How to identify your strengths and skills

This article introduces you to the advantages of understanding your strengths and skills and gives some practical tips on how to identify them.


A strength is a task or an action that you can do well. Strengths can include knowledge, skills and talents.

Understanding your strengths and skills is an important part of taking control of your career. Knowing your strengths can help you make career choices that enable you to succeed and enjoy your career.

Your strengths are;

  • Something you do well and enjoy doing
  • Something that people will often praise you for
  • Unique to you and personal to you

A skill is a learned ability to do something, you might pick skills up through study, work or activities, for example playing a musical instrument. Skills are often classified into three areas;

  1. Transferable, these are skills that can be taken to different work places such as being organised
  2. Personal skills are characteristics linked to how you perform the work such as patient.
  3. Knowledge based skills are those that are gained through education or training such as accounting or project management skills.

How may this affect me?

In most recruitment processes, employers will want to understand your strengths and skills. During the application process, the interview or in an assessment centre, they will be looking for examples of your skills and strengths.

Knowing your own strengths gives you a better understanding of how you function. It also helps you explain to others what you enjoy working on. You may also have some personal preferences related to your ideal working environment, how you like to be treated and how you relate to others.

By being aware of your strengths and preferences, you can narrow down specific jobs based on what you are good at and what is acceptable to you.

Skills are things you learn. You may pick these up through work, study or activities you do in your spare time. If you are able to recognise them and talk about your skills, it will be easier to work out what career you would like to do.

What can I do next?

Understand what your strengths and skills are

Practical tips

In order to recognise your strengths and skills, you have to spend time collecting information about when and how you succeed. There are many different ways to learn about your strengths, and it is important to understand these from different viewpoints. Use the practical tips below to identify your strengths and skills:

1. Listen to feedback

You can develop a clear self-perception by listening to what others have to say about you. One of the most reliable sources are people who know you well. Listen to what positive qualities are mentioned and where you receive compliments. From this you can determine which skills are being described in your feedback. You could ask yourself the question; What do people ask me to help them with? For example fixing the computer, checking their work, wanting advice on how to research a topic, etc.

2. Identify your interests

When you enjoy something, it is often easier to develop skills and strengths in that area. Think about what you most enjoy doing and what skills you use in that activity. For example, if you enjoy cooking, you may be able to concentrate on following instructions and guidelines and demonstrate accuracy.

3. Understand when you are most productive

During your day, make a note of how long different tasks take and how productive you are within that time. If it feels like time is passing quickly and you achieve a lot in a short amount of time, you are likely to be using your strengths. Make a list of when you feel the most focused, these will often be times you are using skills and strengths. You might ask yourself this question; When you I feel most productive? For instance, when you are programming.

4. Ask others directly

By asking friends, colleagues or support workers you trust, you can gain additional information that you might not have noticed. Seek out opinions from a few different people for the best insight into strengths you may not have realised you had. Pick 5 people who know you well and include a set of questions for them to respond to. You might write

I want to understand my strengths so I can use them to find the right job for me. I value your opinion – would you please share your perception of my top 5 strengths and skills.

Thank you for your time and help.

5. Take skills-based or strength-based questionnaires

There are many strength-based tests and skills tests that you can take to help identify your natural talents. Do several online tests and collect the results. Then, review the findings and search for common themes. This will help you identify your strengths. A good example is the free VIA Character Strength Assessment:

6. Seek out new experiences

By trying new experiences you can broaden your awareness of your skills and strengths. Until you try something new, you may never realise how skilled you are! You could be surprised at what strengths you discover.

7. Look at job descriptions

Job descriptions tell you exactly what employers are looking for. Read these and look for the key words they use, then note the skills required for the job. Think about the ways you have demonstrated these skills in the past, then write out an explanation for each, by recalling the context of the problem and how you responded to it. Use these stories to explain your strengths on application forms and in interviews. See also How to prepare for an interview.

Here are a few more useful tips:

  1. Ask lots of people for feedback and this way you can gather information about yourself and see the patterns that emerge.
  2. Don’t be too quick to disregard feedback given, remember others will see your skills differently to how you might see yourself
  3. By trying new activities, hobbies or even volunteering you can discover what you like and don’t like which helps understand your strengths
  4. Often your university will have careers centres that can help you identify your skills, make contact and see if they can help you
  5. Make a plan of how you will gather your information on your skills and strengths