No one goes to battle without a set of their favorite weapons. In our professional life, those weapons are our talents and skills.
They are like our superpowers. They can get us out of any rut. They are what gets us in the door. They land us in exciting opportunities and position us for bigger and better.
For all the good they bring us, we don’t always have the language to describe our talents and skills.
This is partly because we don’t think about them deliberately. It’s not like we sit down every now and again and make a list of our superpowers. Unless we’re updating the resume or the LinkedIn Profile. And when we do, we are most of the time doing it with dread.
So, it’s either we’re not making an effort to think about our talents and skills, or we’re not exactly thrilled to do it when we do.
It’s no wonder that, whether in writing or verbally, we usually simply rattle off a bunch of stuff found in our current job description.
While that is a good starting point, it doesn’t give justice to all that we can bring to the table. Many of our strengths cannot be found in any job description. They are the combination of learned skills and experiences and natural abilities.
It’s always good to know your talents and skills, but this cannot be more critical as when you’re looking to make a career change or career pivot.
In this post, I want to talk about three points to remember when understanding our superpowers, plus suggested reflection points.
1. Get to know your talents and skills intimately.
George Lucas once said, “Everybody has a talent, and it’s a matter of moving around until you discover what it is.”
The first order of business is to discover what your talents are. Know the difference between your talents and your skills.
You know this: skills are abilities you learned—from school, training classes, on-the-job—and honed through experience and hours of practice and application.
Talents are those that come to you naturally. These are areas where you demonstrate innate aptitude. Others may recognize these as your gifts. Just like skills, you can improve your talents too.
Where these two—your skills and your talents—combine forces represent your areas of strength.
The book Now, Discover Your Strengths by Marcus Buckingham and Donald O. Clifton is an excellent reference material for finding your strengths. It makes a case for sharpening our strengths rather than repairing our weaknesses (which is what we’ve been traditionally taught to do). When you buy the book, you also get a code to Strengthsfinder Profile, a web-based interview that analyzes your responses and provides with your top 5 strength themes.
Next to understanding your talents and skills, is being able to talk about them comfortably and bring them to life—and not in that generic-everybody-has-this-skill kind of way.
Best to give you an example here. If you don’t mind, I’ll use myself as an example. Please excuse if what follows sound a little me-me-me. 😃
I have a talent for problem-solving, though I didn’t always know this.
Looking back, here’s how I know I have this talent: I don’t panic when faced with problems. The opposite tends to happen instead. I become focused and calm. I become decisive, with little vacillation. In my head, I can see a path from ‘here’ to ‘there.’ A friend once told me that I’m useless when she wants to bitch about a problem, but I’m the first person she calls when she’s ready to talk solutions.
I complement this with skills learned training in strategic thinking, change management, and program delivery. Years working as a management consultant, helping clients solve their business problems, further honed my talent and gave me plenty of skills practice.
POINTS FOR REFLECTION:
- Can you articulate your talents and your skills? What are your talents? What are your skills?
- How are you taking advantage of your talents?
2. The best kinds of skills are those that complement or strengthen your talents.
Anybody can get good at something with practice. Put in enough hours towards an activity, and you can get decent results.
But if that activity isn’t related to a natural talent, you’ll find that it doesn’t quite hit the mark. You’ll often feel like something is missing.
I know someone who’s very good with Excel. She uses it every day, and spend hours in it. It’s a tool that helps her engage with her real talent: analysis. Specifically, seeing patterns and gleaning intelligence from numbers.
Another friend of mine also has mad Excel skills. She has always found it easy to learn new software applications, so she became an expert pretty quickly. In fact, she’s got a reputation at work for being an Excel hack, and people always come to her with questions.
I’ll tell you something though. These two individuals talk about their Excel skills in ways that are worlds apart. You can hear what they choose to emphasize, and how differently they describe what their skills allow them to achieve.
POINTS FOR REFLECTION:
- How have you improved on your talents? What skills have you picked up that support or complement your talents?
- How extensively are you using your talents in your field of work?
3. An interest doesn’t always equate to a talent.
Talent doesn’t necessarily follow interest. Sometimes it does. But it’s not a given.
Here’s a deliberately ridiculous example:
I am hugely interested in movies. All kinds of movies (except horror). But I haven’t got a sliver of talent relating to movie making. Not scriptwriting, not acting, not directing, not filmmaking, not editing. Not even writing movie reviews.
I used this ridiculous example to make a point.
We often hear the advice “follow your passion” as if this were the key to finding career fulfillment. You’ll find lots of exercises geared towards uncovering your interests, to determine what you should be doing next in your career.
Sure, knowing your interests could lead you to understand your talents. But this isn’t always the case.
Ultimately, following your talents may be the better strategy.
POINTS FOR REFLECTION:
- What are your interests?
- What topics do you enjoy reading, studying, discussing? Which activities get you so engaged that you ‘forget’ about time?
- Do your interests shine a light on your talents?
It’s easy to forget about your skills and talents. While it’s not necessary to always be taking inventory, it’s important that you do so every now and again. Especially when you’re looking to make a career move—no matter if that’s a job change or a career change.
Your current job description may be a good place to start your skills list, but don’t stop there.
Expand your inventory to include skills you’ve honed outside of work as these usually have applications in the work scenario.
Most importantly, don’t forget to take stock of your talents. It’s when you apply your natural strengths that you shine the brightest.