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Careers Café

An inside look at the StrengthsQuest tool

Turning problems into possibilities at the University of Calgary.


Do you spend more time focused on your weaknesses or your strengths? I presume that a lot of us spend less time on our strengths and tend to have a critical view of ourselves. However, if you are open to making a paradigm shift in your mindset, you could be cultivating a more accurate self-assessment; stimulating tendencies and drawing attention to, “what is right in you, and what is right for you” versus “what is wrong.”

The University of Calgary is now delivering and supporting a new development program under the direction and guidance of certified campus advisors – strengths educators. It is the StrengthsQuest Program and has been adopted by Gallup Inc. and it uses a theoretical foundation that is closely linked through a positive psychology perspective. It consists of an inventory that will provide our students with their “Top 5 themes of talent.” Those certified, can administer the tool and offer dialogue and specialized instruction to our students to use their strengths and overcome potential life obstacles. We can deliver either individual or group based training sessions to encourage those participants to actively seek out the sources of those signature themes and engage in the development of strengths. It is believed that it is important for our students to focus on what they do well, rather than entirely focus on what skills need improvement. In our Career Services office, the students use this learning as a means of discovery and applications transfer to career development through these sessions. The effective facilitation of this training will cultivate change and foster resiliency to embrace change.

Like any transformation, this practice coaches self-reflection, but also uses observations from others. Have you ever been curious and asked someone what they see and hear from you? It is quite possible that you do not see yourself congruent with another’s perspective. For example, if you are receiving positive evaluations from others and if you see yourself as worthy and capable, this can be a driver to develop a self-concept that is willing to see the past, present and future self – the person you are innately and the person that you may become.

Robust questioning can probe descriptions of how that future and even a preferred or possible self would be different when that problem no long exists. This interaction could create the means for this student to survey the situation and participate in strength based conversations. For example: “How have you managed to handle this thus far?” is an approach that grounds in a strengths perspective and an individual’s resiliency, and may offer an opportunity to reveal a repertoire of problem solving strategies, coping skills and capacities.

What do strengths sound like or look like in action?
During an evaluation, a student could also be asked: “Tell me when you are at your best?” In my experience, this can be a paramount example that instigates more ease for conversation, and can trigger memories that narrate words such as “I love it when…” As an advisor, I have noticed observable changes in the energy offered by the student; the rate of speech may even become more rapid and even increases as the story continues. The student seems to be “present” in the conversation as I listen for clues in that conversation that indicates a yearning for an activity, even an attraction. Has there been any insight into an inherent, natural ability that allows this individual to approach something new yet seamlessly achieve success, a rapid learning or even a glimpse of excellence? Has there been any gauge that denotes the “feeling of time flies or that feeling of flow?”

So think about the next time you get faced with the critical and commonly asked interview questions, “What are your strengths? What are your weaknesses?” Will you give, what I call, “the old song and dance” or say something that you think the potential employer wants to hear? I believe that so many potential candidates take this standard question for granted. I would guess that the crucial stage of knowing yourself within career development gets bypassed. You do need to be the best at offering a compelling and authentic declaration that describes you in the most accurate, specific and relevant way, as interviewers have heard many clichéd answers.

So, my proposition to you is, learn to affirm and apply your signature strengths and engage in strengths talks. You didn’t get a call back from that interview? Well, I recommend that instead of tending to a problem focused response and dwelling on the negative thoughts, “What’s wrong with me?”, I challenge you to be that solution focused candidate with a focus on gaining feedback and reflecting on what may work better next time. So I ask you, “Is the glass half full or half empty?”

Stop by the Career Services office at the University of Calgary to learn more about StrengthsQuest. If you are not a University of Calgary student, you can complete the assessment tool for yourself, though it is key to remember that talents can remain just that unless there is an investment in gaining the knowledge and skills to make strengths.

Kelly Gallant is a career specialist at the University of Calgary’s career services.
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