At a high school showcase for seniors in a creative arts program, we were struck by one thing: how many kids followed showstopping performances – piano solos, monologs, songs, slideshows of beautiful art – by saying: “I’ll be attending the University of Colorado to major in biomedical engineering.”
Or astrophysics, or international business. There was one brave soul who announced his hoped-for double major in engineering and improv.
Facing six-figure college costs, students can hardly be blamed for telling their parents they’re planning a lucrative STEM career, instead of life as a starving artist. And it’s tempting to chase the most in-demand professions, like data science, web development, cyber security, or medicine.
The trick is to find the place in those professions where you belong.
To connect with the best people and land the position that will let you soar, your personal brand – your public face – must be a reflection of the person you really are. That requires introspection.
One of the best tools for self-assessment is the StrengthsFinder, developed by psychologist Donald Clifton and published by Gallup. The program uses an online test to rate each individual on 34 strengths: Adaptability, Communication, Deliberative, Relator, Strategic and 29 others.
This is not another interest inventory that tells you you’re strong in math and lousy at drawing. It teases out the most dominant aspects of your personality, whether you’re an accountant or an acrobat. It also offers an overall “Strengths Insight,” looking at how each strengths theme works in the context of all the information from your assessment, “how each of your top five themes plays out in your life,” the book says.
If you have the Responsibility theme, you “take psychological ownership for anything you commit to, and whether large or small, you feel emotionally bound to follow it through to completion.” The Individualization theme “leads you to be intrigued by the unique qualities of each person … you instinctively observe each person’s style, each person’s motivation, how each thinks, and how each builds relationships.”
Knowing your strengths enables you to build a personal brand that won’t sabotage you. No matter how many startup job descriptions call for someone who can pivot easily, if you’re Deliberative, “you are a fairly serious person who approaches life with a certain reserve” and needs a plan. If you’re an Arranger, on the other hand, “you jump into the confusion, devising new options, hunting for new paths of least resistance,” and a workplace with long-standing orderly processes will bore you to death.
The results reports also list 10 “Ideas for Action” that invite perspective on how your strengths can help you – or trip you up. The Individualization theme might look to others like you’re treating people unequally or unfairly. People with Responsibility have a hard time saying no.
Workplaces, job centers and career consultants also offer the StrengthsFinder test and seminars to help analyze your results and figure out how to work with or manage others whose profiles are different.
Some other resources for self-assessment in developing a personal brand:
On its site for students and early-career employees, PwC (PriceWaterhouseCoopers) offers a personal branding workbook that takes you step-by-step through a self-evaluation process, discovering strengths, values, passions and purpose. It’s interactive, detailed and linked to a host of resources that let you put the information into action.
A different online assessment is offered by Bryan Kramer, a “social strategist” in Silicon Valley and the author of Shareology: How Sharing Powers the Human Economy (Morgan James Publishing, 2015). Kramer focuses on identifying your personal brand and developing a unique voice, content and social networking strategy to connect with the people and companies you want to reach.
Kramer divides the personal branding universe into Altruist (committed to helping others), Boomerang (shares provocative posts to get people talking), Careerist (focused on professional advancement), Early Adopter (individualist who shares whatever is new), Connector (a creative uniter) and Selective (shares specific information with a curated group).