Do you really know your strengths?

Knowing your strengths is vital if you’re to present the best possible picture of yourself on application forms, in your CV and at interviews. So, how well do you know yours?

Maybe you’ve heard from your manager about what he or she thinks your strengths are, but appraisal systems often encourage managers to think more about where you need to improve, and focus less on where you’re already strong.

It’s often also easier to identify your skills – your ability to do certain activities well, such as writing or organising – better than your strengths which are qualities or characteristics you demonstrate such as determination, enthusiasm or loyalty.

The bottom line is that it pays to take responsibility for having a full picture of your strengths, rather than waiting for others to spontaneously tell you what they are.

But before looking at how you can get that full picture, I know that for some people, talking about strengths prompts that nagging, critical voice that says: “you haven’t got any strengths,” or “you haven’t got any strengths that are worth having.”

Even among the highly talented people I’ve coached, I’ve noticed how difficult it often is for them to accept that they have strengths. So, if you’re one of those people, I suggest that you simply notice the critical comment, put it to one side, and allow yourself the chance to get curious about what your strengths are.

Here’s how to gather some evidence:

Do a stock take

Think back over your life – it’s important to think across your whole life and not just your working life. If you read last month’s newsletter, you’ll have seen the suggestion that you write a mini autobiography of around 500-1000 words. This can enable you to get clear about the strengths that have helped you to achieve the highs and have kept you going through the lows of your life.

Think about your current and previous jobs. What strengths have you shown in them? Have you been patient, reliable, determined, self-disciplined, calm under pressure, personable with even the most demanding clients or colleagues? What else?

Ask other people

This may sound toe curlingly embarrassing, but hearing others tell you about the strengths they see in you is truly revealing. I ask my coaching clients to choose a mix of friends, family and colleagues/former colleagues and ask each of them to describe that person’s top 3 strengths. And you can offer to do the same for those you ask. We often don’t give each other this type of positive feedback, but it carries weight because we know it comes from people who truly know us.

Do an online “strengthsfinder” assessment

“Now, Discover your Strengths” by Marcus Buckingham and Donald O Clifton is based on the idea that we all have “signature talents” which become our strengths. When you buy a copy of the book it includes a secret password (very James Bond!) so that you can go to the Strengthsfinder website and do the assessment.

Find out your personality type

You can do this by using the Myers Briggs indicator – this can be done quickly and cheaply online at As part of the report you receive on your type, you’ll find a list of your strengths

Try all or some of these and then look at your findings. What patterns do you notice? And which of your strengths do you particularly enjoy playing to? Like any information you find out about yourself, knowing your strengths gives you clues to the type of work you’ll most enjoy. And it also means you’re well armed with evidence to persuade future employers that you’re the right person for their job.

© Michelle Bayley 2007

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Michelle Bayley is a Certified Professional Life and Career Coach based in Twickenham, South West London.

Read about Michelle’s career, life and executive coaching services, or contact Michelle to arrange a free consultation.