As you have probably picked up by now, much of my brain power is spent on my career search right now. It is very difficult to move forward when you don’t know where you want to go. For most of my life I have not been a fan of self-help books but in recent years I have found a few that make sense to me.
My biggest problem with career books is that they fall into two categories: 1. Vague generalisms that are a waste of time and paper 2. Specific actionable items that require information you don’t have. Let me explain further.
With the general books you get phrases like “work hard and make your boss look good” or “think about a time when you were happy at work and make that your full-time job.” I suppose if you had never thought about your career at all, information like this would be useful. But only then.
In the books that try to solve your specific career problem, they face the difficult challenge of getting you to realize something that you didn’t already know about information that you do already have. The bad books or tests in this vein might ask you “Do you enjoy working outdoors on a construction site where you are in charge of those around you?” “Maybe you should be a foreman or an architect.” “Do you feel architect-y?” These direct questions do very little to help. If I knew that architecture was an interest of mine, I would have pursued that career already. The good tests tend to be more oblique. “Is it more important to solve the problem or get the right answer?” They force you to think about yourself in a new way.
I mentioned to my friend Charlie last week that in the book No More Mondays (reviewed recently) a big take away for me was focusing on your strengths. This may seem obvious to some of you, but I grew up during a time when everyone – movies, teachers, parents, friends, coaches – all reinforced the idea that you spend your time improving on your weaknesses. Maybe it is just because it has been so ingrained in me, but I still feel like this is a legitimate thing to do. Everyone needs to have a certain level of competency in fundamental areas of life. It makes living much easier and more enjoyable.
This book got me thinking that there must be a time when it is appropriate to stop doing that, or at least limit it severely. Maybe when a person graduates high school they shift from general studies to focusing specifically on their strengths. This can be different than what they think they want to do.
Don’t hear me wrong. I’m not saying people should focus on careers that they won’t like. I’m saying that if a person approaches a career based on what their strengths are rather than what they think is a cool job, not only will they be more likely to be much better at it, but they will have a lasting enjoyment of it.
This leads me back to Charlie. When I relayed all of this to him, he mentioned that his office had just had all of the employees go through Strengths Finder 2.0. He let me know that this was exactly the point of this book. It was very focused on one thing – determining your five strongest attributes.
Needless to say, I screamed over to the bookstore and bought it the next day. It is an easy read with an online test. The entire process couldn’t have taken more than a couple of hours. The test takes about 30 minutes.
Be forewarned, you only get to take the test one time so make sure your internet connection is working properly, you are in the right frame of mind and you don’t have distractions. It is a timed test giving you 20 seconds to make a choice between two answers.
Some people have complained that they didn’t feel like the results were a good match for them. I found the test to be incredibly accurate. I may have disagreed with a few points and there were a couple of statements that didn’t apply to me, but about 99% of it was very true. Some of the participants alluded to thinking for a long time before answering or putting what they wanted the answer to be. My guess is that this is what screwed up their answers. The instructions let you know that you are being timed to force you to react instinctively. Want to know more about why this is a good way to respond? Read the book Blink (reviewed here).
Others complain that the test does not give any job recommendations and it may not for every strength. For four of my strengths, it did mention some general job characteristics I should explore. For example, “a technical job” “paid to analyze data, find patterns, or organize ideas” “financial or medical research” “risk management.” While I think adding typical or suggested jobs for each of the strengths would be a huge plus, I don’t think it is a gyp that they didn’t do this. The book is very clear that this is a test to help you understand who you are not what your career should be.
Your personalized report does give a long list of suggested actions to develop your strengths. It also includes quotes from people who share your strengths. This section is entertaining and, if you agree with the selections it has made for you, really reinforces that it has picked your correct strengths.
Where I choose to complain about this book is the system it uses. You are required to buy a book that gives you an access code to a website for an online test. You may only take the test once. Once the code has been used, the book is worthless. All of the strengths interpretations that apply to you are given to you in a PDF document at the conclusion of the test. These exact same interpretations make up the bulk of the book.
I can understand why this was done from a marketing perspective, but it would have been nice if they would have provided the option to take the test on the website without the book for a slightly discounted price.
Overall I highly recommend this book. Everyone’s results will vary but what do you have to lose? In the best case scenario you will gain key insights into what you are good at and begin to think about how you apply them to your career. In the worst case, you will have spent $12-20 and a couple of hours of your time.
WARNING: DO NOT BUY THIS BOOK USED. IT IS WORTHLESS IF THE ONLINE CODE HAS BEEN USED ALREADY.
– Quick and easy to do – simple to complete in an evening
– Reasonably priced
– Must buy a book to take the online test
– Book is of little value and useless to anyone after one use
– Can only take the test once