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Seeing the Future Through a Strengths-Based Lens at the University of Missouri

Seeing the Future Through a Strengths-Based Lens at the University of Missouri

Learn how the school's career center uses StrengthsQuest to engage students

by Becky McCarville

After taking the CliftonStrengths assessment, many people want to know: How can I incorporate strengths into my career goals and aspirations? And how can I find the right job for me?

Naturally, high school and college students ask these time-honored questions because they're considering their potential and imagining their future lives. And even those who are mid-way in their careers and want a change -- or anyone facing a transition in life -- want to find roles that suit their talents and strengths.

Many school career centers are turning to the CliftonStrengths assessment and the tools and resources of Gallup's CliftonStrengths for Students to engage students and infuse the language of strengths throughout their university experience. By having ongoing conversations -- whether peer to peer, faculty or staff -- students can know more about themselves and how to leverage their talents at every level of their education and career planning.

The University of Missouri has been using CliftonStrengths for 10 years, starting with a few hundred people taking the CliftonStrengths assessment in a career exploration class in 2006. Today, between 4,500 and 5,000 students, faculty and staff use CliftonStrengths every year.

"The conversation with students or with anybody who takes [CliftonStrengths] is absolutely imperative," says Craig Benson, director of career exploration and strengths development at the University of Missouri Career Center. "I wholeheartedly believe that taking the assessment alone is not enough to make a lifelong change for somebody."

Balancing the Past and Present With Future Thinking

For Benson, whose first entry into strengths was through Gallup's book First, Break All the Rules and who championed the strengths movement at Mizzou, "using strengths in great and productive ways is exciting."

In fact, Benson integrates his top five CliftonStrengths -- Learner, Maximizer, Strategic, Arranger and Achiever -- into his daily activities and says that they describe him perfectly.

"[My top five] play out every single day for me -- whether I'm working with individual students and helping them reach their potential, looking at processes and systems we have in place, developing new training or doing workshops and presentations," Benson says.

When the strengths journey began on Mizzou's campus, Benson realized that CliftonStrengths applied to a variety of areas within career advising -- helping students communicate who they are to potential employers through resumes, cover letters, interviews and social media profiles.

"The job of career services professionals is helping students figure out not just jobs when they graduate, but who they want to be when they graduate," Benson says. "Students are going to graduate, then go off and work in different jobs and career paths along the way. That one job that they have when they graduate is important, but I think it's much more important to know who you are, how you're going to make choices between the different options that you will have, and how to work best in the environment that you're in."

Mizzou's career center completes over 100 CliftonStrengths workshops a year on campus. When talking with groups, the focus is on that group's dominant talent themes. During the workshops, students are challenged to think about their talents in ways that are meaningful to them while in college. And if it's a senior capstone course, they're encouraged to develop themes for teamwork and strengths-based leadership.

"We try to be really engaging, meeting them where they are with something that's related to the topic at hand in that class."

Enlisting the Strengths of an Organization

Just as an individual can leverage their unique talents to succeed, Benson encourages offices or organizations to do the same when building their strengths programs. For example, if an office has a robust workshop program, then leverage the workshop program to use strengths on campus, he says.

Mizzou's career center has more than 40 years of using student employees to meet with individual students to provide help around career questions, concerns or ideas, and to help them have meaningful experiences.

And out of the 7,500 to 8,000 students who walk into the career center per year to meet with the student employees, anywhere from 2,500 to 3,000 talk about CliftonStrengths.

"It's a pretty big piece of our operation," Benson says.

There was no question -- using the strength of the career center's student employees was key, along with training them extensively on how to have meaningful strengths conversations within the context of vocation.

As strengths rippled across the campus, Benson made an intentional effort to provide resources for students related to the whole career process. Through research and outreach to other colleges across the country that use CliftonStrengths in their career centers, the center developed resources for each talent theme.

Now Mizzou's career center staff can guide students to appropriate action items with the handouts and resources that they created, as well as Gallup's online resources through CliftonStrengths. Students can identify ways they can use their top strengths within the career context. For example, if a student has Achiever in their top five, they might get resources that ask:

  • How would you use Achiever in an interview?
  • What are some verbs you might use on your resume if you have Achiever in your top five?
  • What are some ways you might explore majors and careers as an Achiever?
  • What elements are important to you in a work environment as an Achiever?
  • How can Achiever aid you in your job search?
  • As you transition into a new job, how might Achiever play out for you?

The buy-in from the rest of the campus made it possible for the success of the strengths program, Benson emphasizes. Faculty and staff groups also attend workshops -- with workshop leaders rolling the basics of talents and strengths into conversations about how they can contribute their talents to an office and ways they've witnessed strengths.

"There are a lot of academic partners using strengths -- some in major ways that have taken over the culture of their organization and some in small ways," Benson says. "It's not just us in our office. It's a team of people across the campus who are making this happen."

Learn more about how the University of Missouri uses CliftonStrengths.

This content first appeared in the Strengths Insights Newsletter -- subscribe today!