Assess Your Strengths, before You Start Your Own Career Plan

Ask a trainer what he or she is good at and you’ll hear something like this: “I’m pretty good at A but I really need to work on B, C, D, E, F….” Perhaps we spend so much time investigating other people’s performance problems and patching up weaknesses in the classroom that we’re unable to look objectively at our personal and professional assets.

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But a rational career planning and development effort is based on understanding and exploiting one’s strengths, not on bolstering one’s perceived weaknesses. To do otherwise is to fall victim to a reasoning/thinking fallacy that psychiatrist Albert Ellis refers to as the Musterbation of Perfection: “I must be perfect. After all, I’m a trainer and trainers are infallible.”

Trainers who fall victim to the perfection fallacy are those who spring from seminar to seminar, piling certificate on certificate, degree on degree, hoping in vain to reach some mythical, unassailable pinnacle of professional perfection.

The following six-step Strength Analysis procedure will give you a chance to view yourself in an objective framework. You can do the analysis alone, but working with a small group is more fun and more in¬formative. Limit your group to five to seven people whom you know and who know you and your work. You’ll want people in your group who can give you feedback you will listen to and trust.

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1. Look at yourself in cold black and white. You will need some sort of a skills checklist for this activity, gen¬erated, perhaps, from the table of contents of some standard text. The American Society for Training and Development (ASTD) Training and Development Handbook (Craig, 1976) or Approaches to Training and Devel-opment (Laird, 1978), could help you develop a skills laundry list.

Another good source is the 14-factor list of training practitioner roles compiled by Patrick R. Pinto and James W. Walker as part of an ASTD-sponsored professional development study.

Regardless of where you find your skills list, read all the items and put an X next to each skill/knowledge description you consider to be a personal/professional strength. When you have finished, go back through the list and circle the X next to the five knowledge/skill areas you believe are your top strengths.

2. Add two. Now sit back and think for a moment. What two knowledges, skills, attitudes, talents, abilities or characteristics are you proud of that are not on your list of five or on the original checklist? Don’t limit these to just professional strengths.

3. Ask for feedback from others. Here’s where you need the group. Assemble its members in a room and close the door. Flip a coin or in some way decide who goes in the “hot seat” first. Let’s say you’re the first; here’s how you use the group.

• Read your list of strengths aloud. You might say something like, “I went through the checklist and here’s what I think my strengths are….” Be sure to include the two strengths you came up with in step 2.

• When you finish reading your list, say something like, “Those are the strengths / see. What do you see as my strengths?”

• Each person in your group then takes a turn telling you what he or she considers to be your strengths. Just listen and ask for clarification if you need it. You can, of course, thank those in your group who contribute, but say no more. Don’t attempt to write down what you hear; let someone else do that. Your job is simply to listen— uncritically and completely—to what you hear.

• Repeat this procedure for every person in the group.
• Adjourn the group when every¬one has had a turn in the “hot seat.”

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4. Write a new strength list.

• Write a new list of strengths based on what you have done and heard.
• Add descriptions of two professional success experiences and two professional failure experiences to the list.

• Go through the new strength list and put an L next to skills and knowledges you like or prefer to use. Put a D next to those skills and knowledges you dislike using.

• Now go through your success and failure examples and examine the role your strengths and preferences have played in your successes and failures.

5. Write a final description of strengths. Now, write a revised description of your professional strengths, preferences, abilities, skills and knowledges.

Longtime trainer Mal Warren, currently senior vice-president of personnel for Stix, Baer and Fuller, St. Louis, MO, and Katherine Keeler, of Bell of Pennsylvania, suggest that trainers share—and wrongly take for granted— some universal strengths. Most prominent among these are:

• Systems or systematic thinking.
• Skills at observing and reporting behavior.
• Problem analysis skills.
• Communications skills.

If these skills and abilities are not already in your strength description, consider adding them. They may be assumed skills among trainers but, in other career tracks, they are rare and valuable.

6. Brainstorm possibilities. The sixth and final step of this strength analysis is really the beginning of a next step— assessing options. It goes like this:

• Bring your group back together.
• Read your strength descriptions to one another.
• Brainstorm career options with each other.

• If you like, use the “hot-seat” method to do your brainstorming. But instead of adding strengths this time, ask the other group members to suggest where and how your strengths can be applied to your career planning.

Dr. David P. Campbell, vice-president of research and programs division, Center for Creative Leader¬ship, Greensboro, NC, has written a clever little life-and-career-planning book titled If You Don’t Know Where You’re Going, You’ll Probably End Up Somewhere Else.

In it, he proposes that we can never have the options and opportunities for control over our own life choices if we don’t know where we are going and who we are. To that, we add this coda: Once you know your strengths, you’ll know how to get where you want to go.

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Source : Training Magazine