Have you ever asked yourself why the world concentrates so much on personal strengths? You will most probably get this question on your next interview. Your school teachers tried to find and encourage them. Your parents also contributed to finding what you are good at. You can trace this behavior back to the Stone Age when you were living in communities and when everybody had to bring some skill to the table. Some of you were hunters, others were gatherers or fighters.
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Personal strengths nowadays
First of all, the importance of your personal strengths has not changed much. The difference now is that there are so many different skills and knowledge that you can bring to the table. Discovering them would help you find your place in the community and be more respected and valued.
On the other hand, you have evolved from those early Stone Age, prehistoric humans and you have a lot more to offer. Sometimes it is better or even required to define your unique skills yourself because there has never been anyone with such a skill set.
And last but now least comes the social pressure and the pressure you exert on yourself. There are certain skills and qualities that everybody views as “beneficial” or just “better” and that everybody wants to have: generous; inventive; concentrated; team player. When you do strength assessment tests (available for free on the internet) you may notice that you would give some answers not out of honesty but because you want to be perceived in a certain way.
How to identify your personal strengths
As a summary, when searching for your personal strengths you should pay attention to the following:
- There are just so many personal qualities
- Some of your qualities may not have a description yet
- Avoid identifying qualities that you want to have or the society wants you to have
The following original techniques could really help you find more about yourself
1. Find an online survey and do it
The primary objective for this technique is to find out how you perceive and want to perceive yourself. But also to review the personal strengths vocabulary so that it can help you in the next steps. There are people that are very good with words that can easily describe a notion. But there are also others that have to see the options before making a choice.
- Be honest – sometimes this is the hardest part. You should try your best to avoid giving the answers of your “ideal you” and instead say what you really want to say. Try not to think of the survey as a test – there is no score, there are no right answers, nobody would see your results but you.
- Read all strength categories – even those where you score really low because you want to build your vocabulary.
- Review the skills with highest scores – these are the skills with which you will work in the next steps
- Review the skills with lowest scores – find out what you are NOT. This can also prove useful. Sometimes it is easier to describe what you are not.
2. Track why other people reach out to you
This is a rather simple technique and I had a “WOW!” effect when I heard about it. I was struggling to find the next step in my career and I had to make a choice for the general direction of my next project. I talked to one of my mentors and he told me that my close friends already know my place and what I am good at.
Take a notebook, a text file on your laptop, or a note on your mobile device and after every conversation write down what it was about. Did you provide expert advice? Or did you share your opinion? Did you tell a story? Did you just listen and comment on the topic? You can thus learn a lot about yourself using this technique but most of all you will see why others call you. Your friends and colleagues already know some of your strengths.
Review your notes daily, summarize them and look for similar patterns. Try to identify at least 3 skills that the information you provided would normally require. Try to identify the general question that you answered during the conversation. Do not track conversations about trivial information. Use the vocabulary that you gathered in step 1. Look for matches between the strengths you discovered in the online survey and the qualities that your friends value about you.
3. Review your CV and extract information from it
Your CV is your professional biography. Most employers look for certain skills in a person and hire those people that best show them. You can extract a lot of information from your past assignments. Think critically on the following topics:
- Why did you apply for the job?
- What was your employer searching?
- What are the qualities of your peers?
- For what were you praised?
- For what were you criticized?
Summarize the information for each job. Pick several of the skills that occur most often. You could even write them down in your CV and this would help your future interviewers get to know you better. You could divide the skills into two categories: skills that you already had and that you demonstrated on your job; skills that you acquired on that job. This technique would provide you with insights about the origins of your skills.
Gather all skills that you have at the moment and put the most important ones on the first page of your CV. This will make you feel proud of yourself and will make once again the life of the recruiters easier (Note: please share your opinion on this as I find it rather controversial from what I have gathered as feedback). You can even review this list weekly or monthly. You can also examine each skill to find out if it is really important, or relevant.
4. Look for the flow
There are two types of tasks: those that feel like torture when you do them; and those that make the sense of time and place disappear. When you practice the first kind you would find yourself looking at the watch every 5 minutes, you would find yourself waiting for the break, or the end of the working day. When you practice the second kind you would find yourself immersed so deep that time just flies. This is called “the flow” and it means a mental state of operation in which you are fully involved and energized and fully absorbed into what you do.
First of all, you should mindfully be aware of the flow states during your day. Get the most of it for as long as it lasts and in the end summarize what you were doing, how you got there and what skills you were using. These states give the most valuable information about those skills with which you were born. These skills at which which you are so good that you cannot NOT do them.
5. Create your own labels
Until now you have built your vocabulary with the “common” strength terms and you have defined those skills that you believe you have. Then your friends have helped you peek into the hidden zone. You have also reviewed the skills that your employers saw in you. Finally, you have turned back to you and identified those periods when you practice your strengths.
Now it is time to go one level higher and let the labels go away. You should combine the similar skills together to form skill sets. And thus find how your skills correlate to each other. One term can go into more than one “pot”. Try to identify as many skill sets as possible without overdoing it. You could even have a separate category for the leftovers – “others”.
And finally, you should label those skill sets yourself. Invent your own descriptive name about the pots. Try to make the labels as marketable as possible. Think of yourself as a product, or a movie, or a book and try to make others buy your product just by looking at those headlines. These are your personal strengths.
Rinse and repeat
You can do this exercise as often as you want. I would recommend at least twice a year. Think about marking new personal strengths with different colors so that you can see yourself growing and acquiring more skills, switching to other skill sets.
You are living in a skill-oriented society where jobs, achievements and success are determined by the level of understanding and utilization of your skills. You are born with a unique set of skills that can be extended or grown. It is up to you to find them, improve them and benefit from using them.
This article described 5 original techniques for discovering your strengths reaching form taking online surveys, through tracking your calls and examining your CV, all the way to summarizing your skills in skill sets and giving them unique names.