IDENTIFYING AND DISCUSSING YOUR STRENGTHS
By: Ruth McGuire
The Americans are probably much better than we are at it – talking about their strengths. Traditionally and culturally however, the British are the opposite and are well known for being polite and somewhat conservative. This politeness often gets in the way when we write CVs, which can often be far too modest. If you look at a typical US ‘resume’ the US version of what we call a ‘CV’, you will see phrases like ‘With laser focus, Sarah designs and delivers…’ or ‘Extensive ability to supervise children in classroom activities and meals ‘or Immense ability to relate with and speak to parents in a respectful and courteous manner.’
In a competitive job market applicants have to ‘sell’ their skills to an employer. This isn’t about boasting but about being realistic about your skills and talents and showcasing them in a convincing way. If you can’t sell yourself to an employer – nobody else will do it for you., Identifying your key strengths is a useful exercise to do, even if you are not applying for a job right now. It can help you to be prepared for the next stage in your career. It can even be helpful if you feel that you are stuck in the wrong job but unsure of what to do next. By identifying your strengths, you are in a better position to find jobs or careers that help you maximise your potential as an employee.
Getting to know yourself – what are your key strengths?
The easiest way of finding out what key strengths you have is often to ask yourself the following: What do I enjoy doing most at work or as a volunteer or in my social life? What aspect of my work gives me the strongest sense of fulfilment or satisfaction? There is a strong correlation between what we enjoy at work and what we do best, so if you can answer these questions, you are well on the way to identifying your key strengths.
For ‘validation’ of what you believe are your key strengths, ask other people. Ask your colleagues, your friends or relatives for suggestions. It could be that what you take for granted as “just what I do’” is actually a key strength. You might also find it helpful to ask a trusted manager for an honest appraisal of your strengths. Alternatively, take a look at previous appraisal records to see what your line managers have in the past, identified as your strengths.
One of the key skills valued by many, if not all, employers is the ability to communicate well. This could be one of your strengths and might include both written and verbal skills. These skills could be demonstrated in the good quality reports you write, the quality of your emails or your letters. If you have brilliant verbal skills, this could be evident from the way you chair meetings, contribute in meetings, train others or deliver fantastic presentations. If you feel that you don’t have the opportunity to use your strengths at work, think about your life outside of work. For example, you might be an excellent organiser and perhaps regularly organise activities for social clubs or charities. You might also be great at negotiating deals for holidays or when buying high cost goods. Friends and relatives might ask you to negotiate deals for them because they recognise your strengths in this area. Problem solving might be another area where you have a potential strength. To test this one out, think about and write down situations where you have been tasked with finding a solution to a problem and found one! If this is a regular pattern for you – that you are always the ‘problem solver’ and enjoy the challenge of solving problems, then this is quite possibly an area of strength.
If you have recently become employed within the health sector, you may already be familiar with ‘values based recruitment’ or VBR as it is often known. Employers particularly in the Health and Care sectors are using ‘values based recruitment’ to appoint staff. For example in the NHS, VBR is used to ‘help attract and select students, trainees and employees whose personal values and behaviours align with the NHS values outlined in the NHS Constitution.’ The purpose of this approach is to ensure that the NHS employs ‘the right workforce, with the right skills, in the right numbers, with the right values, to support effective team working and deliver excellent patient care and experience.’ (www.nhsemployers.org)
Although ‘working together’ is a core ‘value’ for NHS employees, it’s also a core value for employers in other sectors and industries. The ability to work productively with others or effective ‘inter-personal skills’ is a behaviour or value that all employers want to see in their employees. Other behaviours and values that are highly valued by employers include being dependable, being tenacious, being punctual and in the health and care sectors particularly, being compassionate. Other behaviours that are valued by employers include flexibility and adaptability. Once again when assessing whether you have any strengths in relation to particular values and behaviours, consider feedback or evaluations that you have received from colleagues, managers or friends.
Whatever strengths you are trying to identify, be honest. Think in terms of evidence such as presentations you give, reports your write or activities or events you have organised. Next, always consider sources of evidence you can use to identify strengths. This includes feedback from managers/colleagues, appraisal records or even thank you letters.
It’s important to know your key strengths particularly when you are job hunting. Being able to not only know your key strengths but explain and justify them with evidence, makes you stand out from candidates who have the exact same qualifications as yourself. Even if you’re not job hunting, knowing your key strengths will make your appraisals more productive and useful. Identifying your key strengths is also a useful way of boosting your self-esteem and helping you feel good about yourself – not in an arrogant way but in a positive way. And in a changing world and the ‘gig economy’, knowing your key strengths will help you ‘future proof’ your career in a changing world because it will put you ahead of the race to match your strengths to new and emerging job sectors.
To help you self-assess your skills/behaviours take a look at the following:
Ruth McGuire is an Education Inspector with nearly 15 years of inspection experience. She has taught in both further and higher education. She is also a well-established education and training consultant, writer and freelance journalist. She is a Governor of an outstanding sixth form college and also holds board roles within the NHS.
This article was originally published by CACHEAlumni.org.uk, the professional membership network for those working in Care, Health and Early Years Education.