Knowing your skills and abilities and being able to clearly articulate them is crucial to developing an effective resumé, completing an employment application, and nailing your interview. You may think you have clearly described what you do well, but my experience as a career counselor has shown that many people sell themselves short and miss out on employment opportunities as a result.
When I first start working with individuals, I ask a variety of questions in order to get to know them and help assess how I can best meet their needs. Responses to questions about education, valued experiences, preferred activities, favorite subjects in school, or how they spend their free time come easily. But when I ask questions that focus on strengths and weaknesses, many people have great difficulty identifying their strengths. They have no trouble coming up with a long list of weaknesses.
The importance of knowing and articulating your strengths cannot be stressed enough. When individuals have difficulty describing what they do well, where they shine, what they or others would identify as their unique strengths, I know they are not putting their best selves out there when they apply for a job.
An employer wants to know what you do well relative to the job you are pursuing. Your ability to identify what you bring to the table and how the employer will benefit by hiring you ultimately impacts your potential to become employed.
If I asked you right this minute to generate a list of strengths, would you come up short? Would you recall the last thing you did or said that was difficult instead of recalling the last thing you did brilliantly? And most importantly, if you did generate a list of strengths, could you relate them to the tasks needed to perform the job of interest, making that important connection for the prospective employer?
Below is a list of useful prompts. Consider them as you think about yourself. If you have little or no work experience or have been out of the work world for a while, consider the daily activities in which you are engaged to flesh out strengths that you can frame and relate to a potential job.
Do you manage several activities at once? You have the ability to multitask. Do you maintain a schedule or deliver promised outcomes on time? You have organizational and time management skills. Do you communicate clearly and effectively with others? You have good communication skills. Do you get along well with others? You demonstrate good interpersonal skills. Do you keep track of expenses, and are you responsible for maintaining a budget or family finances? You have the ability to work with numbers and manage a budget. Do you identify issues and come up with solutions to resolve them? You exhibit problem-solving skills. Do you research a topic before making a decision? You are able to perform research, synthesize and apply information. Do you organize committees, direct or oversee assignments, and manage outcomes? This would be a clear indication of your leadership skills.
It is not necessary to have performed an activity as part of paid employment in order to include it as a strength. Real life, school, volunteer activities, all lead to skill development and help highlight your strengths.
The point is, you have strengths. If you can talk about how you acquired them and how you have applied them, making them relevant to a job of interest, you will be able to make a strong case for yourself. You just need to connect the dots for a prospective employer and show the person doing the hiring how these strengths will contribute to your ability to successfully perform the job at hand.
So don’t sell yourself short. Think about all of the things you do well and have done well through an "employment lens.” You might surprise yourself with the list of strengths you come up with!