Choose Your Jobs Based on Strengths


Are you in the right career based on your strengths?  You can use your strengths as a guide to help you figure out which jobs to test and which jobs to avoid.  For example, it’s tough to be in marketing if you’re not a people person.  If you like knowledge work, you might find you enjoy software.  You can use your strengths as another lens to help you chart your course.  If you’ve ever felt like the elf that wanted to be a dentist, take heart that following your strengths improves your chances for success.

In Now, Discover Your Strengths, Marcus Buckingham and Donald O. Clifton, Ph.D. write about using your strengths as a guide for choosing jobs.

Key Take Aways
Here’s my key take aways:

  • Strengths over disposition.  Career guidance tests map you to careers based on your disposition.  That’s one lens.  Whether or not disposition is a weak link, you might find that strengths are a simpler and more powerful lens.  It’s about mapping your strengths to the nature of the work. 
  • Follow your strengths.   If you do what makes you weak, you won’t have the energy to improve or be great at what you do.  You won’t have the passion.  If you play to your strengths, you’ll renew your energy and you set yourself up for success.  Spending time in your strengths is a breeding ground for passion.  It’s your passion that will turn your strengths into powerful assets.
  • Know the strengths that some roles require.   if you break a role down into the nature of the work, you can see patterns.  For example, some work is very routine.  Some is very predictable.   Some is more creative.  Some if very people oriented.  Some is very thought oriented or idea-centric.  Once you get past roles and titles to the actual nature of the work, you get a good lens on how you will spend your time and what strengths actually matter.
  • Don’t map strength themes directly to roles.   It’s not a simple map of these strengths mean these roles.  Instead, your strengths are a guide to help you along your path. 

My grandfather knew he wanted to be a pharmacist right from the start and he followed his dream.  When I was growing up, I didn’t really know.  At first, I thought I was going to be an adventurer or an explorer.  I liked to play outside so I figured it would be a good job.   When I was a Freshman, I told my guidance counselor I wanted to be a chiropractor and a kick-boxer.  I wanted a brain and body combo.  Along the way, life happened.  I still don’t know what I want to be, but I play to my strengths.  I test paths, learn along the way, and stay flexible.  The most important thing I do is spend time in my strengths.  It gives me energy and keeps me growing.  That little recipe helps a lot in today’s economy as more people find themselves in unfamiliar territory, new situations and taking on new things.

What Do You Want to Be When You Grow Up?
Are you in the right field?  Are you in the right role?  Buckingham and Clifton write:

Of all the questions that may keep you up at night at you ponder your career, the two that follow are the most pressing: First, have you chosen the right field for who you are (healthcare, education, mechanical engineering, computer science, fashion, and so on)?  Second, are you playing the right role for you?  Should you be a salesperson, a manager, an administrator, a writer, a designer, an advisor, an analyst, or some unique combination?

Career Guidance Tests Match Your Disposition
Career guidance tests match you to jobs based on disposition, with the assumption that people with a similar disposition, can perform the same jobs.  Buckingham and Clifton write:

Have you ever taken one of those career guidance tests, the kind where you respond to a series of questions and learn the field for which you are best suited?  These tests are found on the premise that everyone in a certain field must have a similar disposition.  They study your disposition, make a comparison to each field in their database, and then squeeze you into the ones you most closely resemble.

Follow Your Strengths
If you know your strengths, you have a lot of flexibility in fields and roles.  Buckingham and Clifton write:

The SrengthsFinder Profile is not one of these tests.  StrengthsFinder reveals your signature themes, and while these themes may suggest certain directions your career might take, they do not force you into one field or another.  They can’t.  Why?  Quite simply because the research doesn’t support a linear relationship between themes and fields.  One of the most arresting findings from our interviews was the number of people with similar themes who were excelling in very different fields.

Know the Strengths that Some Roles Require
Find the patterns.  People who do great in certain roles tend to have certain strengths.  Buckingham and Clifton write:

From our research it is apparent that people who excel in the same role do possess some similar themes.  For example, many of the journalists we interviewed found that the theme Adaptability was in their top five.  From one day to the next they never know where their work might take them.  On Monday evening they might find themselves huddling in the rain outside the Ramada Inn at Newark Airport waiting to interview plane crash survivors, and on Tuesday morning they are back at the office finishing up an article on the impact of rising interest rates.  Whereas some of us would feel mental whiplash at these constant changes of subject, tone, and location, people blessed with Adaptability feel energized.  They feed on the unexpected.

Don’t Map Strength Themes Directly to Roles
While there’s a connection between strengths and roles, it’s not a strict map.  Buckingham and Clifton write:

Despite these discoveries, however, you need to be careful about drawing too straight a line between a particular theme and a particular role.  We suggest caution because our research interviews indicate that thousands of people with very different theme combinations nonetheless play the same role equally well.

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Photo by Lucas Janin.


  1. Good Morning,
    What a great post, and excellent ideas for people who are job seaching….especially in these times.
    Thanks for sharing.
    Giovanna Garcia
    Imperfect Action is better than No Action

  2. Great post! It sounds like a really interesting book and it makes some really significant points. I think it’s so important for people to identify what they want to do in life based on their strengths, and then seek a job in a related field. This isn’t always easy, but it’s so important in terms of living a fulfilled and happy life. Thanks for posting about this. I’m going to check out the book! 🙂

  3. It may seem difficult at first, but if people take the time to find a job based on their strengths, they will be able to stick with them longer, and be more fulfilled than just taking anything as it comes.

    ~ Kristi

  4. hi JD,

    Good insight, and relevant for many people. I just left a comment on Tom Volkar’s sight on finding the work you’re meant to do, so this was an interesting reinforcement.

  5. @ Giovanna

    Thank you. I think it’s even a way to love the job you’re with. Once you know your true strengths, you can find more ways to flex them on the job.

    @ Positively Present

    Thank you. It’s a good book as an intro into strengths. Of all the strengths books, I think I enjoyed Go Put Your Strengths to Work the most. It’s very actionable and insightful.

    @ Kikolani

    So true. If you don’t get fired up when you get to work, something’s not working and it’s not sustainable. I’ve reinvented myself and my job several times over the years. Nothing’s static … it’s like shaping clay over time.

    @ Daphne

    Thank you. I really see a theme of people finding their calling by looking from the inside out, instead of outside in.

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