One of the most common questions clients ask career counselors is, “How can I figure out what I’m good at doing?” Strengths assessment is a process that can help you figure out your strengths and/or skills.
Updated for 2022, here are some suggestions for strengths assessment:
1. Ask yourself: What do you do for family, friends, and acquaintances because the activity is easy for you but difficult for others? For example, from the time I was an undergraduate in college, one of my skills was helping other students write essays that would help them land acceptance in grad school or resumes to secure jobs, so I started a part-time side gig doing those things. Later, I trained to be a career counselor and continued to use my writing skills in that role. And now, I’m a full-time writer. In all my jobs throughout my career, writing has been a core skill.
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. You can get feedback from others by trying things. 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 can feel in your soul that you should be a generalist, be one. But if the thought of being a virtuoso in a focused area appeals to you, pursue that route.
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. Don’t feel pressured to use a natural gift if using that talent is unsatisfying. I appreciate the advice Marcus Buckingham gives when he says that something is a true strength only if practicing it motivates a person to do more. If a strength feels like a golden handcuff, it isn’t 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. You can find affordable options for career counseling in government agencies like WorkSource, libraries, community colleges, and nonprofit agencies.