
The first step is to write an action word that describes your strength. My superpower strength is adaptability, and this comes in handy especially for facilitation, i.e., being able to adapt to the room and facilitate a meaningful discussion. The next step to write a good bullet is a scoping technique by describing the task. What exactly did you do and how many people were involved? Lastly, describe what happened next, I call this the result; sometimes the result is quantifiable and other times it isn’t.
It’s okay if the result is more about quality than the numbers. Of course, if you have numbers, do tell. For example, you got your team unstuck (this could be a harmony superpower) or you were able to successfully implement a new plan (this could be a persuasion superpower). It does not always have to be: I sold $20M in xyz product. For this example, my facilitation skills allowed a team of ten to agree on annual goals and you better believe that had a major impact later in the year!
How to use Strengths in the Interview
Now that you have your bullets and your resume is looking good through a strength’s lens, let’s turn to the interview preparation. Now, this is where a strengths lens has the most impact’ it’s where you get to tell the story you wrote with all the details intact! If you take the assessment, it gives you language to describe the “how.” Example, my first strength according to StrengthsFinder is “Restorative.” It means I am highly motivated by problems. I love a good problem or challenge to solve.
How does it sound? It sounds like this in an interview:
Interviewer: Dawn, thanks for taking the time to meet with me today. Let us start with telling me a bit about yourself and your background.
Dawn: Great! Thanks for the time. I have always been motivated by a good challenge and am a natural problem solver. So, I earned my undergraduate degree in psychology in order to study problems and challenges in human behavior. I was then interested in how human behavior translated into organizational effectiveness which led me to get my master’s degree in human resource development. I love problem-solving human challenges to create effective and positive change in organizations.
The hardest thing in this process is changing your own mind about your value and uniqueness. If you are like me, it may be hard to identify what you are good at and then own it. If you are on the job search, or going for a promotion, or just want an extra boost of confidence, now is the time to embrace your strengths and say it with pride!
I’m currently taking new coaching clients and can offer a free sample session. Hit me up if you’d like to chat!
Dawn Shaw has more than 15 years’ experience in business coaching at Duke University and The University of Texas at Austin. She has built curriculum in career education and professional development to top MBA candidates and has helped numerous leaders in financial services.
Dawn also has more than 10 years’ experience building global, complex, learning, and leadership solutions that create positive change for employees and leaders. Her passion has led her to build her own company specializing in adult learning theories, learning design, building customized leadership programs, and leadership coaching. She has worked with many globally recognized brands including Wells Fargo, Adidas, Microsoft, Brainerd Chemical Company, Duke University Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, Evercore, and UT-Austin.
She is a certified coach in StrengthsFinder by the Gallup Organization and working to be ICF certified by June 2021. She is the Founder of Charlie Box and is currently working towards an organizational analysis certification by the Academy to Innovate HR. Dawn holds certifications in Business Negotiation Skills from Duke University and Articulate Storyline 360: Advanced Learning.