Our Practitioner of the Month for April is Fiona Hammond. Fiona is a careers advisor at South Gloucestershire and Stroud College and finds the Strengths Cards invaluable for helping students feel good about themselves and their future careers
‘The student picked out the card showing a father and son playing in a rock pool and started to talk about her son. He’d been born with a learning disability and doctors told her it was unlikely he would manage mainstream education.
‘But I was determined and did everything I could,’ she told the small group, her eyes filling with tears. ‘I took him to sensory classes to build up his confidence and imagination and taught him what I could from home, being as patient as I could. And he’s now in a mainstream school.’
‘And how do you feel about that?’ I asked.
‘Proud,’ she smiled. ‘I refused to give up on him and it paid off.’
Everyone in the group was staring at this mother, clearly moved by her story and in awe of her strength and patience. It was quite a moment and she felt it too. She left the group session that day feeling confident in her own abilities, finally knowing her own strengths.
I have used the strengths cards many times since and have found them invaluable tools in my sessions. In my experience, here’s what they can do:
They restore self-belief
As a careers advisor to students aged between 16 and 24, my job is to help students develop their CVs and think about what they’d like to do career-wise after their course at college is finished. But there’s often a degree of lethargy when they come to my office for a one-to-one discussion about their future careers.
‘What’s your dream job?’ I’ll ask.
Shoulder shrug. ‘I don’t know.’
‘Can you name me five things you’re good at?’
Another shoulder shrug.
Their posture often smacks of a lack of confidence; stooped head, slumped shoulders, minimal eye contact. Many think they’re not smart or talented enough to get a job. But then I’ll bring out the Strength Cards, laying out a selection of pictures on the table, asking them to pick out any that resonate with them.
As if by magic, they’ll point to some of the pictures and start to open up in a way they’ve never done before. Gingerly at first, they might tell me they’re analytical, good at numbers and always pay close attention to detail.
‘But it’s not really a strength. I do that all the time.’
I’ll explain to them that it is a strength and a valuable one that employers would relish in their organisation. It takes some convincing but eventually – with the help of the cards – they begin to believe in their strengths and they leave my office taller, happier, their shoulders upright, their self-belief restored.
They help to peel back the layers
Through the cards, the students begin to learn more about themselves and recognise their skills for what they are. It’s like peeling back the layers. One student came into my session and told me she was set on an accountancy career but was drawn towards the ‘creative’ strength card. Tentatively at first, she opened up about the pressure she was under from her parents to be an accountant and how it wasn’t really what she wanted.
‘You can’t fit a square peg into a round hole,’ I said. ‘Think about that.’
She said she would, bolstered with a newfound confidence and motivation to discover a career where she could be happy, and not simply follow the path her parents had set for her.
They make people feel motivated
I run ‘building your CV’ workshops for between half a dozen or over 20 students and I might have the Friday afternoon slot when they’re all tired and desperate to leave for the weekend and couldn’t care less. It’s a tough crowd and the Strengths Cards are a huge help. I’ll lay them out, picture side up, in different areas of the room and ask them to go, in small groups, and pick out images that mean something to them and tell each other their stories. At first, they are shy and reticent but once they start looking at the cards, they warm up to the exercise and begin to open up. They see this is worth doing; it could be useful going forward.
I heard one student in a group workshop talking about a marathon they’d run the previous year and I encouraged them to explain how they’d planned and prepared for it, pointing out their strengths along the way. Another art student, prompted by a picture, spoke about how she’d been commissioned to do a mural and explained the work involved in creating and painting it.
The cards warm the whole room up, prompting lively discussions, so that by the time the students leave, they are thanking me for the useful insights and feel motivated about their strengths and what they could do next.
They help to guide your career
I’ve even used the cards myself when I had a wobble in my own career. After 10 years as a HR Learning and Development Officer for a local authority, I was made redundant and wasn’t sure what I wanted to do. But then I used the cards to remind myself of my strengths, picking out the words that highlighted what I was good at. They showed me I was positive, attentive, a people person and needed to do something that made a difference to people’s lives. One job application later and I’m now here, doing a job I love, helping students find their true vocation!’
For more information about South Gloucestershire and Stroud College, visit: www.sgscol.ac.uk
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