I receive many 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?”
Updated for 2020, 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 for free just because I could.
2. Take the Gallup assessment CliftonStrengths 34. Caveat: This assessment is excellent for identifying broad strengths but is not specific to career paths. For example, you might discover that your key strength is using “Woo” (meeting new people and winning them over) but there are an infinite number of ways to use that strength. If you prefer to use an assessment that ties aptitudes to specific careers, see #3 and #6 on this list.
3. Call your local Career One Stop office and ask them if they offer the O*NET Ability Profiler. This is a government-funded option, so it should be free.
4. Start an energy log and 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 must work so hard. Strengths are only strengths if they are 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…take part 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. Use a platform such as YouScience that combines aptitude measures and interests to match you with careers to explore. (I offer this assessment to all of my clients who are in the decision-making stage of their careers.)
7. Many researchers believe 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, but I intend this guideline to be helpful, not oppressive. If you don’t want to do just one thing and become very specialized, you can choose to remain a generalist; specialization is for people who want to be virtuosos in a specific 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 should choose a path that aligns with the area of strength. Some of the unhappiest people I know felt pressured to do something because of their natural gifts, but the path they are on is not satisfying to them. 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 a career development professional. Most communities have at least one nonprofit career services center, so there are affordable options available.