Last week we talked about how to let others know about your special strengths. But what if you’re not sure what they are?

Maybe you’re hard on yourself and don’t think you have many strengths. Or perhaps there are several things you are good at, but you’re not sure which of those truly stand out?

(And yes, you may well have more than one special strength!)

The question is, what is it that you uniquely bring?

Here are three ways to identify what your special strengths really are so you can find ways to showcase them in your career.

  1. Look at your past
  2. Review your feedback
  3. Ask others

Let’s start with the first way to identify your special strengths.

Look back at your career and life

When were you in your element, doing excellent work, in the zone and at ease? It could be in a work setting or from your personal life.

As you reflect, keep in mind that when you’re using your special strengths, it’s likely to feel so easeful that you don’t feel like you’re doing anything unusual at all.

For example, it’s natural for me to strike up a conversation with people I don’t know (more on how that’s a special strength in a moment). It could be while standing in line at the airport or leaning over to ask a question of someone sitting at the next table in a restaurant.

My daughters were mortified at my habit of “talking to strangers” and it wasn’t something they found easy to do. But it never entered my mind that starting a conversation could be a challenging situation.

Which brings us to the next way.

Review the feedback you’ve received

As you think back on the feedback you’ve been given in the past, look at the positives. The things people have said you do well. Then look for any recurring themes or patterns.

To what extent are there similar skillsets you’re using? Are there similarities in the kinds of situations, challenges or people involved?

These themes can give you clues as to the general area in which to look for your special strengths. The feedback you’ve received might even reveal the specifics.

For example, one of my bosses early on in my career shared two observations that have stuck with me ever since. I didn’t realize it at the time, but he was highlighting my special strengths. It’s only looking back now that I understand what he meant.

First, he said, “you’re a good writer – better than any of the associates I’ve worked with over the years.”

The “good writer” piece I dismissed immediately. Okay, so I could create a good memo. But as a financial analyst, I was disappointed that my quantitative skills hadn’t warranted a mention.

Then he added, “And you can say just about anything to anyone and get away with it.” I wasn’t sure that was a compliment. And as a “nice Chinese girl”, I worried that I might have accidentally been disrespectful. In any case, how was being able to talk to people going to help me advance in my career?

I was disappointed back then. But while these strengths weren’t quite so important early on when I was crunching numbers and producing pitch books, they ended up being instrumental in helping me advance to senior levels.

So even if you haven’t paid much attention to the feedback you’ve gotten so far, it helps to look a little deeper as there may be a gem hidden inside.

And now for the third way.

Get other people’s input

Often times, we don’t see our own special strengths because we’re too close to it. Like the story of the goldfish who swims by two other fish and says, “enjoy the water!” And the other two fish look at each other quizzically and the thought bubble says, “What’s water?”

So if you’ve struggled to come up with your special strengths, then it’s time to ask people you know and trust for their input.

If you ask and get general observations, see if you can get them to elaborate. Whether it’s encouraging them with a well-timed “tell me more” or asking them to give an example or two, it’s worth it to get specifics.

For example, getting the input that “you’re organized” is nice, but too general to feel like your special and even unique strength. Unless you dig a little deeper, you won’t discover the insights into how and when your special strength shows up.

Maybe “you’re organized” is really about bringing order out of chaos – a highly useful strength these days. Or perhaps it’s being able to take a complex project and break it down into manageable chunks that the team can execute on. And perhaps they’re just saying you’re great at filing (not so heady!).

But what if you know your special strengths?

Since your special strengths evolve along with you, the way they show up to others can shift and get refined especially as you develop, gain experience and face new situations.

So it still pays to find out how they’re showing up for people in your current environment.

When you’re clear on how others are experiencing you, it’ll help you to put yourself in more situations when you can use your strengths to the greatest effect.

Like my ability to say anything to anybody and “get away with it” used to be giving feedback to my boss. Then it morphed into having tough conversations with clients. And then again into giving feedback to team members once I had a team.

The more opportunities you have to use your strengths, the stronger they’ll become and the better they’ll serve you and others.

It pays to know your special strengths

Uncovering your special strengths is the first step to sharing them authentically. By hearing how others describe your special strengths, you’ll be able to talk about them in a way that’s genuine.

For example, in an interview, when you’re asked for your best strengths you can simply relay the situation and description from your feedback or what others have said about you.

And when people need help with something you’d be great at, you can honestly say, “I can help – I’ve been told I’m good at this” and step in to save the day.

So if you’re not sure what your special strengths are, then remember to:

  1. Look at your past – your special strengths are likely to have been with you a long time and be accompanied by a feeling of ease
  2. Review your feedback – it’s likely to contain clues on what those strengths are
  3. Ask others – sometimes it’s easier for others to see and articulate our strengths

Once you discover them, be sure to put them to use so you can add more value, enjoy your work and have greater success in your career.

Which of these ways will you use to find your special strengths?

Leave a comment and let me know.