Greatest Strengths (or Not) of Two Shoe Salesmen

Your student should look for work that is enhanced by her greatest strengths and not affected by her weaknesses. If a particular job requires skills that she performs poorly, then she’s better off looking elsewhere.

Does this strategy seem obvious to you? I only wish it was as obvious to others, including those who go into sales. Here are two true anecdotes to illustrate what I mean by strong and weak performance at work.

greatest strengths shown in two shoes

I had gone shoe shopping in New Orleans. Most likely I’d told myself I wanted a pair of sensible shoes. The salesman listened and suggested various options, including a sandal that looked like it belonged on a Barbie doll, with a stylish strap and elegant heel. He slipped the sandals on my feet and leaned back, admiration in his eyes. I bought them, suspecting I shouldn’t, but those sandals filled a need I didn’t realize I had. And they brought me joy every time I wore them.

A year I later bought running shoes from a salesman in Seattle. Knowledgeable but surly, he advised me not to purchase the pair I preferred. I bought them anyway, at which point he insulted me in front of everyone in the store! Those shoes proved to be comfortable and long-lasting, a good buy. I still wish I’d pulled that salesman aside to hiss in his ear: “You sold me these shoes despite your poor performance. Do yourself and your customers a big favor by getting out of sales.”

In my many years of buying footwear, those two salesmen remain in my memory because one of them was just as awesome as the other was awful.

Here’s the point about using one’s greatest strengths in career planning:

When your student can use her greatest strengths on the job, she will become an effective and perhaps even phenomenal employee, like the guy who sold me the snazzy sandals.

In sales, for example, strengths could include talents like developing rapport and generating a variety of options. Weaknesses would include sneering at customers and discounting their opinions. If you were the owner of the shoe store, of course you’d hire the most effective salesman you could. He would help keep you in business.

You can’t blame employers for being picky. And some of them are very picky. Consider this little-known fact: Many job seekers must submit to pre-employment testing. Employers seldom share the results with their candidates; instead, they simply hire the applicant whose strengths provide the best match for their position.

That’s one reason you might want to help your child discover and develop her greatest strengths.

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