StrengthsFinder Review: Not for Personal Growth Dabblers
Personal development tools are drastically increasing in popularity. Competition is high and the pressure’s on for individuals to take the helm of their own personal growth and what they have to offer. But with so many assessments, frameworks, and courses out there, which tools are the most effective for you and your goals?
I explored many assessments and tools throughout the first 15 years of my corporate career - both as part of training at work and on my own. There’s one that I kept coming back to so much that I ultimately got certified in it. In this post, I dive deep on Gallup’s StrengthsFinder* assessment (what you get, the pros, the cons) and let you decide whether it’s a good match for you.
* Note: The StrengthsFinder assessment was rebranded to CliftonStrengths in 2015. The assessment itself was not changed. The only changes since 2015 have been specific to branding and accessibility. All information included here is up-to-date. I’m only referring to it as StrengthsFinder in this Review post as that’s still how it’s most widely known today.
To simplify your reading, here's a summary (with links) of topics I cover:
- What is StrengthsFinder?
- How is StrengthsFinder different from other assessments?
- What’s included when you take the StrengthsFinder Test?
- What do you need to take the StrengthsFinder Assessment?
- How accurate are StrengthsFinder’s results?
- Common criticisms against StrengthsFinder
- What StrengthsFinder gets right
- What StrengthsFinder can do better
What is StrengthsFinder?
StrengthsFinder is an online assessment by Gallup, Inc. that helps individuals identify their Talents. Gallup defines a Talent as “a naturally recurring pattern of thought, feeling, or behavior that can be productively applied”. Your Talents are the foundation for your Strengths. So by getting clear on your dominant Talents, you can more easily articulate your Strengths and identify your greatest opportunities for Success.
This is especially helpful in understanding and communicating how and why you do what you do - for example: when collaborating with others or in discussion during interviews.
Let’s say StrengthsFinder identifies “Connectedness” as one of your top Talent Themes. It’s likely you have Strengths in being able to:
- Understand the big picture and the details of a complex project
- Easily see connections between the causes and effects of actions and events
Or if StrengthsFinder identifies “Relator” as one of your top Talent Themes. It’s likely you have Strengths in being able to:
- Be an effective, collaborative team player
- Create trusted relationships with others - e.g. family, friends, community
No matter what your resulting Talent Themes are, understand that not everyone has these abilities. Chances are that these abilities may be so innate to you that you likely:
- don’t even identify them as Strengths,
- take these qualities for granted, and
- believe that everyone can do them.
Your StrengthsFinder results help you recognize that your Talent combination is unique to you. The more you work with your Talents and observe how they express themselves in your day-to-day life, the easier it’ll be for you to internalize what Strengths you have to offer - ultimately making you more effective, confident, and successful.
How is StrengthsFinder different from other assessments?
There are two main factors that makes StrengthsFinder stand out to me:
StrengthsFinder puts the focus on what’s going right
StrengthsFinder was created based on its founder, Don Clifton, asking: “What will happen when we think about what is right with people rather than fixating on what is wrong with them?” And with that, the organization spent 50+ years and over 2 million interviews to answer that question.
They ended up developing a system of 34 Talent Themes and the StrengthsFinder Assessment to help identify the dominant Talent Themes for each person. Whereas most personal development tools focus on fixing weaknesses, StrengthsFinder emphasizes on what is uniquely powerful (especially if further developed) in each person. Focusing on your Strengths energizes you and leads to paths for your greatest success.
StrengthsFinder emphasizes each person’s Individuality
If you look at other common assessments such as Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI), DiSC, or even Keirsey Temperament Sorter, your results are 1-in-16 (possible results) or 1-in-4, depending on what organization is conducting your assessment and how they present your results. For StrengthsFinder’s Top 5 results, your results are about 1-in-33.4 million! It’s practically impossible that you’ll ever encounter anyone with the same Top 5 Talent Themes as you.
There’s power in such specialized results. It’ll take real exploration to understand how each Talent Theme (and the combinations between them) shows up in your life. If you want to identify, understand, and articulate what differentiates you from others and what you have to offer, use a tool that gives you language to see yourself uniquely. And as you grow and learn, process those experiences through the lenses of your Talent Theme combination - not by seeing yourself as just 1-in-4 or 1-in-16.
What’s included when you take the StrengthsFinder Test?
When you take the StrengthsFinder Assessment, Gallup’s system ranks the prominence of each of the 34 Talent Themes in your profile. So your most dominant Talent Theme will be number one and your least dominant Talent Theme will be number 34. This information will remain stored on Gallup’s platform, however, this doesn’t mean you get to see the full list.
Top 5 vs. Full 34
As an individual choosing to take the StrengthsFinder Assessment on your own (that is, not through an organization or group training program), Gallup offers two product options:
- Top 5 CliftonStrengths - only reveals your Signature (Top 5) Talent Themes
- CliftonStrengths 34 - reveals your full 34 Talent Themes list in order
Note: As a reminder, StrengthsFinder is officially rebranded to CliftonStrengths (mentioned in the Introduction) so you’ll see it as CliftonStrengths on the official Gallup platform.
Visit this link (directly on Gallup's site) for the latest info of what's included with each Assessment option.
If you’ve decided that you do want to take Gallup’s CliftonStrengths Assessment (formerly StrengthsFinder), you can purchase an access code directly from Gallup using the links in the options above.
My recommendation on Top 5 vs. CliftonStrengths 34
The Top 5 CliftonStrengths access code is good enough to start; there’s no need to go with the full 34. The two Reports you get with the Top 5 CliftonStrengths are the most informative.
- Your Signature Theme Report describes each of the Talent Themes in your Top 5, so you get an idea of that Talent in its raw form.
- Your Strengths Insight Guide takes your Top 5 further. The content in that Guide is personalized to you based on how you answered the 177 questions while taking the Assessment. In it, you start to see how your Talent Themes combine, which gives you a richer understanding of how you use each Talent.
There’s so much depth with what you can do with your Top 5 results, there’s no need to overwhelm yourself or further complicate matters with your full 34 list.
Remember, the emphasis is on:
- what’s working for you, and
- where your greatest opportunities for mastery (and success) lie
There’s a temptation to want to peak at the Talent Themes that are towards the bottom of the full 34 list. Resist it! That temptation is distracting you from the point of this tool.
Once you’ve really explored your Top 5 in depth - meaning you’ve really been working with them daily for months - and you’re curious to add more layers, you may want to consider Gallup’s CliftonStrengths 34 Upgrade. (No, you will not have to retake the Assessment. This code is simply unlocking the rest of your results.)
In a perfect world, Gallup would offer a Top 10 Report, but that’s not an option right now. Though you’ll have access to the full 34 with the upgrade, I highly encourage you to stick to the Top 10 to 12 Talent Themes maximum. The added themes will give you a more comprehensive view of the predominant Talent Themes impacting your daily patterns.
What do you need to take the StrengthsFinder Assessment?
Taking the StrengthsFinder Assessment is easy. Simply purchase one of the Assessment products mentioned in the previous section. When you’re ready to take the Assessment, you’ll need a reliable Internet connection and about 30 minutes of uninterrupted time. To be safe, give yourself 45 minutes.
The StrengthsFinder Assessment consists of 177 timed questions. You only get 20 seconds max for each question. Basically, keep it simple and true to who you are. Don’t overthink! If you get interrupted, it’s going to impact your recorded answers - and thus the accuracy of your results.
My recommendation when taking the Assessment
If you can, take the Assessment in a quiet place away from your usual hangouts - like home or office. Sometimes your environment subconsciously impacts your thinking and can skew your answers. If possible, pick a neutral place. Just focus on you and what’s true to you.
There are no good or bad Talent Themes. Your results do not limit or define you. They simply describe your patterns of thinking, feeling, and behaving. So, don’t try to lean answers towards certain results. That’ll only hurt you with inaccurate results. The idea is to explore your resulting Talent Themes and how they can help you.
StrengthsFinder is a paid tool. It’s managed solely through Gallup’s platform, so there are no variations or equivalents available through other organizations. You may see programs that include the Assessment as part of the curriculum, but they’re organizations that are certified with Gallup to use their platform.
That means there are no free versions of StrengthsFinder. For the two product options described previously, prices are as follows:
- Top 5 CliftonStrengths, only reveals your Signature (Top 5) Talent Themes: $19.99 USD
- CliftonStrengths 34, reveals your full 34 Talent Themes list in order: $49.99 USD
If this is the first time you’re taking StrengthsFinder, the Top 5 CliftonStrengths version is more than enough. If you’re simply curious and don’t plan to do much with your results, the $19.99 may seem a bit high - especially compared with all of the free assessments available out there. But StrengthsFinder is not for dabblers. It’s powerful and individualized to you. Remember, just with your Top 5 results, you’re 1-in-33.4 million!
How accurate are StrengthsFinder’s results?
One of the most common questions people considering taking StrengthsFinder ask is: “How accurate is it?” However I find that means different things to different people. I usually want to probe deeper. When someone asks that, do they mean:
- How true will my results be to me?
- How reliably repeatable are my results?
- Can I use these results to make major life decisions (for example: job or career)?
- Will my results define who I am or limit my options?
- Will focusing on my results guarantee my success?
Your results are as accurate as you were authentic in your timed responses when you took the Assessment. Ultimately, the results are categorizing your “naturally recurring patterns of thought, feeling, or behavior that can be productively applied” as were identified in your responses.
You’re a human being, not a robot with pre-programmed algorithms. So your patterns have varying degrees of predominance and will change over the years as you have new life experiences and changes in focus and priorities. If you retake the Assessment, you may get different results. If you retake the Assessment relatively soon with no life changes, your answers will likely be very similar to your original results. If years have gone by - especially including life events - you’re likely to see bigger changes in the order or your Talent Themes.
If your results change over time, this doesn’t mean the Assessment is inaccurate. It simply means your patterns have shifted. The way I see this tool, it’s to:
- Identify your dominant Talent Themes at the time
- Give you language to identify your greatest opportunities for growth, mastery, and success
- Give you clues to identify your evolving needs and values
- Identify alternative approaches to patterns that aren’t working
- Create conscious awareness of current patterns, rather than mindlessly going through the motions
My experience with StrengthsFinder (taking it 3 times over 15 years) is that some of my Talent Themes have consistently remained in my Top 5 results while others have shifted around. This gives me a lot of insight on what’s consistently me vs. what’s likely been influenced by my circumstances at the time. My results have given me information on what to build upon from my past, what to focus on in my present, and how to create my life to support my future.
If you’re curious, check out this YouTube video I created on my StrengthsFinder Top 5 Results: My Experience 3 Times over 15 Years.
Common criticisms against StrengthsFinder
Some people find StrengthsFinder too subjective because it’s based on how you see yourself. But that’s exactly what it’s measuring: your patterns of perceiving things. No one and nothing outside of you can describe why you do what you do. That doesn’t mean that you’ve already mastered your Talents. But given the patterns you’ve shown, those are the areas where you have the most potential to grow and excel with the least amount of effort.
StrengthsFinder is a complex tool. It’s based on 50+ years on data and research. And being told you’re 1-in 33.4 million can be overwhelming and intimidating. Many people just want a simple answer - something they can intuitively understand.
StrengthsFinder is not simple or intuitive. It’s got it’s own language with specific Gallup-defined vocabulary. So when someone says words like: Talent, Strength, Weakness, Achiever, Communication, Context, or Strategic, it can be easy to confuse these words with what we think they mean in our everyday language. Instead, Gallup has created precise definitions for each of these words (and all of the Talent Themes).
You can’t just assume you know what Gallup means when you see your results. Pretend you’re learning a new language. Explore what they mean when you see a word that seems familiar to you. You’ll end up seeing yourself in new ways.
It can seem like a lot of effort to have to invest time to learn and understand the tool to then be able to apply it effectively. This is why I say that StrengthsFinder is not for those who passively talk about or dabble in Personal Development. It’s a powerful tool, but it’s going to take time, reflection, and stretching on your part to reap the benefits of that power. When you do, the $19.99 USD will have been peanuts.
What StrengthsFinder gets right
You are 1-in-33.4 million. Let that sink in. Not only is your particular combination of Talent Themes rare, but the things that this Assessment is showing you about yourself are the patterns most natural to you that you can productively apply. Simply put, these are the qualities that can lead to your greatest success.
But that’s a high-level, abstract description. Let’s get specific and practical. By Gallup's definition, your talent themes are your “naturally recurring patterns of thought, feeling, or behavior”. So if your Talent Themes are your most dominant patterns of thinking, feeling, and behaving, then they can also be used to explore your specific:
- Decision-Making criteria
- Weaknesses - After all, Weaknesses are patterns of thinking, feeling, or behaving that are being applied at the wrong time or in the wrong situation and are getting in the way of your success. (For more on this, check out this YouTube video I created on my StrengthsFinder: Identifying Personal Strengths and Weaknesses.)
From my experience, I’ve found that StrengthsFinder:
- Puts the spotlight on what’s right about you (as an Individual)
- How often do people criticize themselves rather than build themselves up? If you keep focusing on what’s wrong, you’re distracting yourself from what can go right.
- Identifies lenses through which you can then evaluate specific aspects of your life
- For example, rather than talk about general Needs (e.g. getting enough sleep), get clear on what your specific Needs are so you can ensure you meet them in your day-to-day life (e.g. variety in your projects and schedule).
- These lenses aren’t limited to just work. Use your Talent Themes to explore your relationships (family, friends, community), hobbies, decision-making, etc. (For more on this, check out this YouTube video I created on my How (and Where) to Use StrengthsFinder Results.)
- Allows you to appreciate yourself and your Individuality
- When you spend time using a tool that highlights what’s unique about you in a positive way, you start to perceive your Individuality as something to appreciate rather than the reason for feeling inadequate, misunderstood, or like an outcast
- Then paves the way to appreciate the differences between yourself and others
- And once you start to appreciate your own Individuality, you evolve from tolerating the differences with others to actually valuing the differences in others.
What StrengthsFinder can do better
Gallup is masterful at research and data crunching. What’s missing is the means to simplify and humanize that information - that is, connect and convey to people just how they can transform their lives (personal and professional) using StrengthsFinder.
Gallup tends to work with organizations that roll out programs through the workplace. 90% of Fortune 500 companies use StrengthsFinder for employee engagement and to boost productivity. But the power StrengthsFinder offers extends beyond the workplace. It’s not just about teams, efficiency, and productivity. It’s about embracing one’s Individuality and that extends beyond work - to self, family, friends, community, and even causes.
(For more on this, check out this YouTube video I created on my How (and Where) to Use StrengthsFinder Results.)
Maybe I’m biased as my StrengthsFinder results reveal that I tend to heavily lean towards the Relationship-Building and Executing domains. That means I naturally focus on how to connect with others, and I want to do things in practical, tangible, and productive ways. When I think of Gallup’s StrengthsFinder, I picture books, data, research, and possibility - very intellectual.
What I want is for that research and data to translate to simple, relatable exercises and anecdotes that anyone can visualize and apply without deep study or training. Rather than a comprehensive, data-rich culture where it feels like you need a StrengthsFinder Ph.D. to fully understand what’s in this tool, I’d love to see widespread materials and media that make that knowledge relatable to anybody.
If you’re serious about your Personal Development and are invested in your personal success, I highly recommend StrengthsFinder as a core part of your growth arsenal. For me, it was the tool that captured a language and vocabulary that I could use to understand my Individuality and my perspective. And I admit, it took the second and third times of being exposed to it for me to have the curiosity and maturity to dig deeper and make it my own.
Let me save you the trouble of passing this tool over. It (and you) is worth the deeper dive. Study your results, check out free articles or YouTube videos where people talk about it, and most importantly, get curious about why you do things the way you do in your everyday life.
You’ll start to see your Talent Themes coming through in your habits, style, communication, and even your relationships. Once you start recognizing your patterns, you can then choose when and where to intentionally aim your Talents - in all arenas of your life.
This post is also shared as an article on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/gallup-strengthsfinder-cliftonstrengths-review-personal-chang