As promised, I’m piggybacking on the post I wrote yesterday in order to shed a little more light on one key aspect of applying your results from the StrengthsFinder instrument — or any other personality profile you might have taken. I want to provide a little more depth, and specificity, around how to actually build credibility with employers and convince them you truly have the success traits in question.
Why is this important? Because in many, many years of conducting mock interviews with job seekers, I’ve almost never had somebody successfully “sell me” on the power and importance of an innate talent or personality trait. Sure, I’ve had hundreds of people tell me that they are extremely detail-oriented, or outgoing, or results-focused, or whatever. But do I necessary believe them? Or see how such a quality might trump more tangible work-related qualifications such as skills or experience? Not usually. And I daresay most employers and recruiters would say the same. After you’ve heard these same words used thousands of times, by thousands of candidates, they lose a lot of their mojo. What’s more, one almost can’t help but acquire a cynical bias around these kinds of personal abilities after coming across so many “detail-oriented” people who have typos on their resumes — or so many quote-unquote “strategic” managers who don’t know what a SWOT analysis is, aren’t able to define the difference between strategy and tactics, and who don’t seem to have anything all that interesting to say about the strategic challenges or opportunities in my (aka the employer’s) market space.
So my point is this. Unless you’re 100% committed to learning how to sell your natural strengths/gifts/talents in a meaningful and powerful way, and one that has a fighting chance of busting through the crusted-over cliches in the interviewer’s mind, it’s almost best to avoid discussing them altogether. Stick to safer, more measurable subjects like skills and educational credentials. If you end up in a situation, however, where you want or need one of your personal strengths to shine, here are some thoughts on how to accomplish this:
1) First, convince yourself. This first suggestion sounds like a cop-out, I know, but it’s absolutely essential. To have any hope at all of convincing another human being that you’re truly “one out of a hundred” in terms of some fundamental talent you possess, you first have to believe it, yourself. Just taking a test and casually musing over the results isn’t enough. You need to corroborate the assessment results with real-life examples of how you’ve put this strength into action, as well as feedback from people who know you well and some supporting data gleaned from other personality profiles. You can’t have a smidgen of doubt about the talents that make up the “authentic you” or you’ll get easily picked apart when it comes time for employer cross-examination.
2) Hand the employer a printed copy of your StrengthsFinder results. The fundamental secret behind most personality tests is that they essentially tell us things that we already know or suspect about ourselves, but for some reason known only to psychologists and neurobiologists, there’s something magically “validating” about seeing this same data presented on paper. Information is always more credible when it’s printed out. So if you really want to engage an employer in a discussion of how your personal strengths might add value to your future job performance, try using handouts. If nothing else, you’ll stand out from the crowd. And once the hiring manager sees that an “actual scientific test” confirms you have the traits you claim, the psychological effect described above might exert its irresistible influence on them, as well!
3) Arm yourself with relevant accomplishment stories. This one isn’t all that original, since every interviewing book on the planet instructs job hunters to have some of their best “success stories” on hand, practiced, and ready to share with employers. What you may not have done in the past, however, is examine how your fundamental personality traits (as opposed to skills or knowledge) have played a role in your past successes. So apply this strengths-based layer of thinking to each of your past accomplishments, using whatever storytelling model you’re comfortable with (e.g. CAR, PAR, OAR, STAR; every career firm has some model they recommend that people use to break their stories down into an initial Challenge/Problem/Opportunity, followed by corresponding Actions and Results.)
4) Offer references, endorsements, or work samples to back up your claims. If you tell me that you’re highly Empathic and extremely good at understanding the needs of the people around you, that’s nice. I’ll take you at your word and assume you might be slightly more developed in this area than the average person who interacts with the world from a more self-absorbed perspective. If you kick things up a notch, however, and supply me with some letters of recommendation and LinkedIn testimonials saying things like “Joe was the best listener of any manager I’ve every worked for” or “Betty had an incredible knack for understanding our customers’ needs, sometimes even better than they did, themselves!” I’ll be MUCH more inclined to give you credit for this talent. Such evidence might be dismissed as hearsay in a court of law, but as a hiring manager, I’m going to be impressed by somebody who can back up their claims with consistent feedback from those around them. A work sample or portfolio piece that illustrates your strengths in action can be a real show-stopper, as well!
5) Contrast your style to that of the “typical” style for a given job role. This one takes a little more finesse, but if you’re somewhat of an underdog for a given position, you might point out how you’d bring a unique and refreshingly different perspective to a job assignment compared to what the employer in question might typically encounter in other candidates. For example, I suspect that the majority of career counselors out there would rank higher than me on StrengthsFinder attributes like Empathy, Woo, and Relator. I’m just not a touchy-feely guy, at heart. Never have been. And as a result, I fully admit that I’m far from the best available consultant for those job hunters whose primary need is for heavy ongoing infusions of emotional support and non-directive listening. So instead of pretending to be something I’m not, when explaining my services to people, I emphasize how my core strengths in areas like Intellection, Input, and Ideation allow me to approach the job hunting process from a more objective, marketing-focused angle. They allow me to help people write compelling job search documents. And find interesting new outlets for their skills. And brainstorm creative ways to engage their networking contacts and uncover new target companies. This approach seems to have worked pretty well for me over the years, and if I come across somebody who needs deeper work than I can offer in assertiveness or confidence-building, I refer them without hesitation to some other coaches in town who I know have greater natural strengths in these areas.
6) Ask the interviewer to describe their best employees. This technique is something of a “sneak attack” designed to get employers to think a bit outside the box and realize (hopefully!) just how important one’s fundamental strengths, talents, and tendencies are to bottom-line job success. If you can get them to openly discuss the personality of the top performers in the role you’re targeting, they might disclose some nuggets (“Harriet is our rock star — she’s able to juggle a million different deadlines at once and stay calm as a cucumber the whole time!”) that you can then emphasize, yourself, if you share some of the same strengths, habits, and tendencies that are identified. You might need to prompt the employer a bit, however, to get good data. Try asking follow-up questions like “Do you find that your top performers are always the ones who have been in the industry the longest?” and “All other things being equal, what truly separates your superstars from your bottom-of-the-barrel performers?” And if you want to shoot the moon and risk being even more aggressive, you can ask “Obviously you, yourself, haven’t been in this industry your entire career. What factors would you say have allowed you to adapt so successfully to this field and your current role?” It’s a courageous question, for sure, but if you really want to emphasize the importance of natural talent, this line of conversation might be enough to switch the employer’s light bulb on!
7) Demonstrate your Strengths in the interview itself or via a follow-up exercise. If you’re going to try building the case that you possess some incredibly useful success traits, make sure the employer sees evidence of these in the hiring conversation itself. If one of your StrengthsFinder themes is Individualization, for example, share some observations regarding the individual people you’ve met during the hiring process, including the receptionist who greeted you in the lobby. If Responsibility is your claim to fame, arrive at the interview 15 minutes early, fully prepared, and follow-through like clockwork on every subsequent step of the courtship ritual. If you’re a Positivity person, let your positive energy wash over the stressed-out hiring manager during the interview so that the rest of their day is a little brighter. All of these behaviors will greatly reinforce the words that you’re mouthing regarding your true nature. And if the opportunity doesn’t arise to show yourself “at your best” during the interview, ask them for an assignment that will let you prove these things. If you’re Strategic, in other words, ask whether they’d be interested in having you put together a PowerPoint that provides an objective overview of where you feel their company fits into the market — and where some untapped (and profitable) possibilities might lie.
8) Pick your battles; don’t try to sell more than one or two strengths at a time. One last mistake I’d point out relates to those interview candidates who claim to be really strong in a particular area, such as team-building, but then can’t resist saying that they’re also the cat’s meow in terms of creativity, accountability, leadership, empathy, and analytical thinking. Nobody is going to buy this. While people can be equally strong in multiple areas, without question, the more different areas you try to claim “greatness” around during an interview, the more you’ll water down and weaken your message. So if you’ve got one or two strengths that are substantially more well-developed than others, stick to them. Own them. Focus on getting credit for them and making them uber-relevant to the conversation at hand. And if you’re one of those fortunate few who happens to have a whole closetful of natural gifts, be smart about it, and isolate/emphasize just those select few that appear most relevant to the opportunity you’re pursuing!