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Use Your Strengths To Further Your Career

October 14, 2014 by ·

careers2How are strengths linked to careers?

This is one of the most commonly asked questions I receive in my character strengths workshops.

The short answer is: We need more research on the topic.

Here’s the long answer:

Traditional career counseling focuses on many different categories of strength, such as interests, skills, and talents. Tools that tap clients’ areas of interest and passion have long been used by career counselors (e.g., the Strong Interest Inventory). And, career counselors are interested in their client building certain skills that might be related to particular careers – communication skills, programming skills, team-building skills. And, counselors want to know if a client has a particular raw talent – they are great at drawing so therefore might consider graphic design or they love dealing with numbers therefore might consider accounting or a career in mathematics or engineering.

These are all different types of strength – interests, skills, and talents.

What is rarely discussed in career counseling is strengths of character. Skills, interests, and talents are quite different from character strengths, as character strengths are positive traits that are essential to a person’s identity. They are universal aspects of our personality that are valued by people of all cultures.

Drawing connections between these character strengths and career transitions, career decision-making, and career counseling approaches is quite new (after all, the VIA Classification was first published in 2004). At present, more is unknown then known about the possible effects.

That said, early research is promising. Hadassah Littman-Ovadia, one of the leading researchers in positive psychology, published a study with her colleagues that compared strengths-based career counseling with traditional counseling.  Unemployed job seekers were the subjects who received four sessions of character strengths counseling or four sessions of traditional counseling. The researchers found that the career counseling that embedded character strengths was far more successful in helping people become employed (80%) compared with the traditional career counseling (60%).

The VIA Survey, the scientifically valid measurement tool that measures the 24 character strengths, is an obvious fit for this field. There are recommendations and cautions for using the VIA Survey to consider. The uses and cautions of the VIA Survey in decision-making around careers and employee selection is discussed below.

VIA Survey and Careers (Recommendations for use)

  • For self-awareness: to promote mindfulness of one’s signature strengths, middle strengths, and lesser strengths.
    • Since deeper awareness often leads to insights which can lead to change, it is possible that strengths knowledge (and practice therein) can lead to students becoming more informed on possible career paths they might choose. Note that this is very different from an authority or counselor telling or guiding a student in a direction based on certain results.
  • For promoting positivity: To catalyze pleasure, engagement, meaning through awareness of one’s strengths that could then be used with greater frequency, intensity, or duration; and/or with greater balance, fluency, and savvy.
  • For improving workplace productivity and relationships. Employees become more engaged, productive, and happy when they use their strengths at work thus the VIA Survey is important for helping to catalyze strengths awareness, appreciation, and deployment in this setting. Employees can align their strengths with their current work tasks (e.g., using creativity on a work project); employers can assist employees in brainstorming possibilities and even craft jobs in ways to help employees maximize their best qualities.

VIA Survey and Careers (Not recommended for use)

  • Career matching: The VIA Survey is not recommended to be used in career matching. For example, these uses are currently discouraged:
    • Creating a match between specific careers and a particular character strengths profile.
    • Determining someone is not in the right career because of their profile.
    • Determining someone should not pursue a career path because of their profile.
  • Rationale: There are many different kinds of jobs in any particular career. For example, an accountant might have a non-social isolated bookkeeping job or a creative and social job as a chief financial officer. It is not clear how to match jobs and careers with VIA Survey results. Career selection is complex and nuanced and is a highly individual and personal decision.

VIA Survey and Employee Selection (Not recommended for use)

  • Employee selection: The VIA Survey is not recommended to be used for employee selection. For example, these uses are currently discouraged:
    • Hiring an individual because of their character strengths profile.
    • Firing an employee because of their character strengths profile.
    • Promoting an employee based on their character strengths profile.
  • Rationale: The VIA Survey was not designed for such purposes. Employees can fake the test by giving answers they think their employer wants to see. This invalidates the individual’s results. Also, the VIA Survey was not designed for comparison with others and so VIA Survey results should not be used to compare one applicant’s (or employee’s) character strengths with another’s.

References

Littman-Ovadia, H., Lazar-Butbul, V., Benjamin, B. A. (2014). Strengths-based career counseling: Overview and initial evaluation. Journal of Career Assessment.

Peterson, C., & Seligman, M. E. P. (2004). Character strengths and virtues: A handbook and classification.New York, NY: Oxford University Press.

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