Dependable Strengths®: Finding Your Unique Excellence

Printer-Friendly Version

by Katharine Hansen, Ph.D.

First in a series

Here’s an amazingly simple concept: Think about the good experiences in your life. Sit with a group of three other people and tell the stories of your top five good experiences while the others listen for and record the strengths they believe you demonstrated in your experiences. Consider additional possible strengths listed on a chart and look for patterns. Pinpoint your top four strengths and conduct a reality test to measure the validity of each strength. Then use your top strengths to compile a report that can be a remarkably effective job-search tool.

That’s the crux of an intervention called the Dependable Strengths Articulation Process (DSAP) developed by Dr. Bernard Haldane in 1945. While the process entails more detail than I’ve described here, it’s a remarkably uncomplicated way to get to know yourself and what you’re good at. I know because I’ve experienced the 18-hour workshop in which job-seekers and others can partake to identify and articulate their Dependable Strengths.

Once you have this knowledge of your strengths, the scope of ways in which you can apply it is almost limitless. At the very least, articulating your strengths will probably boost your self-esteem. But you can also use this information to determine what kind of job or career fits your strengths, choose a college major, communicate your strengths in networking situations, develop a resume that emphasizes your best strengths, respond effectively to job-interview questions, and much more. You can even use Dependable Strengths in workplace team-projects to determine, based on each team members’ strengths, which project tasks are best suited to each team member.

The Dependable Strengths Articulation Process
While DSAP practitioners have developed modifications of the process for a wide variety of populations and situations, the intervention is at its core always a group process guided by a trained facilitator. (See more about the six-step process here.) Before breaking into groups, participants mine their own history, typically using a detailed Biographical Questionnaire to identify “Good Experiences,” which Haldane defined as “something you feel you did well, that you also enjoyed doing, and are proud of.”

Participants then break into groups of four and tell the stories of their top five Good Experiences while the other members listen and offer feedback on the strengths demonstrated in these stories.

Back on their own, participants further mine for strengths using a “Dependable Strengths Exploration Chart,” looking for patterns. Here was where I learned something about myself. I had considered my excellent memory a strength, but using the chart, I saw that my memory rarely came into play during my Good Experiences.

Participants then list at least four top strengths and conduct a “reality test” to identify “proofs” of using each of the strengths. Here is where participants distinguish strengths from dependable strengths. As the DSAP facilitator’s manual notes, a Dependable Strength shows up in your top Good Experiences, is something you’ve used often in the past, is something you enjoy and want to use in the future, and is a strength you have inner motivation to use.

With the knowledge gained in the first five steps, participants are now equipped, with assistance from members of the same group that helped identify strengths, to craft a Dependable Strengths Report. The report is a unique document with unusual formatting; it’s not a resume, but rather a tool to be used in making contacts. You can see my Dependable Strengths Report here.

In the workshop I attended, participants were sent out to the University of Washington campus to use our Dependable Strengths Reports and a script in a networking process called the “Job Magnet.” Reactions to this assignment ranged from skeptical to horrified — but every one of the 13 participants came back having made valuable contacts that could lead to jobs.

Participants who follow up on job leads and are invited to job interviews can then apply their Dependable Strengths in those interviews. Let’s take the most frequently asked interview question of all (which is a request rather than a question): “Tell me about yourself.” DSAP participants are taught to respond like this:

“There are a number of things I do well. Three of those are [strength], [strength], and [strength]. Which one would you prefer I talk about first?”

After telling a story that illustrates his or her effectiveness using the strength the interviewer has asked to hear about, the interviewee can ask the interviewer if that’s the kind of information he or she is looking for. Then the interviewee can offer to elaborate on the other strengths.

Objective vs. Subjective Strengths Assessment
You may be aware of other assessments that help people identify strengths. The best known is StrengthsFinder 2.0, developed by the Gallup organization. With the purchase of the book StrengthsFinder 2.0, users get a code that enables them to access the StrengthsFinder 2.0 assessment. Where StrengthsFinder 2.0 is an objective assessment, DSAP is subjective.

“The main difference between Dependable Strengths and StrengthsFinder 2.0 is that Dependable Strengths are generated based on people’s memories of life experiences and to which they’re emotionally connected,” said Dependable Strengths facilitator Carmen Croonquist when interviewed by career coach Nancy Branton, “whereas, the StrengthsFinder 2.0 provides test takers with data on their top natural talents and provides them with further information to confirm them,” Croonquist said.

Jerald Forster, director of the Dependable Strengths Project at the University of Washington, completed both the DSAP and StrengthsFinder 2.0 and compared them in a paper to be published in the Proceedings of The XVIIIth International Congress on Personal Construct Psychology. “The meanings of these two sets of descriptors of my primary strengths were quite different for me,” Forster wrote. “The objective strengths [from StrengthsFinder 2.0] had little experiential meaning for me… In contrast, I had a number of personal experiences that I could relate to each of the strengths articulated while participating in the DSAP,” he noted.

Forster acknowledges some advantages to the objective approach and suggests that individuals experience both the subjective Dependable Strengths Articulation Process and an objective assessment such as StrengthsFinder 2.0.

Attending a Dependable Strengths Articulation Process Workshop
To say that I recommend the Dependable Strengths Articulation Process is a vast understatement. The self-knowledge you can gain and apply to your life and career is invaluable. To learn more about research that has shown the effectiveness of the process, you can check out this portion of the DSAP Website. So, where can you find a workshop? Many social-service and workforce-development agencies offer workshops given by trained facilitators, as do educational institutions. For assistance in finding a workshop for yourself or for professionals who want to become a Dependable Strengths Instructor go to this portion of the DSAP Website. Fees for workshops vary.

An Online Version of Dependable Strengths
Although a DSAP workshop in which participants can experience the supportive group process is the ideal, not everyone has 18 hours to devote to a workshop. Those who’d like an alternative to the workshop can access Dependable Strengths for the Internet right here through Quintessential Careers for $24.49. In the Internet version, users go through six steps not unlike the steps in the workshop process:

  1. Identifying many past good experiences
  2. Selecting the top four good experiences
  3. Completing the Strengths Chart
  4. Identifying the Top Strengths
  5. Determining a Career Pathway using the Top Strengths
  6. Selecting occupations from that Career Pathway

The system stores users’ data, so they can return to their work for further exploration or to make changes. The length of time to go through the process in the Internet version will vary by user, and the process can be time-consuming, but since the system stores data, the assessment does not need to be completed in one sitting. Based on my having experienced the workshop, I would recommend that the more users put into the process, the more they will gain.

Final Thoughts on Dependable Strengths

Inherent in the Dependable Strengths approach is the belief that deep within each person is a unique form of excellence. That’s a very powerful idea. If you are not using your best strengths, you will probably not be happy in your work. A process that helps you articulate those strengths can help ensure that you are performing work you will truly enjoy. As the DSAP Website notes, Dependable Strengths is “a process proven to help people improve their quality of life through meaningful work.”

Questions about some of the terminology used in this article? Get more information (definitions and links) on key college, career, and job-search terms by going to our Job-Seeker’s Glossary of Job-Hunting Terms.

Katharine Hansen, PhD, Creative Director Katharine Hansen, Ph.D., creative director and associate publisher of Quintessential Careers, is an educator, author, and blogger who provides content for Quintessential Careers, edits QuintZine, an electronic newsletter for jobseekers, and blogs about storytelling in the job search at A Storied Career. Katharine, who earned her PhD in organizational behavior from Union Institute & University, Cincinnati, OH, is author of Dynamic Cover Letters for New Graduates and A Foot in the Door: Networking Your Way into the Hidden Job Market (both published by Ten Speed Press), as well as Top Notch Executive Resumes (Career Press); and with Randall S. Hansen, Ph.D., Dynamic Cover Letters, Write Your Way to a Higher GPA (Ten Speed), and The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Study Skills (Alpha). Visit her personal Website or reach her by e-mail at kathy(at) Check out Dr. Hansen on GooglePlus.

Help envision and plan your career, job, work future with the self-assessment and career discovery tests in this section of Quintessential Careers: Career Assessment Tools & Tests: Assessments for Students, Job-Seekers, Career-Changers.

Enhance your career! Take advantage of all of our expert free career development advice, tools, and more in our Career Resources Toolkit for Job-Seekers.