Career Choices 2 – Play to Your Strengths
Updated: Dec 1, 2020
This second post on making career choices dives into strengths. Find out how to identify and tap into yours – and make returning to fulfilling work so much more likely
Written by Dr Emma Waltham | Maternity Returners Expert
Everyone has talents. You don’t have to be an Olympic gymnast or a famous author to be talented. We are all born with signature strengths, attributes that come to us oh so naturally and that you use when you are performing at your best. Everyone has a different combination of these talents, and they come together to make us a unique package, a ‘personal brand’.
Do you know your strengths? Examples are creativity, curiosity, judgment and kindness, and so on. When you’re making a career transition, an awareness of what your strengths are – what you’re good at – makes it much more likely that you will make the right decisions about which roles would suit you.
If you choose a path where you aren’t using your strengths, you might end up finding that it doesn't turn out to be a good fit. And you’d be less certain to succeed (and be happy). Knowing what your talents are, along with what gives your life meaning, gives you a career compass that will guide you along the right path.
As well as using strengths to help you choose between job options, you can also use your talents to fast track you to where you want to be. So, if you have perseverance as a strength, think about how you can use this to help you. You could use your perseverance to take a long view of career management and see what you need to do to get to the end goal. If you are curious, you can lean into that to research those different options and ask questions, to figure out if a particular sector or role is right for you.
Strengths vs Skills
Strengths are different to skills, though they are related. Talents are innate, while skills are acquired. When we try to develop a skill that is aligned to a talent, it comes more easily. So, while you might naturally be flexible, only by training will you develop the skills that make you into a medal-winning gymnast. You can highlight your strengths and skills when you put together a CV, cover letter or LinkedIn profile. Find out how to do a skills audit in this blog on writing a CV.
“We are all born with signature strengths, attributes that come oh so naturally and that we use when we are performing at our best”
Time to look at what your strengths are. Start by asking yourself the following questions and see what comes to mind. This is not a time to be modest!
What have you achieved?
What are you most proud of?
What do you enjoy?
When were you in the flow and didn’t notice time passing?
What do you enjoy talking to others about?
When were you at your best today?
Each time, think about which strengths you were using in those scenarios. So, if you helped a friend with a problem, how did you do that? Were you using your listening skills, patience, empathy, kindness? Work your way through the above list of question prompts, keeping a note of the strengths that come up. You might want to journal ‘When was I at my best today?’ at the end of every day and reflect on what you are writing. (This is a process of self-discovery that can take time, but it’s worth the investment.)
Next, find out what other people think your talents are. Ask trusted friends and family. What do they wish they could do that you find easy? What do they admire about you? This often brings to light strengths that we don’t see ourselves, as we take some of our talents for granted, they are so natural to us. Asking others highlights any blind spots.
"This is a process of self-discovery that can take time, but it’s worth the investment"
Online Strengths Tools
An alternative way to hone in on your strengths is to use an online assessment tool. The Values in Action Institute Inventory of Strengths identifies 24 overall virtues and strengths:
Love of learning
Appreciation of Beauty
A further option is the Clifton StrengthFinder (formerly Gallup StrengthsFinder), an online tool that measures 34 strengths, particularly relevant to work.
The last stage is to review what you’ve come up with, your 'long list' of strengths. Again, put modesty aside and own what your insights are telling you... Yes, this amazing, talented person really is you. Narrow your list down to your top five 'signature strengths', that come up time and time again. Out of these, which is your top strength, your ‘core talent’?
Reflecting on all this will shine a light on what you are great at -- and in turn will help you explore work options. Being aware of your strengths and values means decision-making becomes much easier. You'll have clarity on what's important to you and know where you will be able to thrive.
And another upside is this: being aware of your ‘personal brand’ is the starting point for knowing how to pitch yourself to employers. You’ll know what makes you stand out from others, the particular combination of talents and values that makes you unique. Now you can go out into the world and show them just what you can do.