Wednesday, 19 March 2014

Setting your career compass: identifying your strengths



When you're planning to re-start your career after a break, one of the challenges is working out whether to go back to your old field or to try something different .. and if so, what? One of my clients told me she wanted to develop an internal compass to point her in the right direction towards a job she would enjoy and find fulfilling. 

How do we go about developing our own internal career compass? Thanks to recent positive psychology research, we're now much clearer on what makes us happy at work. Studies consistently find that one of the key aspects is using your strengths. A true strength is something that you are good at AND energised by - maybe developing new ideas, analysing, seeing the big picture or empathising with others [We can be good at things but find them draining; these aren't strengths in this sense]. 

Why focus your career choices on your strengths?

People who use their strengths more*: 

1. Are happier 
2. Are more confident 
3. Have higher levels of self-esteem 
4. Have higher levels of energy and vitality 
5. Experience less stress 
6. Are more resilient 
7. Are more likely to achieve their goals 
8. Perform better at work 
9. Are more engaged at work 
10. Are more effective at developing themselves and growing as individuals

*Source: Centre for Applied Positive Psychology.

Convinced? So, it's clearly a good start point to ask yourself which jobs would best play to your strengths. However first you need to work out what your strengths are ...

Identifying your strengths

I've found that most people can give a long list of their weaknesses, but few can describe their strengths in detail, and even fewer can pinpoint what strengths differentiate them from the next person. Often we don't value our natural strengths: if you naturally get on with most people, you may assume that it's nothing special and not realise that building relationships is a core strength for you. 

Ways to build up your personal strengths list

1. Use an online strengths assessment: Strengthsfinder 2.0 is a good choice & one of the easiest to interpret yourself 
2. For another perspective, get strengths feedback from your friends & family: ask them what they think you're good at and to give you specific examples so you don't just think they're 'being nice' (& resist the temptation to ask them for your weaknesses too!)
3. Keep a note over the next few weeks of times when you are engaged in an activity and feel highly energised. Think about whether you are using one or more of your strengths at these moments. It can be helpful to talk this through with a friend who can help you to 'strengths-spot'.

Once you've better understood your strengths & thought about where you can best use them, you're on the way to setting your career compass. We'll talk more about other aspects to consider (such as values and interests) in future posts.

Further reading
For more tips and advice on career decision-making see: using your instincts, too few choices and too many choices.


Posted by Julianne Miles, Co-founder and MD of Women Returners

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