Some years ago*, I read Now, Discover Your Strengths by Marcus Buckingham and Donald O. Clifton, and took the StrengthsFinder assessment. Subsequently, I read StrengthsFinder 2.0 by Tom Rath and did it again.

Though the results differed a bit, they were very close. Through this process, I connected with Candace Fitzpatrick—founder and CEO of CoreClarity—who, to show me how this all worked, gave me the gift of my CoreClarity Pyramid (further outlining my talents and how to better utilize them). In the March edition of Friday With Joan, I explain why I think focusing on strengths in our work (and in interviews) is invaluable.

This interview with Candace and her associate, Gary Rifkin, is an expansion of the understanding of why knowing and employing your talents and strengths individually and in a team and company setting can make a difference.

To differ from what the general public thinks and how the terms are used, I am capitalizing “Strengths” or using “talents” when it refers to the study and practice that CoreClarity focuses on; and using lower case “strengths” when it is how individuals think of the term and its use.

1. To help others know more about each of you, a bit of background please.

Candace Fitzpatrick, founder and CEO of CoreClarity, Inc., has spent the last 13 years developing and perfecting a framework to understand and teach the more than 33 million potential combinations of the Clifton StrengthsFinder® assessment. By adding color and categorization to the 34 talent themes, she brings the five talents alive. She also created the In-Powering People & Teams (IPPT) program to help individuals and teams understand themselves and each other better, and to give them a common language so they can communicate more effectively and concisely.

A lifelong learner, Candace earned an MBA with honors from the Cox School of Business at Southern Methodist University and a BA in Physics from Texas A&M University. She is a member of the National Speakers Association and holds the Certified Speaking Professional designation.

Gary Rifkin, chief learning officer for CoreClarity, earned undergrad and graduate degrees from Penn State University and Bowling Green State University. He has been a highly motivating speech coach for decades, helping people shine on the stage by crafting content-rich presentations that inspire listeners to action.  

He is a past-president of the North Texas Chapter of the National Speakers Association (NSA) and currently serves as the chair of NSA’s Academy for Professional Speaking. Gary has earned the designation of Certified Speaking Professional, and in July of 2015 received the highest honor in the National Speakers Association: the Cavett Award. It is presented annually to the member whose accomplishments over the years have reflected outstanding credit, respect, honor and admiration in the association and the speaking profession, and whose actions (in terms of sharing, guiding and inspiring other members) most closely parallel the illustrious career of NSA Founder Cavett Robert.

2. Candace, you were a very early adopter of what Buckingham and Clifton called the “Strengths Revolution.” How did you come to it and it to you?

Candace: In 2001, I went back to school for my MBA, convinced I had no marketable skills after spending the previous five years of a 10-year stint in abject misery. What had started as my dream job—one that I had actually crafted and created to fulfill someone else’s dream—had turned into a nightmare. I felt that an MBA would give me the credentials I needed to reinvent myself and get me out of a dead-end career in an industry that I had come to hate.  

Going back to school was such a kick for me! Graduation day was the worst day of the program—I was determined to not let the learning end. At a bookstore after the ceremony, I decided to buy some of the 78 books business leaders we had interviewed recommended. To ward off the depression we had been warned would occur at the end of the program [sounds like planners’ post-meeting depression!], I decided to read every one of those books, then decide what I was going to do next. Now, Discover Your Strengths was the first.

After taking the [StrengthsFinder] assessment, I checked it with my parents, who said this was who I’d been all my life! It seems I had been fighting to be someone else.

I was hooked! I convinced everyone I could to buy the book, take the assessment, and then talk to me about what their talents meant to them.

I was relentless in my pursuit of information and data. I read everything that Gallup had published. I was in the process of dividing the talents into four quadrants when I read their next book, Follow This Path, by Curt Coffman and Gabriel Gonzalez-Molina, in which they divided the talents into four different categories.

While the way Gallup went with the division of talents was not where I was going, I decided to adopt their four categories. After all, this was Gallup-generated material, who was I to go against their lead?

In working with clients, though, I realized that the names Gallup used for the categories were not going to work, so I created ones that were more understandable. I also saw that each category had something in common with two of the other three categories and created the CoreClarity Key, to which I added color to make the talents and quadrants pop visually. To graphically show how the five talents were distributed in four quadrants, the CoreDrill was born.

In different settings, the programs to use these tools were developed and delivered to great acceptance. From that start, we’ve been refining the tools and delivery.

3. Gary, you joined CoreClarity later. What brought you to the belief in what I call the “power of strengths?”

Gary: I met Candace around 2009 through the local chapter of the National Speakers Association. As she had done with everyone else she’d ever met, she asked me if I’d taken the [StrengthsFinder] assessment. I’d bought the book a few years earlier, found my results and sent my top five talents to Candace. We met so she could show me how it all fit in the CoreClarity framework. I was immediately intrigued and could see how I could use it in my work.    

In late 2010, Candace urged me to attend the Facilitator Training so that I could become CoreClarity Certified. I was totally hooked on CoreClarity. At the end of the final day of the class, I told Candace I couldn’t wait to start using this. The day after the training, Candace called: “Did you mean it when you said you want to do this? Might you want to help out with (delivering the program)?” My “Positivity” was in overdrive and I emphatically said yes! I knew I would LOVE to. I joined CoreClarity as a contractor in January, 2011 and in late February, was co-facilitating the week-long program!

I’m now a full-time employee of CoreClarity and serve as chief learning officer. I am convinced that Candace’s “Connectedness” Strength drew me to her. What we now know is that we needed each other to be more much effective ourselves. That’s the magic of this work. We can capitalize on each other’s talents to better utilize our own.

4. Many of those who become meeting planners or professionals (by any name!) say they do so because they “love people, love to travel and are great at details.” Of people who plan meetings or project management specialists, what have you found in the variation of their strengths or talents?

Gary: Based on what we have seen in other industries, I would suspect we would see higher percentages of certain talents, particularly “Analytical,” since attention to detail is so critical to the success of an event. Although we don’t have specific data, some of our anecdotal observations suggest a few other talents that may be prevalent among meeting professionals. Those with the “Arranger” Strength are great at orchestrating an event. “Achiever,” “Discipline” and “Focus” are great at making sure everything gets accomplished so that the event can be a success. The “Maximizers” will take the event planning and execution from good to great.

“Futuristic” and “Strategic” are great at the early envisioning and planning. Those with “Communication” talents will be focused on perfecting an event’s messaging. Finally, “Adaptability” will be great on-site because they are able to roll with the punches and easily respond to changes in the schedule!

One of our major findings has been around the “Significance” Strength. A friend of ours, Cara Tracy, has this talent and makes sure that anything she does  is absolutely outstanding. Meeting professionals with “Significance” tend to put a greater emphasis on the final outcome for the audience. They won’t rest until everything is worthy of their efforts.

Candace: The short answer is that we haven’t done a study of meeting professionals, so answering your question would be pure supposition on my part.

Why don’t we find out? Let’s design a short demographic survey and collect the Strengths** of your readers so we can report back at a later time with real data! Everyone who participates will get their CoreClarity Pyramid and accompanying materials*** to help them understand and lean into their talents more effectively. 

5. In so many interviews, job candidates are asked, in addition to what their strengths are, what their weaknesses are. Why is anyone still interested in perceived “weaknesses?”

Gary: I think it’s an attempt to protect ourselves from the potential for failure. If I am an employer and don’t ask about weaknesses, I’m likely to be blindsided when those weaknesses cause a project to not get completed correctly. I don’t think it’s wrong to ask the question. I think it’s wrong to then expect the new employee to spend all of their energy shoring up the weaknesses.

Perhaps the better question would be “in addition to your talents, what are some of the areas where you don’t excel?” This could then be followed by “How can you utilize your talents and strengths to address some of those issues so that they do not become a stumbling block to your success?”

We truly believe that the best motto in organizations ought to be “Do your best and outsource the rest.” The hardest part is that many hiring managers are attracted to folks who are just like them! Finding a way to get a diverse mix of talents on the team provides an opportunity for everyone to work in their sweet spot and collaborate effectively with those who fill the gaps.

6. How can job candidates, who have taken the assessment, turn the conversation back to talents and strengths and why that works for a particular position?

Candace: Anyone we work with knows to pull out their CoreClarity Pyramid and walk whoever is conducting the interview through their talents and Strengths, one by one.

Gary: That’s right! We had a guy take his Pyramid to the interview. As the discussion turned to problem solving, he showed the hiring manager that his combination of “Strategic” and “Analytical” allow him to see the big picture and then create a detailed plan for sorting through the steps to get the problem resolved. He believes this was a key factor in getting the job.

7. Lastly, why should others become believers in the concept and research behind the Strengths Revolution and how can they best use their talents to enhance their lives and work?

Candace & Gary: We are all unique. When we are able to understand who we are at our core and apply the best of ourselves in any situation, not only do we deliver far more than expected, but we ultimately find more joy in the job. In fact, the job no longer feels like a job!

We believe that you should do what you love and love what you do. Using the StrengthsFinder results and understanding the CoreClarity framework helps you do exactly that!

Click here to read Joan's related Friday With Joan blog post on discovering your strengths.

STRENGTHSFINDER® theme names are trade and/or service marks and copyrights of the Gallup Corporation, Princeton, N.J. CoreClarity, Inc. is not affiliated with the Gallup Corporation.

All CoreClarity TalAnts and Quadrants are trademarks of CoreClarity Inc.

*When I saw the books’ publication dates, I was stunned how long the impact has lasted. If you’ve not done this yet, it’s recommended.

*Editor's Note: Clifton StrengthsFinder is a web-based personality assessment that poses a series of 177 self-descriptors, delivered in pairs where one is chosen by the participant, that reveal the traits of whoever is taking the test. More details on how the test works are available on the Strengthsfinder website. Ways of taking the test include, creating an account on the StrengthsFinder website and taking the paid test ($15). Or by purchasing a physical copy of StrengthsFinder 2.0 by Tom Rath, which provides access to the test.

**If you have already taken the StrengthsFinder test and know your top five strengths (or decide that you want to do so via the means above), CoreClarity will provide you with free information on how to better utilize that knowledge. Check out the custom-tailored Google Form for more details.