I receive a large number of emails from readers asking about strengths assessment, usually via a question that looks something like this: “Dr. Civitelli, I need to make some career decisions, and so I am trying to figure out my strengths and/or skills. How can I figure out what I’m good at doing?”
Here are some suggestions for strengths assessment:
1. Ask yourself: What do you routinely do for family, friends, and acquaintances because over time you have realized that you do these things with ease while others may struggle? For example, from the time I was an undergraduate in college, I intuitively knew how to help other students land acceptance in grad school or secure a new job offer, so I did these things for years before I finally figured out that I should pay attention to what this meant for my own career.
2. Buy the book, StrengthsFinder 2.0 and take the strengths assessment to identify your top talents. Based on 40 years of research, this assessment was pioneered by Donald O. Clifton, a psychologist who specializes in strengths psychology. He was assisted by Tom Rath and a team of scientists at The Gallup Organization. Or, buy StandOut: The Groundbreaking New Strengths Assessment from the Leader of the Strengths Revolution, Marcus Buckingham’s newest book.
3. Use the free Skills Profiler at CareerOneStop to create a list of your skills and match them to job types that use those skills.
4. Start an energy log and begin to track when you feel energized and enthusiastic and when you feel drained. When you are engaged in activities that are in sync with your strengths, it is often invigorating, but when you are doing something that isn’t a strength, it can sap your energy because your brain is working so hard. For strengths to be optimally used, they must be sustainable.
5. Get out in the world and do things so that you can get feedback from others. If you want to explore:
Writing…submit articles to publications, start a blog, pursue freelance work.
Speaking…participate in Toastmasters, volunteer to speak to church groups or professional associations or at conferences, videotape yourself giving a talk and upload it to a blog or YouTube.
Managing people…volunteer for a non-profit organization and work your way to a leadership role managing other volunteers.
Working in health care…volunteer at a hospital.
Becoming a scientist…watch lectures at Khan Academy or enroll in an introductory class.
6. If you are willing to invest significant money and time in strengths assessment and you live in or can visit Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Dallas, Denver, Houston, Los Angeles, New York City, San Francisco, Seattle, or Washington, D.C. you can participate in extensive aptitude testing offered by the nonprofit Johnson O’Connor Research Foundation. Testing takes two appointments of 3.5 hours each and an additional 1.5 hour career counseling appointment to discuss your results. Cost is $675 ($750 in New York), which is very reasonable considering how extensive the process is. One warning: the Johnson O’Connor strengths assessment process can be exhausting because most people aren’t good at everything and the testing really highlights areas of challenge. I have been tested and results confirmed that I have very high aptitude for the skills required in management and communication and extremely low aptitude for spatial memory, visual skill, manual dexterity, rhythm, tone, color discrimination, and observation. So no future as a pilot, architect, surgeon, or musician for me. (Update: Thanks to Oprah.com, you can sample Johnson O’Connor Research Foundation aptitude tests here).
Alternatively, I like the Edits.net COPSystem online assessment that includes a timed measure of abilities. It costs $19.50 and you can complete it at home.
7. Many researchers believe that it takes 10,000 hours to master any complex skill, so what can you imagine doing for that many hours? I can hear the Renaissance people screaming in horror at this one, so be reassured that this guideline is meant to be helpful, not oppressive. If you don’t want to do just one thing and become very specialized, then you do not have to do so…this is just for people who want to be virtuosos in a discipline.
8. Your childhood is a good place to look for clues about your strengths. When you were in elementary school, what did you gravitate toward doing? What compliments did you receive from teachers? What contests did you win?
9. Here’s a warning about the strategy in #8: Be careful that you don’t mistake genetic blessing as a sign that you are meant to do something. Some of the unhappiest people I know are those who were naturally gifted at something from a young age, so they were pressured into pursuing a particular path that doesn’t feel satisfying to them at all. I appreciate the advice Marcus Buckingham gives when he says that something is truly a strength only if practicing it motivates a person to do more. If a strength feels like a golden handcuff, it isn’t truly a strength. Satisfaction lies in using strengths that are congruent with one’s values, interests, and temperament, too.
10. Hire a career counselor or coach. Sometimes it is much easier to identify truths about yourself when talking them through with an objective career development professional. Most communities have at least one nonprofit career services center so there are affordable options available.
I would love to hear your comments and feedback below if you try any of the above suggestions.