Making sense of our strengths, weaknesses, skills and our instinctive feelings about them can help us define our personal brand and guide our career choices. But how do we even start making sense of them?
Strengths-based interviews these days ask what you are good at and what you enjoy. This would suggest that a strength can be ascertained from a positive response to both these questions. But what's the difference between a strength and a skill, and what happens to those areas that you're good at, but don't like or vice versa?
A skill is an ability, which can be gained from knowledge and practice as well as aptitude, and can be objectively measured. If you are proficient in a given area you can claim it as one of your skills; if you're really good at something, i.e. you generally find it easy AND you really enjoy it even when the challenges come along - if it gives you that buzz - then it's a strength.
Once you've got your head around that, here are five ways to categorise your strengths and skills:
1. Prime Strengths
If a strength is also important to your role or potential role then it becomes a 'Prime Strength'. These are the abilities you should be focusing on, developing and highlighting at every opportunity.
2. Untapped Strengths
But what if some of your strengths aren't important to the role in question? Well, providing they genuinely could add value in a working context, these strengths represent your potential. Your 'Untapped Strengths' could help you to reshape a current role or change your career direction, and along with your 'Prime Strengths' they present a picture of you at your best.
Once we lose either the enjoyment or the proficiency factor they are no longer strengths, but how do we label them?
3. Necessary Skills
A 'Necessary Skill' is important to your role and you're good at it, but you don't enjoy it. Everyone has them at work: reconciling spreadsheets, proofreading documents, fixing bugs, dealing with customers – of course one person's necessary skill may be another person's strength. However, a necessary skill could become a strength if you can find a way to enjoy it more - perhaps through truly recognising your ability. Or perhaps it should remain a 'bonus' skill – not something you highlight as a core strength, but it could help you clinch a new job, role, responsibility or project.
4. Underdeveloped Skills
If you enjoy doing something that's important to your role but you're not particularly good at it then that it is an opportunity for development. Your enthusiasm could turn 'Underdeveloped Skills' into strengths through a willingness to practise. Or perhaps they should simply remain in your 'I'll have a go' pile.
Those skills that you neither like nor are good at, but that are important to your role fall into your 'Weaknesses' pot. Proactively developing proficiency in these skills may lead to enjoyment of them and as such they could ultimately become a strength. However, it's important to accept that there are some things that you're not so good at. Really qualify their importance to the role in question and consider whether this is truly the direction your career should be taking.
Historically strengths have been defined as something you are naturally good at, but sometimes it is not until you have practised something a few times or found the right teacher that you discover you have strength in that area. So don't develop a fixed mindset about your strengths OR your weaknesses.
Spend time thinking about your skills and strengths because categorising them can help you to more clearly define your working role and your career direction, to celebrate what you are good at, accept the things you are not so good at and appreciate others for their strengths in your areas of weakness.