I have to admit, I was a skeptical at first of the StrengthsFinder assessment. I had taken “self-help”-type assessments before, and I was often discouraged by how they seemed to typecast people. Now 177 paired statements were going to tell me my strengths? I was doubtful, but I entered the online access code and braced myself to receive yet another set of generic descriptors.
What I learned about the Clifton StrengthsFinder is that it’s not so much about your results, but what you choose to do with them. Tom Rath, author of the book StrengthsFinder 2.0, explains that raw talent is a multiplier of your investment. The skills, knowledge, and practice you invest in yourself, combined with your talent, are your strengths. Once you know what you naturally do best, you can learn skills to further develop these talents.
The first step is learning what your talents are. My top 5 talents, per the StrengthsFinder assessment, are:
Analytical: People exceptionally talented in the analytical theme search for reasons and causes. they have the ability to think about all the factors that might affect a situation.
Achiever: People who are especially talented in the achiever theme have a great deal of stamina and work hard. They take great satisfaction from being busy and productive.
Competition: People exceptionally talented in the competition theme measure their progress against the performance of others. They strive to win first place and revel in contests.
Deliberative: People exceptionally talented in the deliberative theme are best described by the serious care they take in making decisions or choices. They anticipate obstacles.
Restorative: People exceptionally talented in the restorative theme are adept at dealing with problems. They are good at figuring out what is wrong and resolving it.
Initially, I thought some of these themes described me better than others. I was not at all surprised by the first two, analytical and achiever. At its essence, my discipline (public health) is about searching “for reasons and causes,” and I get a thrill out of looking for patterns in data. “Achiever” seemed fitting as well; I’d agree that accomplishments help me feel fulfilled. One thing I appreciate about the StrengthsFinder is that it doesn’t simply tell you what your talents are, but it also provides thoughtful advice for how to take advantage of them. For example, although people with “achiever” talents tend to work hard, it is also important for them to align their commitments with their highest priorities and celebrate success along the way. These are useful tips for any graduate student, but they felt tailored to my identified talents.
Other StrengthsFinder results left me initially disappointed or confused. I always thought of myself as self-competitive; I wanted to be the best version of myself, regardless of how I compared with against other people. To see “competition” on the list was a bit of a letdown. While social comparisons can help set benchmarks for performance, I usually don’t think of myself as being in direct competition with people. For example, if another student in my department is recognized for their work, I see that as a benefit to the whole department rather than a figurative yardstick to measure myself against. Although I was originally disappointed that “competition” was one of my talents, the StrengthsFinder helped me understand that healthy competition is not about judging people, and it can, in fact, hold others to a higher standard.
“Deliberative” came with useful reminders that can be applied to graduate students in general. Graduate school is a highly rewarding endeavor, but it’s too easy to get caught up in all of the items on your to-do list. Give yourself permission to take in all this experience has to offer, and resist the urge to rush to cross everything off your list.
Lastly, the term “restorative” confused me at first. Did it mean that the time I spent using the Headspace app was paying off? It turns out, people with restorative talents are all about problem-solving. We’re solution-oriented people who are energized by challenging situations. All graduate students would benefit from the advice to identify ways to improve skills and knowledge.
I didn’t necessarily agree with all of my results at first, but the StrengthsFinder helped me see that even some traits I thought were negative, like “competition,” can be used to my advantage. I recommend taking the StrengthsFinder as a way to reflect on your talents and consider ways to invest in your skills and knowledge.
Jennifer Mandelbaum is a PhD student in Health Promotion, Education, and Behavior, co-chair of the Advisory Committee on Professional Development for Graduate Students, and Vice President of the Graduate Student Association (GSA). She encourages graduate students to connect with the GSA on Facebook (facebook.com/uscgsa) and Twitter (@USCGSA).
P.S. Jennifer got a free copy of the StrengthsFinder by reading a #GRADprofdev blog earlier this semester. Do you want to get a free copy of StrengthsFinder 2.0? Email GRADprofdev@sc.edu with “#GRADprofdev Blog – Free StrengthsFinder” as the subject. In the body of the email, include your name, degree program, and department. The first five UofSC graduate students to send an email will receive a free copy of the book, which includes an access code for the online assessment tool.
Questions? Comments? Ideas? Email GRADprofdev@sc.edu.