At some point in your career, someone is going to ask you to talk about your workplace strengths – maybe during an interview or an evaluation. Do you know how to respond with confidence? And are you sure you really know what your workplace strengths are, anyway?
It can be really difficult to know – and truly believe in – your workplace strengths. For example, let’s say you’re a writer, a brilliant wordsmith who can move emperors (yes, there are still such things) with the power of your prose. Because writing comes easily to you, you probably assume writing comes easily to everyone. As a result, you may tend to overlook it as one of your strengths.
The great philosopher Thales of Miletus is famous for many reasons. One of them is this quote: the most difficult thing in life is to know yourself.
Super news, right?
You’re the one person you should really know best in the world, but according to Thale – you probably don’t. So what’s a person to do? How do you go about knowing your workplace strengths?
It’s time to embark on a little self-study. Reflection is a powerful learning tool, and in the next few paragraphs, you’re going to be asked to reflect on five specific points. You might want to break out a pen and paper, or maybe grab your Hello Kitty diary. Write these things down! It’s not enough to just read through the list and walk away, thinking you know how to answer career-impacting questions about your strengths.
You need to reflect, research, and reflect some more. Make lists! Then read them out loud. Rehearse each strength, explaining it a different way each time. Roll it off your tongue over and over again, until you’re comfortable and confident telling the world exactly how you excel at work.
Your strengths need to be internalized, so they’re as much a part of you as your name. Tall order, especially if you’re not comfortable singing your own praises.
Ready to go?
Here are your five tips to help determine your true workplace strengths.
- Identify the workplace tasks you enjoy doing most.
Let’s continue with the writer example, from above. If you think writing is one of your strengths – because it comes so easily, right? – but you hate writing policies (which you occasionally have to do), then maybe writing isn’t one of your work strengths. Because keep in mind, that’s what you’re looking for – work strengths. Just because you love to do something as a hobby, that doesn’t mean you’ll enjoy it as a job. If you love to craft gruesome stories about the Zombie apocalypse, but again, hate writing those work policies, then look at the difference in styles. One is creative, one is technical. As you consider the answer to this first question, remember – this is about the tasks you enjoy at work.
So…do you like leading a project team? Or conducting deep research? Do you thrill at organizing file drawers or helping a customer find that perfect gift for an anniversary?
Your assignment: make a list of the five work tasks you enjoy most. Take the time to invest in serous reflection and be as specific as possible. For example, if you like leading a project team but really detest dealing with team conflict, write that down. You might discover that what you really enjoy most is the teamwork, rather than the leadership.
Whatever list you come up with, odds are the reason you enjoy those tasks is because you’re good at them; they fall easily in line with your natural talents.
- Take note of your workplace compliments.
Thale’s famous quote aside, sometimes it seems we can know ourselves too well. Every fault, struggle, frustration, mistake – we tend to judge ourselves really hard because of our foibles. As a result, we really aren’t seeing ourselves the way others see us.
Let’s go back, once again, to that example of writing a policy. It’s been established that writing for work isn’t something you enjoy (even though you are a good writer). But you struggle through the task anyway, deleting every other sentence, struggling to order paragraphs, doing a ton of research to even understand what policies are. You sit for twenty minutes trying to find that one. perfect. word.
Your coworkers don’t see those struggles. They only see the shiny new policy, well-written, well-presented, well done. And they compliment you on it.
Pay attention to the compliment, because it holds clues to your workplace strengths. Something about what you did is amazing…sure, it could be the writing, but it may also be your perseverance, or your organizational skills, or your ability to do research.
Your assignment: write down five compliments you get at work. Compliments about how you work, not your hair or tie. Hopefully this doesn’t take you longer than a week, but that really depends on your work environment. If it’s a culture where hard work is valued and praised, then good. If it’s not that kind of culture, change it! Notice something you can compliment about a coworker’s performance and compliment it; odds are, the kind deed will be returned.
Once you have your list, reflect. You may have to dig deep to find the strength, but you’ll soon see a pattern emerge.
- Ask someone to list your top five workplace strengths.
Other people see you differently than you see yourself, so it can be highly insightful to seek out their opinions about your workplace strengths.
Who should you ask? Someone you interact with in a work environment, obviously, since this is about your workplace strengths. It doesn’t have to be someone at your 9-to-5 job. Any social activity where you engage in work-type behaviors will give others an opportunity to observe how you work on a team, your organizational skills, your creativity, and how you approach problem solving, for example.
You’ll also want to ask someone with whom you have a good relationship, who you trust to be respectfully candid. Choose wisely here. You wouldn’t want to ask someone who you’ve known to be jealous or that wants your job, because you probably won’t get an honest answer. You probably shouldn’t ask your best friend, either, because they might be tempted to tell you what you want to hear, just because they like to make you happy.
Best bet? Look for a trusted and respected colleague, perhaps a mentor or a supervisor in another department with whom you’ve worked closely. They’ll have a management perspective, so they’ll see you through the lens of someone who nurtures talent on a regular basis. Plus, they probably won’t have a personal agenda, so they’re more apt to be honest.
- Take note of the areas where you ask for help.
Contrary to what some may believe, asking for help is not a sign of weakness. It’s a sign of strength. It shows that you’re self-aware and confident enough to know when you need assistance. Maybe you don’t know what you’re doing, or maybe you just have too much on your plate. Either way, asking for help is the smart way to take control of your work and turn a potential negative into a positive learning experience.
If you pay attention to the areas at work where you tend to ask for help, it can give you a lot of insight into your strengths. For example: are you always overloaded with work? Does it seem like you can never get your head above water? If so, maybe you struggle with over-committing, saying no, delegation, or even basic organization.
The purpose of this point is not to identify weaknesses, although that certainly seems like what you’re doing here, doesn’t it? Rather, the purpose is the overall identification of your strengths, which takes concentrated reflection on each point listed here – points one through five, all working together.
So, if you completed point #1 and listed “organization” as one of your strengths, yet in point #4 you realize that you’re always needing help with organization, then perhaps organization isn’t truly one of your workplace strengths. That makes sense, right?
Your assignment: write down five areas where you request help at work. Narrow down the focus to be as specific as possible. Cross-reference that list of five with every other list you’re making as part of this exercise. Where do you see contradictions? Support? Patterns?
- Take a test.
There are all sorts of personality tests out there, and every one of them will give you insights into who you are and how your brain works.
But when it comes to work personality, not all tests are created equal.
Some tests, like the Myer-Briggs, will identify your personality out of 16 possible types. You might be an introvert, an extrovert, a thinker or a feeler. And that’s great information to know. But just because your personality tends toward one type or another, that doesn’t mean that’s how you’re going to be at work.
For example, maybe you’re the type of person who takes the lead in your social circle. You make decisions, bring everybody together, delegate responsibilities, and make sure everything stays on track. But at work, maybe you hate to lead. Maybe you avoid making decisions and managing a team. And that’s okay, because who you are at work is often different than who you are away from work.
So when it comes to finding a test that will show you your strengths, make sure it’s one that will identify your work strengths.
One of the best options out there is the CareerFitter test at careerfitter.com. It was designed by psychologists as an employee management and recruiting tool, to help managers match people to the jobs that best fit their work strengths and interests. It consists of 60 questions with no wrong answers that takes about 10 minutes to complete, and it produces a 10-page comprehensive report that details careers that fit you best, work strengths, ideal occupational factors (like whether you’d thrive in a repetitive job versus one that’s highly creative), and more. Cost: $11.90.
Another good option is the O-NET Interest Profiler. This is a free test provided by the U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics. While it doesn’t really identify workplace strengths, it will help you find out what your work interests are (which ties back to point #1) and will help you tie those interests to a career. Like the CareerFitter results report, this one will also give you all kinds of information about related careers, including degree requirements, potential salaries, and more.
There they are. The five tips to help you understand your workplace strengths. If you’ve taken notes and made your list, then you should really have a much clearer understanding of how you excel in the workplace.
And now that you have this knowledge…how can you leverage it? Crack open that Hello Kitty diary one more time. You’ve got another list to make!