Creative and Engaging Career Assessment: A Visual Strengths-Focused Life Map

By Valentine Roché

As a strengths-focused career counselor, I am always curious about creative processes to engage my clients while discovering their unique talents – not only discovering their talents, but also learning how to apply those talents in making career decisions.


One of the strengths-focused assessments I use is StrengthsFinder 2.0, developed by Donald O. Clifton and Gallup, Inc. Their research identified 34 dominant “themes” of talent with thousands of possible combinations. An individual taking the assessment receives a report of their top five talent themes, which provides a detailed narrative relevant to the combination of those themes. The assessment does not connect talents to specific occupations, it only measures talents. (More detailed information can be found at http://strengths.gallup.com/110440/About-StrengthsFinder-2.aspx.)


When I use the StrengthsFinder 2.0 assessment with a client, I find that I need an additional tool that will help to open up the dialogue for identifying how the client can apply their unique talent themes in academe, work and life. While there are many well developed questions that can open up a dialogue, I want the client to experience and observe their thinking in a more objective or detached way.  They will then be able to analyze the data, observe patterns, and identify themes and/or defining moments from a complete worldview of themselves. This includes looking into their successes, challenges and relationships from the past, present and into the future. I found a tool that I believe creates magic, increases their curiosity and energy, confirms their unique talents, introduces a client centered vocabulary in defining their talents, engages the client in generative learning, and opens up the dialogue with the career practitioner.


I label my tool a “Visual Strengths-Focused Life Map.”  My tool isn’t new, since many career practitioners use a timeline or life map exercise, and this tool is similar but with some specific structure and reflection aspects.  Creating a map of their career (life and work) will be a new experience for most clients. Wikipedia defines creativity as “the phenomenon whereby a person creates something new (a product, a solution, a work of art, etc.) that has some kind of value.” You and your clients will definitely find this process to be of value.


For example, I worked with a client we’ll call Ann, who majored in political science. Ann’s first job was in a non-profit organization working for social-political causes. She found this work interesting, but not engaging. Her parents were lawyers and were encouraging her to pursue an advanced degree, possibly law.  Ann wanted help in deciding what was next in her career, something that she would feel more engaged in. Her initial thoughts were a professional level position in healthcare, social work, or a political cause, because she cared about people. Ann completed a StrengthsFinder 2.0 assessment and her talent themes were: futuristic, learner, achiever, woo (winning others over), and positivity.  With my assistance, Ann also created a personal timeline starting with her birth and segmented into five year increments to her current age, plus five years into the future. She used digital photos, words and phrases to identify “defining moments,” accomplishments, losses, mentors, and people important in her life. She reflected on what she made happen and what happened to her to make her life “uniquely hers.”


As Ann revealed her story, it was obvious that her family, friends and people had to be in her career. At five, she knew how to win others over (woo), as she loved meeting almost everyone while growing up. She was in competitive sports (achiever) and her ability at creating enthusiasm was contagious (positivity).  Ann’s relationship with her mother was important and Ann valued her perspective. Because Ann was struggling to articulate her career options, the visual life map became a valuable tool that created a narrative of Ann’s important life experiences. In sharing the map and narrative with her mother, Ann began to clearly articulate her interests, values, skills, and learning experiences. Together, they researched further into healthcare careers. Ann also conducted informational interviews, thus determining that occupational therapy was her best career choice. In this field she would be able to work directly with people applying her positivity, influencing and achiever talents. In addition, her learner and futuristic talents would help her stay current in the field and discover new rehabilitation therapies. Ann has since enrolled in an occupational therapy program.




Valentine RocheValentine Roché is a career counselor at the University of Colorado at Boulder.  She brings experience in coaching business leaders and professionals in the areas of career transition, leadership development, self-confidence, work/life balance, productive relationships, creativity, and creating extraordinary lives. Valentine has a background in human resources, a master’s degree in management and leadership development, and taught workshops in high technology, education and other business environments. Valentine loves hiking in nature and being engaged in creativity through idea generation with others and her artwork.

Contact Info

Valentine Roché
Career Counselor
Career Services, University of Colorado at Boulder
Personal website




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Sally Gelardin   on Tuesday 05/03/2011 at 12:37 PM

Valerie, Sounds like a neat mapping process.

Anne Scammon   on Tuesday 05/03/2011 at 12:38 PM

Dear Valentine,

I enjoyed your article and I look forward to attending your program at NCDA in June/July.
I have often found that visual mapping of the past (or a future) helps an individual express and observe him/herself with positive resluts.

I am eager to hear how you engage clients in the practice.


Anne Scammon, Director, Career Learning and Experience
Career Center
The George Washington University
Washington, DC 20052

Robert L. Shaw   on Tuesday 05/03/2011 at 01:49 PM

Lady Valentine (what a cool name),

I am so happy to have read your article. I personally have used a method very similar to your approach. I think the StrengthsFinder is a great tool.

"The assessment does not connect talents to specific occupations, it only measures talents."

I think this is the greatest asset of the assessment. The logic behind associating certain skills and talents to a specific set of occupations is, to me, outmoded and less effective in today's global arena. The process which you have outlined is much more comprehensive when compared to other approaches. Again, thank you for sharing.

Kathleen E. High, M.Ed.   on Saturday 05/07/2011 at 05:02 PM

I am also a career counselor, and am also familiar with the StrengthsFinder tool. I agree it is a good tool.

Another thing this tool can help with is in identifying one's transferrable skills, which is very important in today's world of constant change. No longer can individuals depend on one job to last until they retire. They will likely need to change directions several times during their working years. Identifying transferrable skills can help with such transitions.

Bryan Lubic   on Friday 05/13/2011 at 02:49 PM


Great share, thank you very much!

Recently started incorporating and developing strengths-based resources and assessments into our graduate business career services offerings.


Looking forward to learning more from you and others!



Bryan Lubic
Professional Development Advisor
Graduate Business Career Management Center
San Diego State University

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in the comments shown above are those of the individual comment authors and do not reflect the views or opinions of this organization.