How to Leverage Your Strengths for Career Success

What are your greatest strengths?

If you've ever sat through a job interview, you've probably had to answer this question. Most employers are looking for people whose strengths match the job description. After all, you don't want to hire a sales rep that's bad with people.

But how many times do you think about your strengths when you're not in a job interview? And, how often have you been asked for your best strengths but unable to articulate them well?

To be your best, you have to leverage all your strengths on a daily basis to maximize your potential. You have to be intentional. But you can't be intentional if you don't know what your strengths really are and how to use them when you need them.

What are strengths exactly?

When most people answer the question, "What are your greatest strengths?" they tend to respond with a list of skills or talents.

"I'm good with computers."

"I'm an excellent salesperson."

"I make a mean pot of coffee."

Skills and talents are things that can be taught (or forgotten); they're what you do. But your strengths come more innately -- your brain just thinks a certain way.

One of the best ways to measure strengths is Gallup's StrengthsFinder assessment. (If you haven't taken it already, we highly recommend it.)

The StrengthsFinder assessment provides a list of your "top five" strengths, and each one has an impact on your behavior and performance. People with an Analytical strength, for example, have the ability to think about all the factors that might affect a situation and can make decisions about how to proceed with minimal risk. Those with a Futuristic strength can see the big picture and have an easier time creating a vision for a product or their life. If you have the Connectedness strength, your technical expertise might center on systems architecture where you can see how all the parts connect as a whole.

Each strength works in conjunction (or sometimes in conflict) to help you navigate the world. You could even layer skills on top of a strength to make it more powerful. For example, someone with a Communication strength might want to enhance that strength by get training as a public speaker.

Do you need certain strengths to succeed as a technical expert?

Do you have a picture in your head of what a successful person looks like? Do you think it takes a certain type of person to be truly successful, and as smart as you are, you're not an Elon Musk-level genius? Does that mean you can't be successful?

Actually, not really.

A common misconception that keeps many from moving forward is the idea that strengths and personality are the same.

For example, one of your strengths could be Communication even though you're introverted and hate public speaking. Perhaps you prefer one-on-one conversations so you're better at podcasts or mentoring people.

The reality is that you can leverage your strengths no matter what type of personality you have. Bill Gates didn't become a household name because he was really good at chatting people up around the water cooler.

In fact, Gallup research indicates that an individual's inherent talent for a role -- one's natural capacity for excellence in a certain position -- is a composite of innate personality traits, attitudes, motives, thinking, and values.

This means that there's no "ideal" combination of strengths that make someone successful. A successful person uses their strengths to fit the role they want.

That means there isn't a single profile for a successful technical expert. The stereotype of a programmer always being analytical is a misnomer. Yes, analytical skills can be helpful in programming but there are plenty of other strengths that can be used to accomplish the same task.

The key is leveraging the strengths you have to fit your situation, needs, and overall goals.

How do you use your strengths to succeed?

Once you have a clear picture of your strengths, there are a few things you can do to make sure that you're using them to your advantage.

1. Own your own development

No matter what specific combination of strengths are, you will still need to take time to develop skills to help you make the most of them. It's up to you to recognize and identify how your strengths will help you in your career. You have to take control of your development process in order to add skills to those strengths. No one else will do it for you.

For example, if you have a stellar Empathy strength, and can put yourself in anyone's shoes, you could use that to see the product you're creating through the user's eyes. You will understand your audience because you can feel their pain points in a way that others can't.

2. Don't focus on limitations

If you're the type of person who tends to be self-defeating or focus on limitations, you may be tempted to rule out opportunities because you don't feel qualified.

Instead of focusing on what you do best, you're mentally preoccupied with your lack of experience, education, or contacts -- all of which prevent you from moving forward.

Productive people don't think this way. Productive, successful people make decisions based on their best qualities and strengths. They focus on what will help them succeed instead of what seems impossible.

3. Find complementary strengths in others

Focusing on your strengths doesn't mean you should ignore your weaknesses altogether. It just means that you find ways to overcome those weaknesses, and one of the best way to do this is by leveraging the strengths of others.

Instead of worrying about your shortcomings, find someone with complementary strengths to make up the difference. For instance, Achievers can sometimes get focused on the checklist rather than prioritizing. In this case, you might want to team up with a Strategic who can help you narrow down the list, so you focus on the most important tasks.

Even better, find a position that plays to your strengths and where your weaknesses are irrelevant.

If you want to know what your strengths are, how to use them in your career or to find your next position, a Strengths Session can help.