Practitioner stories: Meet Jim Reali, Careers Consultant, UWE

Tell us a little bit about you

My name is Jim Reali and I’m a central careers consultant within the Careers & Enterprise team at the University of the West of England (UWE). Previously I’ve held similar positions in careers services at other universities.

Which of the At My Best tools do you use?

I’ve used the Strengths Cards at all of the universities I have worked at, both with staff and students. I moved to UWE recently from Aston University. I encouraged the careers department to purchase the At My Best Strengths Cards, having found them very effective previously when helping students to self-reflect and consider what might influence their future choice of career. What I really like about the Strengths Cards is that they provide a very good means of engaging people, getting them to work together and learn more about one another.

Whilst at Aston I also attended the online Strengths Masterclass run by Michele, which I found to be very helpful.

How have you used At My Best’s Strengths Cards with students?

I have tended to use Strengths Cards sessions predominantly in the autumn term, to help with careers action-planning. We use the cards to help students both in terms of clarifying what strengths they’re already aware of and identifying what strengths other people might recognise in them. When it comes to students’ career planning, we talk a lot about self-awareness; we frame this in terms of students thinking about what’s important to them. We always consider what’s going to help them in the world of work, and strengths are a really important part of this.

Using the Strengths Cards enables students to develop their awareness of how their strengths may align with future career options. The cards help students get the wheels in motion and think about what type of job they might like to apply for as well as helping them identify what they need to articulate to employers. They’re a great resource, as students often need to act quickly to apply for opportunities in the autumn term, when many of the major graduate schemes advertise. The cards are particularly helpful in encouraging individuals to differentiate between skills and strengths and giving them example situations where they may have utilised their strengths, without even being aware of having done so.

How have you used the Strengths Cards with staff?

Previously, I utilised the Strengths Cards within my team, along with the Strengths Cards Exercise Guides, which contain some very useful prompts. What I really like about the team building aspect of the cards, is it’s not thinking about what you can reflect on and do better next time: it’s simply identifying strengths and what each individual brings to a team. It’s a celebration of what the strengths are and recognising that we all have different strengths, which ultimately make the team function at its optimal level. They’re a great way of sharing thoughts, as well as highlighting strengths.

The cards are extremely beneficial. I think especially coming back from the pandemic and starting to see people face-to-face again and re-assess the team dynamic, having time to do this with colleagues with whom you work with is more important than ever.

I think if colleagues are able to identify strengths in each other, then they’re more likely in the future to feel comfortable having a conversation about a potential area of weakness or an issue. If a basis of trust is built, then discussions about an issue become a lot more accessible and a team will be far more likely to succeed. Within university careers services we often consider aspects of careers theory, not only in terms of career planning, but also more broadly, in relation to areas such as team development. I feel that using the strengths cards in a team environment to recognise our individual strengths aligns with the idea of developing trust, thereby offsetting the dysfunction of an absence of trust, as identified by Lencioni in his model of team effectiveness (2005).

What impact have you had with the cards?

They’re a really good way of breaking the ice and encouraging people from different disciplines to connect with one another. The cards give a baseline – students and staff alike can use the cards as a springboard into discussion, rather than feel pressure to instigate conversations.

It’s interesting to observe that a number of students tend to prefer going for the verbal, rather than visual side of the cards: often students find it helpful and easier to have the single word prompt – especially when they are uncertain about their surroundings and who they are talking to. The fact that the photo images on the cards are open to interpretation also really helps to get people talking. People can discuss and debate what they interpret the image to be and how it relates to their experience. Students also like the tactile element, having something tangible draws their attention and helps them contextualise their strengths. This feature is perfect for people who don’t know each other well - the cards really help people collaborate and connect with each other.

The cards help students understand the importance of connecting what they’re naturally good at with what they might want to do in their professional lives in a way that doesn’t feel forced.

Students and staff really like the cards, and often their feedback is we wanted longer on the activities!

What advice would you give to others who are thinking of using At My Best tools?

Go for it! I think they’re really engaging. They help people understand the value of identifying strengths. Just make sure when you are using the cards you leave sufficient time, because it’s valuable to give people enough time to think.

If you would like to know more about Jim and his work you can connect with him on LinkedIn

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