Assessing Your Strengths

One of the first steps in preparing for any job interview or business school application is to take an inventory of your strengths and weaknesses.  Generally, this is done via introspection and thoughtful reflection on things you have done well in your professional or academic career.  How about taking a more methodical approach?

To gloss over a thorough investigation into your core competencies would be a real mistake if you are applying to business school.  Not only do you risk missing what’s truly unique about yourself, you also compromise a methodology,  which could in and of itself be considered lazy and unbecoming to a potential MBA program’s admissions committee.  You’re about to undertake the most intense two years of your academic life, so you should start in the application process to demonstrate a thoroughness and thoughtfulness that a CEO might show in their role leading a global corporation.

While it’s great to have a “feel” for where you shine, it’s a good idea to invest time into some tools which might help reveal your strengths in a deeper way. 

After all, schools will be keenly interested in what you bring to the table, and if you come across as cursory or shallow in your assessment of the personal assets and attributes you will offer in the classroom, you will fail to make the kind of indelible impression required to convince the adcoms you have the right stuff. 

The strengths assessment movement is nothing new, and goes back as far as there have been organizational psychologists. 

As a more accessible tool, however, the Gallup organization introduced the world to the original CliftonStrengths assessment back in 2001.  Renamed Discover Your Strengths, they released a book which became a New York Times bestseller and sold more than two million copies. The book was authored by former Gallup chairman Don Clifton (1924-2003), who was ultimately honored by the American Psychological Association with a Presidential Commendation as the Father of Strengths-Based Psychology. 

Clifton’s approach was to create a battery of questions which ultimately reveal one’s personal strengths across four domains of leadership: Strategic Thinking, Influencing, Relationship Building and Executing.  It’s not hard to see how useful it might be for business school applications and interviews to have a grip on where you fall inside these useful qualities, right?  Within each domain there are 8-9 themes which go into detail about the type of attributes people with strengths in that area possess.  It’s extremely revealing to take the CliftonStrengths assessment and often it helps unlock an applicant’s mind around exactly why they have succeeded in life.  Of course business schools care very deeply about the why, yet many applicants fail to ever present it in their applications.

CliftonStrengths recently became available as an app on iphone and android devices and is highly recommended, but there are plenty of other digital and book-based assessment tools out there.  The important thing is to take a methodical and data-driven approach to investigating your core competencies.    

If you decide to look into Gallup’s approach, for a general assessment, there is a stripped-down version of CliftonStrenghts for about $20 which takes about 30 minutes to complete and reveals one’s top five strength areas.  If you’d like to go deeper, a full assessment is around $80 and includes some follow up with the pros at Gallup.    If you put in a little effort up front, you might just elevate your entire application and be perceived by your target schools as a thoughtful, thorough leader—which can’t hurt!

Since 2008, we've worked with more than 1000 applicants to top MBA programs. To find out more about your options and how we can guide your business school application process, email us at or contact us via