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Why It's Important To Know Your Strengths

Almost anyone is the world who has had an interview has been asked that dreaded (and let's face it, entirely pointless) question, "So, what would you say are your top strengths?" To which you reply with a carefully researched list of key strengths for the job you want, together with a few (creative) examples of times you've (pretty much) used them.

Why do we struggle with this question? One, we hate blowing our own trumpet (especially if you're British) and two, because obviously, they don't want to hear that you believe your actual top strengths involve being able to cater to any situation or emergency solely using the contents of your handbag and having lots of Karma on Reddit.

Quite often when asked to list their strengths, people struggle to articulate them; although that changes significantly when asked to list their weaknesses. Negativity bias in action!

The main issue people generally seem to have in this situation, is thinking about their personal and work strengths as separate. But, in reality, you are one person and research tell us that knowing your strengths and playing to them is a key part of life satisfaction and happiness.

What's The Difference Between Strengths, Values, Qualities and Skills?

These three terms are often used interchangeably along with characteristics and virtues. But they are slightly different. Here are some definitions:

Strengths - These are a reflection of your brain development, skills and personality, so far in your life. There are two schools of thought:

  1. Character Strengths - "A pre-existing capacity for a particular way of behaving, thinking, or feeling that is authentic and energizing to the user, and enables optimal functioning, development and performance” (Linley, 2008).

  2. Talent Strengths - which focus more on the skills that you have already developed.

Values - Harris (2009) defined this term as "chosen life directions." Think of your chosen values as your compass that guides your actions and decisions, especially when faced with challenging situations or difficult decisions. There is often a moral or ethical element associated with values.

Virtues - Living a virtuous life, implies that your behaviour and way of being in life shows high moral standards. This is the evidence of the impact your values and strengths have on you within your life.

These three areas overlap in Seligman’s ‘Values In Action’ (VIA) character strengths assessment which identifies 24 character strengths, as shown in the image to the left. Character strengths are labels we might use to describe qualities about ourselves. Key questions asked about your character strengths are; what’s (already) best about who you are? And, How can you build on your strengths in the future?

Interestingly, Seligman's VIA research, which studied all major religions and philosophical traditions, found that the same six virtues were shared in virtually all cultures across three millennia.

There are 6 classes of virtues that are made up of 24 character strengths:

  1. Wisdom and Knowledge

  2. Courage

  3. Humanity

  4. Justice

  5. Temperance

  6. Transcendence

Skills - This is the practical knowledge, expertise or talent that enables you to perform a particular task, confidently handle a challenging situation or complete a job. Having a range of work and life skills can help you feel confident and independent in life, and are essential for success. Whilst it might take determination and practice, almost any skill can be learned or improved.

Why Identify Strengths?

Supporting individuals to reflect on, consider, and identify their core strengths is a key concept within positive psychology coaching. Research tells us that understanding and utilising, or playing to our strengths can lead to flourishing (Boniwell, 2006).

A prominent area of research within positive psychology, there is now a wealth of evidence that understanding our strengths has extensive positive benefits across our life. These benefits include:

  • Increased probability of achieving goals

  • Stronger sense of life direction

  • Increased sense of vitality and motivation

  • Higher life satisfaction

  • Lower staff turnover within business

  • Increased workplace productivity

  • Increased self-awareness and discipline

  • Increased confidence and self-esteem

In addition to knowing your strengths, research has gone one step further and acknowledged that knowing when to use them is equally important. In fact, understanding which strength to use in a particular situation allows us to navigate life with more confidence and achieve goals more easily.

Top 5 Strengths Assessments

Using positive psychology tools to measure strengths are just one of the many ways coaches, therapists and consultants can help you to create a deeper personal understanding of how you work best. Here are my top 5 strengths assessments:

My personal favourite of the strengths tests is the VIA Character Strengths Assessment, which lists 24 strengths sorted into 6 virtues.

These are:

  • Wisdom and Knowledge: creativity, curiosity, judgment, love of learning, perspective

  • Courage: bravery, perseverance, honesty, zest

  • Humanity: love, kindness, social intelligence

  • Justice: teamwork, fairness, leadership

  • Temperance: forgiveness, humility, prudence, self-regulation

  • Transcendence: Appreciation of beauty and excellence, gratitude, hope, humour, spirituality

When you take the assessment, your strengths are ranked and you are advised to use your top five the most and in new and creative ways. The other interesting about the VIA, is that the other strengths are not considered weaknesses, but lesser used strengths.

I recently took this strengths assessment and loved it! There are a lot of questions, but the results are very clear. It claims to 'reveal your realised and unrealised strengths, learned behaviours and weaknesses.'

In a nutshell, it tells you what you can do, what you can't do and what you enjoy doing. I found mine to be very accurate.

It groups strengths under 4 categories:

  1. Realised Strengths - strengths you use and enjoy (use wisely)

  2. Unrealised Strengths - strengths you don't use as often (use more)

  3. Learned Behaviours - things you do well but may not enjoy (use when needed)

  4. Weaknesses - things you find hard and don't enjoy (use less)

DiSC is an acronym that stands for the four main personality profiles described in the DiSC model: (D)ominance, (i)nfluence, (S)teadiness and (C)onscientiousness.

It profiles you according to these categories and tells you which is your more dominant personality.

  • People with D personalities tend to be confident and place an emphasis on accomplishing bottom-line results.

  • People with i personalities tend to be more open and place an emphasis on relationships and influencing or persuading others.

  • People with S personalities tend to be dependable and place the emphasis on cooperation and sincerity.

  • People with C personalities tend to place the emphasis on quality, accuracy, expertise, and competency.

It is primarily aimed at businesses and claims to build stronger, more effective teams and working relationships.

Mental toughness is about how effectively individuals deal with stress, pressure and challenge. It describes the mindset that every person adopts in everything they do and measures closely related qualities such as character, resilience and grit.

Most psychometrics focus on the measurement of behaviours (how we act) and attributes (how we feel) – the MTQ looks at how we think which is a key driver for the development of behaviour and attributes.

Red Bull Wingfinder (yes, that Red Bull!) is a free personality assessment that focuses on your strengths, the things that you’re naturally inclined to be good at. It was developed by Red Bull and an expert team of psychology professors from University College London and Columbia University New York.

Wingfinder assesses your strengths according to four key areas of professional success creativity, thinking, drive and connections. It rightly claims that knowing your strengths and how to best leverage them, along with what to watch out for, enables you to develop, grow and succeed in your work life.

Although based on extensive psychological research, it's a fun, free and easy assessment, that comes with lots of guidance too.

Personal and Professional Strengths

As I mentioned before, your strengths are your strengths, regardless of whether you are at work or at home, but it is only natural to use different strengths in different situations. For example, your work may require you to exhibit leadership, which may not be one of your top strengths and something you avoid at home.

Although being able to identify your strengths is important, knowing how strengths contribute to success is key.

At work, your strengths may set you apart from your colleagues and get you that promotion you've been after. If you play to your strengths you are more likely to complete your work quickly, accurately and efficiently than someone who is using lesser strengths to do the same role. The simple reason being that you are doing what comes naturally to you.

The fact is, that successful people are often self-aware and face challenges with confidence because they are clear about their skills and knowledge. They also play to their strengths and as such love what they do.

People who see work as survival and work to earn a living regardless of whether they enjoy their work, are often in roles that don't make the most of their strengths and therefore may feel like something is missing.

I'm not naive enough to suggest that everyone is able to drop their current job and do what they love immediately, but increasing your self-awareness by identifying your strengths will make a difference. And, having something to aim for, even if it takes you 3, 5, even 10 years to achieve, will definitely mean that you are happier, even if you haven't changed jobs...yet!

After all, the time will pass anyway, why not use it to work towards something that will bring you joy, meaning and purpose!

Examples of Strengths

Are you looking for some inspirations for your profile or next interview? Here is a list of possible strengths and values to inspire you and some instructions on how to identify your personal values. Download here.


If you are interested in increasing your self-awareness finding work you are passionate about, you might want to take a look at my coaching program 'Do What You Love! '. It has been designed using positive psychology and coaching research, to help you learn more about yourself and your unique skills and to identify the kind of work that brings you meaning and purpose.


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