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  • Writer's pictureJen

Thinking of a career change? Consider your strengths, not just your skills

A very strong woman | Image by Alora Griffiths @Unsplash

I have accidentally become the voice of the laid-off (is that a real word? It doesn't look like it). If you've not been paying attention (and why should you, there are plenty of other things going on in the world) after the slew of layoffs the last few weeks, I was compelled to write a ranting post on LinkedIn about the kind of leaders who treat laying off employees like sweeping up spilt rice on the kitchen floor. Unfortunate and messy, but not all that regrettable - there's plenty more where that came from; just get it in the trash quick, forget about it and move on.

I should explain here that lay-offs are my kryptonite. I grew up in 1980s Merseyside, where there was raging unemployment, and a job was something you clung onto for dear life. A few years ago, severing different limbs of the very alive-to-me thing that was my team, three times in one year, sent me spiralling into depression. So let's just say I take it personally, I know the ripple effect, and the idea that there are people who have a choice about how to do these things choose the easy way over the right way... well. It presses a big red button in my brain.

In my post, I shared my experience at Delta Air Lines with what (I thought was) an unarguably better way of doing things - ask who wants to leave and help them do it. Oh, and also say thanks.

Well. It turns out that it IS arguable, because, after all, this is social media.

Never have I encountered such infuriating mansplaining

Let me take this opportunity to put on record that: not only do I have a rudimentary knowledge of economics, and thus am familiar with the concept of capitalism; I have worked in senior positions in corporates for over 20 years and understand, far better than I want to, how lay-off decisions get made; I know that different industries have different employee propositions, business models and profitability; I have first hand experience that cutting costs doesn't have to come at the price of behaving like decent human beings; and I have more than a passing knowledge of employee engagement and how employee emotions are actually one of the biggest determining factors in a company's performance - doing the right thing isn't just the right thing, it's the very very smart thing to do. So, to the (by and large) gentlemen who felt it their duty to pass on their great wisdom, thanks, but, it was unnecessary. Harrumph.

On the other hand, never have I encountered such an overwhelming tidal wave of agreement.

Social media stats are purely for vanity and should be taken with a pinch of salt, but 1.6 million impressions, 20k+ likes, 320 shares and 269 comments later, I have switched off the comments because it was taking over my waking hours. And it's STILL GOING. I guess I hit a nerve?

What actually matters to me, more than the numbers, are the stories that people have shared with me, publicly and privately.

The ones who worked at the same place for 10 years and weren't even allowed to gather their personal files from their IT account before it was cut off.

The ones who considered themselves part of a work "family" for life... until they realised that the "family" didn't see it the same way.

The ones that were drafted in to lay off people they've never met.

Is this kind of thing really OK with the mansplainers? Clearly empathy is too much to ask, but maybe they'd feel differently if they'd ever been part of it?

It's one thing to mouth off and be outraged. But if I don't do anything about it, I'm as bad as the mansplainers, sitting in my ivory tower purporting to know better. So, I decided to help.

I've been offering a free coaching session to anyone who's been laid off.

And 15 sessions and counting into the process, what an absolute privilege it has been to meet people all over the world (the world!) who are adjusting to the shock and disappointment, and deciding exactly what lemonade to make out of the lemons they've been handed.

Every story is different, but the most frequent question I've been asked is - I want to take this opportunity to try something new. But how do I decide what?

I see lots of experts advising making lists of transferable skills. Excellent advice. General business skills, like the ability to tell a story in a compelling way, lead a team, analyse data... you get the idea... they are exceptionally valuable can be applied to pretty much any job I can think of.

But if you want to go beyond what you CAN do to what you WANT to do, may I suggest going through the same process with your personal strengths? Because want most human beings want to do, is more of what they're good at. It feels satisfying and motivating to be successful. And you're more likely to be successful at something you're good at. It sounds simple when you say it like that, doesn't it?

You know what else I ask people, when they've told me what they excel at?


Allow me to explain with an example. Three people can thrive on managing a team. One may love being part of developing their people from good to outstanding. Another may be an extrovert who thrives on human interaction, and seeks every opportunity to be in the thick of things. The third may love creating the kind of inclusive atmosphere where everyone has their place and nobody gets special treatment. They will all look and act like great team managers, but the way they get there, what is going on in their synapses and firing off their reward centres, is very different.

It's the way that you get to a behaviour that really determines how much you love the process. And loving the process is fundamental to our satisfaction.


I know what you're thinking. Jen, you are a genius! Did you come up with this insight yourself? No, I absolutely did not.

It's all down to Don Clifton, the godfather of Strengths. I won't go into every detail of his research, but he basically discovered exactly what I have described. We like to do the things we're good at. We don't always stop to realise what they are (they're so obvious to us, we don't always recognise them as talents). But when we put a name to them, appreciate what they can do for us (AND when overusing them is working against us), all ("all") we have to do then is learn how to use them on demand.

When we do, we become much happier, open up that juice bar we've always wanted in Thailand and get a marriage proposal from Alexander Skaarsgard. OK... results may vary... but it is proven that the people who use their strengths have infinitely more satisfaction than people who look to get better at the things they hate.

Lots of people have encountered Strengths Finder as a fun team activity, or a self-discovery assessment like MBTI or Enneagram. But there's so much more to it. Earlier this month I qualified as a Certified Gallup Strengths coach. It is truly one of my favourite coaching tools in my tool belt. And I cannot recommend it highly enough. I am the kind of evangelist who bought the assessment for their friends for Christmas. I am now the embarrassing self-improvement friend.

So. Whether or not you've been part of the layoff helter skelter, if you're considering a career change and want to do something considerably less likely to give you the Sunday scaries, consider my entirely biased point view that you could do much worse than discovering what your strengths are and how to aim them with a Strengths coaching. You know where to find me if you do [hint: there's a "contact me" button.]

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