At the urging of my summer internship manager, I took the Strengths Finder test yesterday. Some of you may already know about Strengths Finder, a self-help book that advocates discovering your talents and then doing everything you can to play to your strengths – as opposed to trying to compensate for your weaknesses.
The book comes with a secret code that you can take to its Web site where the personality test lives. The test is like any other personality test. I was presented with a series of statements and asked to pick the ones that most resembled me.
“I tend to be organized” – check.
“I want people to like me” – check.
“I’m good at sensing other people’s emotions” – check.
At the end, the test spits out your top five talents. What mine are is less interesting than the series of recommendations Strengths Finder made for my life based on those talents. There was a long list, but it included a couple items that recommended ideal careers for me. They were:
Individualization: Select a vocation in which your Individualization talents can be both used and appreciated, such as counseling, supervising, teaching, writing human interest articles, or selling. Your ability to see people as unique individuals is a special talent.
Input: Look for jobs in which you are charged with acquiring new information each day, such as teaching, research, or journalism.
Journalism, huh? You’ve got to be kidding me.
I’ve been getting this same result on these personality tests since I first took Myers-Briggs in eighth grade. My talents – listening skills, ability to read people, creativity, strategic thinking, a desire to explain “why?” – make me an ideal journalist. And that’s exactly what I did, starting at age 14 on my high school newspaper and ending a year ago when I came to Darden.
And Strengths Finder is right. I am good at it. And I loved the work. It was the perfect mix of challenging and rewarding. I was good enough at it to love doing it and had enough to learn to keep it exciting. It was what I was made to do.
And then the job changed. I won’t go into the gory details, but essentially it became less about telling good, smart stories and more about attracting eyeballs to our Web site. The thing I was born to do was slowly dying – or, more likely, morphing – and I didn’t know how long that painful process would take or if I could stick it out until the end. I started looking for my second career.
As part of my search, I took a career personality test. The result: journalist.
Oh crap, I thought.
Luckily, at the same time an old journalism friend told me about her experience at Darden. It turns out that journalism skills overlap a lot with MBA skills – creativity, strategic thinking, reading people. And the talents I hadn’t used much in the newsroom – leadership, vision – were really welcome in b-school. Maybe there was somewhere else I could fit.
You know the rest of the story. I came to Darden, loved my first-year experience and had a successful summer internship.
So why can’t I put the Strengths Finder results out of my mind?
Maybe because I know, deep down, that the business world will never be as good a fit for me as the journalism world. It’s damn close, mind you. It fits me like my favorite Karen Millen dress, which hugs me in all the right places but it still a little big in the shoulders. Journalism, for better or worse, fits me like a custom made dress.
But I still look good in the Karen Millen. I just hope that’s enough.