5 Ways to Identify Your Strengths

by Shana Montesol Johnson

If you want to rock your career, you’ve got to play to your strengths. But to do that, first you have to figure out what they are. Here are 5 ways to identify your strengths.

I write, think, and coach a lot about the importance of playing to your strengths in order to have a career you love. By strengths, I mean an activity that meets the following criteria (hat tip to Marcus Buckingham):

  • You are great (not just good) at it;
  • When thinking about the task, you are excited – you anticipate the activity;
  • When doing the task you find it easy to concentrate and get absorbed in the activity, even losing track of time;
  • Once the task is completed, you have more energy than before.

If the majority of your job has you engaged in activities that are strengths, you are much more likely to:

  • Turn out stellar performance
  • Enjoy what you’re doing
  • Be intrinsically motivated
  • Be happier and more pleasant to work with

In fact, research by Gallup has found that people who use their strengths every day are six times more likely to be engaged in their work, and three times more likely to report having an “excellent quality of life.”

Playing to your strengths will be a win for you, for your manager, for your co-workers, and for whomever your work ultimately benefits (whether that’s clients, project participants, communities, nations, the planet…)

But in order to play to your strengths, you have to know what your strengths are. Here are 5 ways to identify your strengths. (Don’t worry, you don’t have to do ALL five – just pick one that resonates with you, and try it.)

    1. Loved It / Loathed It is an exercise you can do on your own, armed with just a pen, some paper, and a keen sense of observation. As designed by Marcus Buckingham, a leading strengths movement guru, you go through your regular day and keep an eye outfor times when you are doing something that makes you feel any of the following: powerful, confident, natural, smooth, on fire, high, great, “that was easy,” “when can I do this again?” As soon as you feel any of those emotions, jot down exactly what you are doing (don’t wait ‘til the end of the day). You can also take note of your weaknesses through the same process, noting any times you feel: drained, frustrated, forced, “time is crawling by,” bored, irritated, “I can’t concentrate,” “can’t someone else do this?”, etc. At the end of several days (or weeks) gathering this information, look for patterns and discern whether it matters why, for whom, with whom, or when you do this activity.The twist I like to put on this exerciseis to do it by looking back on your past jobs. Pull out your résumé and reflect back on each of your jobs. What did you love about it? What did you loathe about it? Are you there any patterns about the aspects of those jobs that energized you? I’ve written more specific instructions about this process here.
    2. Strengthsfinder 2.0 is a paid online assessment tool developed by Gallup. Through a brief questionnaire, it will identify your five “signature strengths” – things like “Strategic,” “Relator,” “Communication,” “Analytical,” and “Learner.” (These all have their own Strengthsfinder-specific definitions.) To take the assessment, you’ll need to buy the book and look for the special scratch-off code, then go online to input your code and access the questionnaire. (If you order the book on Kindle – which you don’t actually need a Kindle device for, you can read it on your computer or mobile device – Amazon will email you the special code for the assessment.) The book defines the 34 possible “signature strengths” and includes strategies for leveraging each one.
    3. Values In Action (Via) Inventory of Strengths measures your personal character strengths, “what’s best about you as a human being.” There are 24 possible character strengths, among them: creativity, curiosity, open-mindedness, persistence, social intelligence, citizenship, humility, gratitude, spirituality, and humor. These are more about your character than the activities that you enjoy engaging in, but it’s still helpful to have this level of self-awareness. There is a free version of the Via here; all you have to do is register for a free account.
    4. Reflected Best Self Exercise helps you identify your strengths through a process of interviewing people who know you, looking for themes in their responses, and constructing a strengths profile. Developed by the University of Michigan Ross School of Business, you can purchase a guide here or read an interpretation of it, with free detailed instructions here.
    5. Write a skill-based CV. Nathan Nelson, development blogger, shared on the Development Crossroads Facebook page that he recently revised his CV in a skill-based (as opposed to chronological) format, as recommended by career coach Kevin Cusack. Nathan found that this process naturally brought out his strengths, by focusing his attention on finding what he’s done well in his past jobs. “I ended up with four key skills, fairly broad in their scope but they were really quite powerful in helping me identify what I have consistently been strong at in a variety of roles,” says Nathan. “Even if I never gave my skills-based CV to anyone to look at, I’d see the exercise as a personal audit and a beneficial thing to do.”

Give one of these a whirl and see what strengths emerge. Do you agree or disagree? I’d love to hear what your strengths are, and what helps you to identify them. Leave a comment below or comment on the Facebook page.

And stay tuned for an upcoming post on the dark side of strengths…

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