"Let life enchant you again." - Fernando Gros
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Blog // Creativity
June 17, 2020

Character Strengths And Career Choices

A personality test that identifies your character strengths could also be a useful tool when choosing the best job or career.

I’m a sucker for personality tests, and I’ve written about them before. It doesn’t matter if it’s a validated personality test backed by academic research or a quiz invented in a hurry by a journalism intern on “which character are you from some popular TV show”, I’m going to make time for it. There’s even a political compass test for the English Civil War, and yes, I did that too (turns out, I would’ve been a Leveller).

So, when the Character Strengths survey from the Values in Action Institute popped up in a course, I clicked on the link right away (the course is “The Science of Well-Being”, which will be reviewed next month). The survey assesses 24 character strengths, which are things like curiosity, honesty, humour, kindness, leadership and teamwork. You can take the test here (it’s free).

But it wasn’t just the test itself that caught my attention. There was also the academic study, “When the job is a calling: The role of applying one’s signature strengths at work,” by Claudia Harzer and Willibald Ruch, which suggests that the results of the VIA test could help you to identify your ideal job or career.

Character Strengths and Your Ideal Career

The study looked at how many of a worker’s top seven character strengths, according to the Values In Action survey, were present in their working lives. So for example, if one of your top traits was “love of learning,” then how often do you get to learn (or teach) on the job?

The researchers found that there was a strong correlation between using some of your strengths and how happy you are at work. Just activating one made a big difference. The sweet spot seemed to be using at least four of the seven.

Add that to some good experiences with the people you work with and you’ve got the recipe for loving what you do and maybe even finding your calling in life.

Most career advice is very different to this. From “follow your passion” to “specialise in what you did well at in school”, the typical advice focusses on the things you do.

However, what this study suggests is that you should focus on the character traits you can engage, almost regardless of what you are doing. This is much less abstract than talking about passion and far less restricting than focussing on the things you got good grades in.

Character Strengths Experiment

My top five strengths were: (1) creativity, (2) curiosity, (3) appreciation of beauty and excellence, (4) love of learning and (5) perspective. So, maybe I’m doing OK when it comes to choosing a career.

But, am I using them regularly?

So, I’m trying a little experiment. Is there some way for me to focus even more on these strengths? Especially, the four out of the seven needed for the sweet spot identified by the researchers?

Here’s five possibilities,

  • Big Picture: Add notes about the seven strengths to my personal guidelines for my yearly and quarterly reviews. This will challenge me to ask how often the seven traits are being used.
  • Project Planning: Add a tag to each project to reflect which of the strengths the project will activate. I’m trying to tweak each project’s goals and processes to activate as many of the seven strengths as possible.
  • Weekly Review: Look at my plan for the coming week to see how many of the strengths might be used in the coming days. I’ve been changing and modifying my schedule to increase the opportunities to use my strengths.
  • Daily practice: Reflect during the day and while journaling on which strengths are being used and how they feel. I will consider why some of the strengths weren’t activated and what tactics could be used to bring them into play next time.
  • Leisure: Look for ways to utilise the top seven strengths during my leisure time. For example, I could consume more media that reflects my strengths or I could try to incorporate them into my regular activities like cooking.
  • I’ve been running the experiment for one week now and there’s three more weeks to go. To validate the results, I’ve also taken two standardised tests that measure happiness as well as journaling some findings (part of the course mentioned earlier). Next month, I’ll post a follow-up with the results.

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