CliftonStrengths: Finding the Right Language to Communicate Your Strengths to Others
Many graduate students don’t come into graduate school knowing exactly what their future career will be, and admittedly, I’m still uncertain, though I know my passion is at the intersection of translational immunology and global health. I often find myself wishing there were a way to be more intentional about pursuing career satisfaction. As part of my efforts to be intentional in my own professional development, I sought out the “Leveraging Your Strengths” workshop, offered as part of The Graduate School’s Professional Development Series. Dr. Melissa Bostrom, Assistant Dean for Graduate Student Professional Development, facilitated the workshop, sharing that Gallup, creator of the CliftonStrengths assessment on which the workshop was based, has found that job satisfaction is more likely achievable if you find a position in which you can frequently leverage your top five strengths. Based on my experience, here are five reasons to attend the workshop and figure out your five top strengths.
The assessment is quick yet extremely rewarding.
The Gallup CliftonStrengths assessment “measures your natural patterns of thinking, feeling, and behaving” through 177 paired statements in which you must choose which best describes you. There are a total of 34 strengths that fall into four domains: executing, strategic thinking, influencing, and relationship building. It only took me about half an hour to discover my strengths, and then I was given a wealth of information that helped me understand and articulate those strengths and learn how to use them in professional development settings and my everyday life. I found out that my top five strengths are Communication, Learner, Focus, Harmony, and Woo.
You will be better prepared to employ concrete language to articulate your strengths.
At the end of the assessment, I wondered what exactly each of those words meant. CliftonStrengths offers guides that were able to teach me how to describe these strengths. They revealed patterns in how I move about the world, including in my professional identity as an immunologist. Before attending the workshop, I might have told an employer that I believe I am good at communicating with others, enjoy presenting/public speaking, and am extremely goal-oriented. While these characteristics are still true, their connection to my work as an immunologist is less clear.
Now I can say that I would succeed as a research scientist in industry because I have an unceasing desire to gain knowledge in science (Learner), and thus, I feel invested in my experiments at the bench. I would be an asset as a leader because I work hard to build cooperative environments around me (Harmony), and I feel at ease engaging in conversation and presenting my data and my ideas to others (Communicator).
I can say that I would excel as a program officer for grants at a global health non-profit because I carefully absorb information, set priorities, decide on a direction, and follow through with a plan (Focus). This strength is crucial for determining what projects should be funded. I embrace the challenge of establishing connections with new people (Wooer), and would enjoy consulting with minds across the world about the state of science and global healthcare needs.
You will learn what you bring to a team.
After taking the assessment and reading the guides, I attended the workshop. Dr. Bostrom asked us to raise our hands if we had gotten at least one strength in every domain. I raised mine. I found out that this is not so common, and I am lucky to have a top strength in each domain. This is important, we learned, because when you build a team, you want to have a group that is balanced in strengths. The assessment and workshop taught me that I could be an asset to any team.
I also learned that my dominant domain, which includes Communication and Woo, is Influencing. These people, according to Gallup, “take charge, speak up, and make sure the team is heard.” The clearest example I have that draws on these strengths is serving as the student representative of my department where my role is to liaise between students and faculty, to hear concerns from both sides, and work with all parties to create solutions. I continue to enjoy my service in this role very much. I also gladly take any opportunities my PI gives me to present my own research or to represent the lab in outside forums. Most recently, I was fortunate enough to travel to Geneva, Switzerland and discuss our lab’s powerful platforms for analyzing vaccine responses to pathogens through discussions of my own data and data generated by my colleagues. Representatives from all over the world, including the WHO, CDC, biotechnology companies, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, etc. were present. I was thrilled to present and network with these brilliant minds.
You will discover what you need from a team.
Using CliftonStrengths has helped me determine what it is that I uniquely bring to a team, but it also taught me to consider recruiting people with different strengths when I work in a group. For example, although I am a learner (strategic thinking domain) and value harmony (relationship building), it might be beneficial for me to add someone to my team who is analytical and positive to help organize knowledge into actionable decisions and help me stay resilient throughout the work. Using this process for team building is quite strategic in itself, and I hope to use it to create productive and cooperative teams in the future.
You will view your job search with a more concrete perspective.
The most important lesson I learned from the CliftonStrengths assessment and workshop is that a satisfying career is one that is going to allow you to showcase your strengths on a regular basis. For me, as an immunologist, that means I will need opportunities to communicate about science with others regularly, feel like I’m always learning something new, and be trusted enough to set priorities and follow through. I feel more at ease in my inclinations to be a research scientist in the biotechnology field, and then ultimately a technical officer or program officer overseeing grants and programs in the global health sector. To that end, I have already started tapping into my professional network and conducting informational interviews to really get a sense of what these careers entail on a day-to-day basis. When I started this journey, I set out to become more intentional about pursuing careers that would be satisfying, and now the CliftonStrengths assessment has helped me determine that the careers I am considering really might just fit!
Editors' note: Graduate School students can claim a code to access the CliftonStrengths assessment for free.
Recent Ph.D. graduate, Immunology
Lindsay Dahora, Ph.D. is a recent graduate of the Immunology program at Duke where she also obtained a certificate in Global Health (2020). She has since joined the Microbiology and Immunology Department at UNC Chapel Hill as a Postdoctoral Research Associate in Dr. Aravinda de Silva’s laboratory. Her research focuses on human antibody responses to flavivirus (Dengue, Zika, Yellow Fever, etc) infection and vaccination, and examines functional mechanisms of protection from disease. She is working to decipher what types of antibodies protect humans from flavivirus infection versus those that may enhance disease. Follow her on twitter @DahoraLindsay.