They say good things always come in threes, so I can’t resist the urge to post a third entry related to how to apply one’s StrengthsFinder assessment results effectively in a career transition scenario.  As for those of you out there who AREN’T proponents of the “Now, Discover Your Strengths” methodology, please bear with us, and don’t worry, I’ve got plenty of more “mainstream” blog postings coming soon!

The aspect of the StrengthsFinder tool that is rattling around in my brain today, however, is the importance of understanding the differences between an actual “strength” and the component parts that make one up.  To be honest, I had forgotten this distinction entirely, myself, until I picked up and read the NDYS book again the other day for the fourth time.  Somehow, over the years, I had fallen into the habit of giving the label “strengths” to the five results one receives from the book’s signature assessment test.  As it turns out, this is not technically accurate according to my recent refresher course.  What the StrengthsFinder test instead purports to reveal are not your strengths, per se, but the dominant underlying talents that play a key role — along with the ingredients of skills and knowledge — in forming your core personal and professional strengths.

Confused yet?  Don’t worry, it all will click, eventually!  And in case it may help, let me cite the formal definitions from the book.  Talents are “the ways in which you most naturally think, feel, and behave as a unique individual” whereas Strengths reflect your ability “to consistently provide near-perfect performance in a specific activity.”

Once you’ve got the hang of these distinctions, you’re ready to seriously contemplate the book’s magic formula, which is Talent + Skills + Knowledge = Strength.  Understanding this formula, and its implications, is the most powerful part of the assessment for those who are unemployed.  Why?  Because a serious job hunter needs to recognize that Strengths are what companies are looking for in professional-level candidates.  Not just Talent.  Not just Skills.  Not just a college degree or a smattering of relevant Knowledge.  Strengths are the things that actually produce profitable results and get things accomplished for the company, which is why employers are being so annoyingly picky and subjecting job applicants to so many levels of scrutiny these days.  Employers are just not terribly interested right now in hiring somebody who might be able to solve a problem in 30, 60, or 90 days down the road, just like you wouldn’t be interested in hiring a plumber who could fix your leaky pipes “someday” or an accountant who “might” be able to prepare your tax return.   Employers are trying to track down individuals who possess the precise mix of Talent, Skills, and Knowledge (HR types usually label these items Knowledge, Skills, and Abilities) that will allow them to walk into the office and start knocking their assigned tasks out of the park, from day one.

So if you’re planning to incorporate the StrengthsFinder into your job search, in a significant way, I’d suggest you practice breaking down your key work-related capabilities (aka Strengths) into their corresponding Talent, Skill, and Knowledge elements.  Engaging in this exercise will not only help you understand why you’re so good at certain things, on a granular level, but will also help you package/sell your competencies to employers in a highly persuasive way.

Here are a few examples I whipped up on the fly that demonstrate what this would look like:

Strength: Planning a profitable retail product assortment
Talents:  Any could help, but Analytical, Strategic, Futuristic, and Achiever might be a particularly strong fit
Skills: Microsoft Excel usage, as well as the ability to perform complex pricing and forecasting calculations
Knowledge: Understanding of retail/wholesale concepts, inventory management methods, product sourcing channels, SKUs, and modern merchandising techniques

Strength: Building and managing a high-performance sales team
Talents: Any could help, but Maximizer, Developer, Consistency, and Individualization might be a particularly strong fit
Skills: Sales training, performance management, meeting facilitation, expertise in effective negotiating and deal-closing techniques
Knowledge: Deep understanding of the company’s products/services, competitive positioning, target markets, and industry niche

Strength: Leading an organizational turnaround
Talents: Any could help, but Command, Competition, Positivity, and Achiever might be a particularly strong fit
Skills: Financial analysis, strategic planning, investor relations, process improvement, design and communication of restructuring initiatives
Knowledge: MBA or General Management background, industry knowledge, understanding of change management principles

Strength: Repairing automobiles
Talents: Any could help, but Input, Context, Arranger, and Deliberative might be a particularly strong fit
Skills: Usage of various shop tools and diagnostic systems, ability to read engine schematics
Knowledge: Understanding of automobile engines and components, troubleshooting procedures, safety precautions

Or if you want to attack the issue from another angle, try this approach on for size.  Pick some common career avenues — or a list of occupations that interest you — and ask yourself: “Based on the five natural talents that the StrengthsFinder test indicates that I possess, what kind of (insert job title) would I be? What kind of accountant?  What kind of salesperson?  What kind of social media consultant, purchasing analyst, operations manager, or hairdresser?”  Boatloads of career-related wisdom could come tumbling out of this exercise, should you devote the time to trying it out.

At the end of the day, sure, the picky naming conventions I’ve cited in this post may not really matter in some respects.  In casual usage, for example, almost everybody would understand the meaning to be the same if I were to say that I have an Analytical “strength” versus an Analytical “talent”.  Where I think these distinctions become increasingly significant, however, is when you apply them to picking career paths and figuring out how to best sell yourself to organizations.  As discussed in yesterday’s post, if you consistently find yourself trying to get employers interested in your Talents, versus your Strengths, you’re going to be in for an uphill battle.  “So what?” the employer thinks to themselves.  “So you’re empathic.  Or analytical.  Or comfortable around other people in casual situations.  Why should I care about this, exactly?”

If you can pitch the employer on your ability to deliver “near-perfect performance” in a specific task that interests them, however, and that will help them become more successful and profitable, then you’ll likely get their full, undivided attention!

Editor’s Note:  I’m honored to mention that one of the principal authors of the StrengthsFinder series, Marcus Buckingham, just started following these posts of mine on Twitter as of yesterday.  Or at least somebody bearing his name did!  Mr. Buckingham, if that’s really you out there, how did I do?  Any insights or criticisms to offer about how I’ve applied your tool to the job search and career planning equation?