What are you GOOD at?
Anyone job hunting, looking for promotion, or seeking new career ideas, needs to know the answer to this simple question.
Simple question, but not always an easy answer.
The ability to succinctly articulate our skills, strengths and general ‘fabulousness’ is a key requirement in a employment marketplace that continually cries:
‘Hire me! Buy me! Try me!’
Articulating strengths can be challenging because;
(i) what exactly is a strength?
(ii) where do I find mine?
This blog post is one of a series of six looking at 6 Signposts to New Career Ideas.
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When it comes to strengths, we need to know them, grow them and show them. We need to know what our strengths are, grow them by using them as much as we can and show them – make them open and visible and promote them so that others know.
What is a career strength?
There are lots of definitions of what a strength is, but in the The Career Conversations Experience we define strengths as ‘skills and knowledge’ .
Skills – the things that you are good at. Knowledge – the things that you know.
But let’s dig a bit deeper.
Firstly – skills are actions. Empathy is not a skill, but listening empathetically is. Curiosity is not a skill, but creative thinking is. Of course, empathy and curiosity are great things to have, but they are personal attributes which say a lot about how we like to use our skills. We will look at this in a later blog.
Secondly – we all have many similar skills, but it is the combination of skills that makes us unique, as pointed out by Peter Hawkins in his excellent book: ‘No Regrets on a Sunday’. It’s like the letters in an alphabet, great books and many books are written and no two the same – yet all use the same 26 letters.
Think back to the earlier example, listening empathetically is different to listening critically. We would like the first in our therapist and the second in a detective.
It can be useful to look at three categories of skills: natural, learnt and loved.
Natural skills come easily to you. You know yourself if you can sing, draw or put together an IKEA table. We tend to be good at these things because we like using these skills. It is an upward self perpetuating cycle. Because they come more naturally to us, we use them more, and hence we get better at them.
Learnt skills we get by doing. If you put together enough IKEA flat pack tables, then you will get to be good at this. You might not like using these skills that much, but you will achieve a level of competence that makes you reasonably good at it. This is me and cooking. I can cook. In fact I could probably serve up a varied and tasteful repertoire of about 35 different dishes. But I really dislike it! I have this skill because for the last 20 years I have had to serve up meals every day for a family of four.
Loved skills. These are things that we are good at AND like doing. Often referred to as super skills, key strengths, prime skills. Honestly, the definitions don’t really matter. What does matter is that career success and job fulfilment always involves using skills that we are good at and like using – our loved skills.
These skills give you energy when you use them. They are your natural skills in top gear. In fact you might be so good at this skill, and enjoy it so much, that it you might not even recognise it as a skill.
Latent loved skills. There are skills that we may not have yet discovered. Skills that we may not have yet sufficiently developed to be good at, but may come to love. Our latent undeveloped talent. I always loved the story of the man who was asked if he could play the piano, and he responded ‘I don’t know, I have never tried’.
Very often our latent loved skills come to the fore in activities outside of work or in times of change or unusual circumstances. Look at how many people found themselves discovering new skills and talents as a result of the COVID 19 pandemic!
KNOWLEDGE - Skills in context.
If you jump onto my LinkedIN profile you will see that I have spent the last 20 years as a leadership coach and facilitator, working mostly in the corporate sector.
When my kids were much younger, I just told them that I was a ‘teacher’ for grown ups. It was an easy way to explain what I did. It involved using the same skills – organising information, presenting information and working with others to help them learn useful things.
Yet, I would have been a lousy teacher! My natural and learnt skills only became loved skills when applied in the right context. I like to work with adults, not children. I am interested in the subject of management , organisational psychology and careers – not the school curriculum.
In many ways, what we know puts into context what we can do.
Let’s take two accountants. Both fully qualified with 10 years experience. Both have the skills of numerical analysis, compiling financial reports, budgeting and forecasting. Anne works for a global software company. Jordan for a charity. Anne’s knowledge base is really strong on global finance, large scale enterprises and tech financing. Jordan’s knowledge base is strong on the not-for-profit sector, raising grant funding and corporate governance. Anne thrives on the fast pace and constant change of working in a global industry. Jordan goes home every day encouraged by the fact that what he does contributes to a wider social good. Neither has a better job than the other. Because both have a good fit to their skills and knowledge.
What do you know?
Let me suggest - you know more than you think you know!
There are three primary sources of your knowledge base.
1. Experience – the organisations that you have worked for, the industries that you have worked in, the people that you have met.
2. Formal training – qualifications that you have achieved, study undertaken, training programmes completed, conferences attended.
3. Self education – books that you have read, TED talks that you have listened to, webinars that you have attended etc
We need to start with an inventory of exactly what we know and build from there.
Knowledge is closely linked to "interests" as a signpost for new career ideas. This will we look at in a future blog.
Where are mine? – How to discover your career strengths.
Working out our strengths is all about reflecting on our life and work journey to understand what we are good at – to generate new ideas for the future. There are many ways to do this. Here are three solid suggestions.
1. Tell a story.
"panning the river of our past for nuggets of gold"
Simon Sinek, in his TEDTalk Start with Why uses this wonderful phrase to explain how we find our purpose in life by reflecting on the stories of our past.
Try this: - Write a story (half to one page) on something you did that you either loved doing or were very proud of. Make sure that in this story you reflect on the following:
· What happened?
· What was the outcome?
· What did you love ‘doing’ in this story?
· What strengths did you demonstrate?
Now – repeat this seven times. It might be helpful to choose stories from different chapters of your life.
· A happy childhood experience.
· Something you were proud of from your teenage years.
· Your first professional success.
· A job that you loved.
· Your proudest achievement.
Look for the trends and commonalities between the stories to help you reflect on your key strengths. The more stories that you tell, the more ‘nuggets of gold’ you can mine. But do at least seven.
2. Take a test
There are many assessments, questionnaires and tests available on line that help you identify your key strengths. For those of you who like a more structured approach, this might work best for you. But before you delve into the results, do check the source and reliability of the test to ensure that it measures what it says it does, and has the empirical and scientific research to back it up.
The first (and in my opinion, the best) test of this type that I ever did was a pen and paper exercise from the career changing book: ‘What Color is Your Parachute’ by Richard Nelson Bolles. It takes you through a detailed breakdown of skills categorised by skills with working with people, things and information. It helps you not only work through your enjoyment of these skills, but also your level of competency.
3. Phone a friend
Or more precisely – phone several friends. Asking other people what they consider your key strengths to be can be an insightful exercise. A few pointers to consider if you choose this option:
· Make it easy for them to answer. Suggest that they focus on your top 3 skills.
· Ask them for evidence or examples of how they have seen you use this skill.
· Think about who you ask. Have a healthy balance of people from all aspects of your life.
· Put into context. Explain why you are asking for this feedback and why you are asking them.
E.g John – I am doing some work on my own career development and am collecting some feedback on my key skills. You know me well as a colleague, having worked together for 7 years – I’d really appreciate your thoughts on….
E.g Janet - I am doing some work on my own career development and am collecting some feedback on my key skills. I am particularly interested in your feedback as we only work together on an ad hoc basis and it would be good to know how I come across to someone who doesn’t know me so well….
If you need more….
If these methods don’t work for you, or don’t yield the depth of results you had hoped for, it may well be worth your while investing in a couple of sessions with a professional coach.
To sum it all up
Find something that you love doing,
Work hard to get really good at it - and you will have a super strength.
Use it to do good or bring value to others - and you have purpose in your life.
Get someone to pay you for it - and you have a rewarding career!
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This blog is one of a series of six, looking at 6 Signposts to New Career Ideas. Each blog covers one of these signposts - highlighting the importance of each, helping you to identify them for yourself and creating ways to use them to develop your career.
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Thanks for reading!