Strengths – a personal epiphany!

As I mentioned in my last post my current research position is coming to an end and I’m looking for a new job, so the career options workshop organised by Women in technology last Wednesday was very timely! Although they are primarily an organisation for women in IT some of the topics they cover are relevant for other STEM areas too.

The workshop was delivered by a company called Position Ignition. The workshop aimed to provide a more structured approach to finding and getting your dream job. Covering what you are good at, what you want to do, being creative about identifying your dream job and then figuring out an action plan to get you there. They didn’t try to do this whole process for each one of us but instead tried to show us how to go through the process ourselves. This ended up being a very enlightening experience!

In the workshop they asked us to think about four questions regarding our strengths:

  1. Do you know what they are?
  2. What do you do well?
  3. What do you do brilliantly (In your view)?
  4. What do you do brilliantly (In other people’s view)?

The discussion brought home to me firstly how important it is to really know what your strengths are, not just to have a couple of things you can talk about at interviews and on job applications, and secondly how far away from understanding my strengths I feel I am. Blind panic is the first thing I experience when asked what do you do brilliantly! I can think of things I do well some of the time but I can also always think of times when I didn’t do so well at that same skill.

To help remedy this Position Ignition recommended Strength Finder 2.0, it’s a book and an online questionnaire designed to analyse what your top 5 strengths are. It’s amazingly quick and, at least for me, incredibly insightful. I bought it Saturday morning, read the first part of the book, had coffee with a friend, had some lunch, did the questionnaire and got my personalised report before 3pm!

I could not believe it…there was me, right there on the page!

In a way of course, I knew all of it already, since I was able to recognise myself but I hadn’t recognised what the underlying strengths were. I think it’s also really useful to have, as close as possible, an objective view of what my strengths are because somehow it’s easy to end up always thinking about the times I could have/should have done better. Tom Rath suggests that we focus too much on fixing our weaknesses and not enough on building on our strengths and I think this is a really valid point.

Whilst this is an issue for men and women alike I just want to leave you with a final thought. In my post ‘Are you Biased?’ I talked about how the work of women is often assessed more critically than work done by men. It seems to me that over a lifetime this can’t fail to affect our confidence and belief in our strengths. In fact this study suggests it is so ingrained in our culture that we also assess ourselves more critically.

(The study is from the journal Academic Medicine and looks at self-assessment of abilities by both female and male doctors, it’s free for everyone just click the link and then click ‘article as pdf’ on the right hand side.)

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