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Careers and Leadership 

Why effective career planning starts with your unique strengths

October 7, 2022


Woman on phone talking

"I hate my job."

We’ve all been there. 

Whether it’s the Monday blues or living for the weekend, it’s not a nice place to be.
But have you considered why you hate your job?

   > Do your find your work is tedious and not challenging enough?
   > Is it too changeable, unpredictable and stressful?
   > Or too demanding — leaving you perpetually overwhelmed and exhausted?

You might be thinking that the problem is you — and that’s perfectly normal. Because as humans we tend to think it’s what we’re missing that’s holding us back.

However — and this is good news for you — it’s more likely that the job is not the right fit for you and doesn’t align with your unique strengths.

The key to career happiness and success is to focus on your unique strengths and find a role where you can use those strengths.


What are unique strengths?

Your unique strengths are what you’re naturally good at and enjoy doing.

Put simply, job roles that play to your unique strengths make you feel good, energised and inspired.

By identifying, developing and refining these strengths, you have the capacity to excel in your career. And this makes you stand out from everybody else — because nobody can be a better you than you!

But you know this already.

The problem is, we’re more prone to focusing on our weaknesses. And we often waste energy on trying to overcome those weaknesses, when we could be thriving doing what we naturally do best.


How do we end up stuck in the wrong job?

You can fall into doing the wrong type of work by mistake. And, like a bad dream, you don’t know it until you’re in it.

Recently, I was working with a client who ran into this exact problem.

It all started when he took a promotion into a management position. Logically, this promotion looked like the next step in his career — his reward for years of loyalty, hard work and commitment.

In theory, everything should’ve been great. He was earning more money, had a better title and a higher status.

But he’d gone from a technical hands-on job he excelled in, to a role that was mainly people management. And he quickly realised he’d made a mistake.


He wasn’t suited to this new role, he didn’t like managing people — and he missed being the technical expert, because that’s what he was good at.

Suddenly work felt like a drain. He was constantly stressed and was now confused about what to do next.

Should he stay on and struggle or go and look for something else?

Bottom line - where his old role played to his strengths, his new role was playing to his weaknesses.

Once he got clarity around this, everything became simpler and his choices became much clearer.

And that’s why investing time and energy in planning a career is important.


Career planning for your unique strengths 

Career planning is about understanding what you’re good at, then matching those skills, talents and interests to a fulfilling and successful career path.

My best advice to you is, if you’re planning a career move, always ask yourself “does this job play to my strengths?”

If a new job comes up and you’re wondering whether to go for it, look at the responsibilities of the role and decide if they’re aligned with your strengths.


I’ve seen it too many times. People have gone for a job or promotion, because it seemed like the logical next step up the career ladder. But they didn’t realise the new role was actually aligned with some of their weaknesses.


This is one of the reasons I ask clients who are going for promotion, “Do you really want this promotion?”

If their answer is lukewarm, it means they really don’t know if they want that promotion or if that promotion would suit them. And that could be trouble.

If your intuition is telling you not to go for that promotion, or that you’re stuck in the wrong career — listen to it. And trust that there’s a way out, because nothing is permanent and you can change course.

Yes that might take time, but you can make it happen for you.

People who have successful careers know what their strengths are. They find career paths that leverage these strengths and allow them to thrive.

The benefits of planning a career based on strengths

In my experience, knowing your unique strengths and what you have to offer as an individual will set you apart from the competition and give you more career options.

People who play to their strengths:

  • Feel more energised and stimulated at work
  • Are more comfortable and confident in their roles
  • Experience less stress and overwhelm
  • Achieve more of their goals, because the work they do is easier for them
  • Have more healthy career wellbeing.

According to Cliftons Strengths, those who play to their strengths are also six times as likely to be engaged in their jobs and three times as likely to report having an excellent quality of life.

Now you understand the benefits of playing to your strengths, you need to understand how to identify those unique strengths.

The good news is that when your career decisions are based on your unique strengths, you’ll be inspired by the possibilities.

Your options for career progression will become clearer to you and will feel more attainable. And you’ll see a way to progress that’s practical and sustainable.

How to recognise your unique strengths

Let me ask you a few questions to get you thinking.

   > What was the best day you’ve ever had at work?

   > What was it that made it so great?

   > What specific tasks were you doing and which of your skills were you using?

This is a good way to start identifying some of your strengths.

You can also think about the tasks that:

  • You’ve found most enjoyable and satisfying
  • Have made you feel energised and enthusiastic
  • Have challenged you in a stimulating way
  • Don’t feel like work
  • You get the most positive feedback for
  • Colleagues come to you for help with
  • Make you feel most focused and driven.

Think about the career skills you have and enjoy using, for example:

  • People/social skills
  • Problem solving
  • Critical thinking
  • Technical skills
  • Design/development
  • Management.

In addition, consider activities you do outside work, such as hobbies or volunteering. Are there transferable skills you enjoy, such as relationship-building or organising events?

Finally, also think about your personality as a strength, so try completing a personality test to help you understand yourself better.


Now here’s the good part that can be very interesting: Talk to colleagues, friends and family who you can trust to be honest with you. Ask them what they would say your strengths are. Don’t be surprised if new stuff pops up. Their insights and perspective might alert you to strengths you wouldn’t have thought of by yourself.


And remember, you’re the expert here and the person who makes the final decision about your career.

Only you know what’s right for you and only you can decide exactly what you want.

You can’t expect to succeed when you’re struggling to do something that doesn’t come naturally to you.

In my experience, you stand out from the crowd when you’re thriving and making a difference at work — and that’s usually because you’re playing to your strengths. The first thing to do is develop the right mindset.


Developing a career planning mindset

You might be wondering, what is a career planning mindset?

Let me explain: if you’re taking a new approach to planning your career, it’s important to have the right mindset.

In essence, this is about being open to looking at your career from a different viewpoint.

What I’ve found is that careers need extra care and attention every now and again.

You need to take some time to work on your career as well as in your career.

Here are three exercises and tips you might find helpful.


3 Career mindset exercises and tips


1. Determine what might be holding you back

If you’ve been stuck in the wrong job for a while, it’s good to analyse how much of your time and energy you’re spending doing the wrong type of work.

Ask yourself, what elements of your job play to your strengths? And what parts of your job play to your weaknesses?

Ultimately, you want to spend the majority of your time and energy playing to your strengths.


2. Remember, it’s human to have strengths and weaknesses

Let yourself off the hook. Nobody’s perfect.

Take time to thoroughly explore your strengths and your weaknesses. The more you understand about them, the easier they will be to manage.

You can develop your strengths and a career to match over time. And you’ll know what jobs to avoid by knowing your weaknesses.


3. Avoid comparing yourself with others

This is a lot easier to say than do.

But comparing yourself with others will only ever demotivate you. Because someone else will always seem to have it better and be having more success.

Remember, you’re on your own unique career path, focusing on your own unique strengths. And, in the end, the only true comparison you can make is to compare your new self with your old self and see how far you’ve come.

You’re playing in a single player game where you get to keep the score — so give yourself a good score!


How to start improving you career today

When you’ve identified your key strengths, you can start planning a career you feel excited about. And, as you’ve probably realised, the employment and careers area has changed rapidly over the last twenty years. Nobody can fully future-proof their career because nobody can predict the future. However, you can manage your career better by taking a few simple steps.


5 Steps you can take today

Here are five things you can do today that will help you start working towards your career aspirations.

1. Talk to your manager about your personal development

Your manager has a big impact on your career.

So how, according to your manager, is your career going? You might be positively or negatively surprised by their answer.

Talking to your manager is a good place to start if you’d like to further your experience in certain areas, learn more about a different aspect of the job or get more detailed feedback on your performance.

2. Think about the tasks you most enjoy

Can you find ways to incorporate more of these tasks into your day-to-day work?

3. Think about the tasks you don’t enjoy

Could your co-workers support you in some way to make these tasks less daunting?

4. Use your strengths to overcome your weaknesses

There may be ways to use your strengths that will help you succeed in areas where you feel weaker.

5. Focus on what you find most stimulating

Be careful to avoid getting fixated on job titles and more established career paths. Focusing on what energises and excites you will be the key to effective career planning going forward.


Taking charge of your career is like captaining a boat. If you put up your sail and see where the wind takes you, you risk ending up adrift or washed up in the wrong place. But if you take the helm and fire up the engine, you can steer yourself towards a brighter and more successful future. 


Do you need help with your career? 

If you're looking to improve your career, maybe I can help. I’m Terry O’Brien and I work with individuals to help them achieve their potential and flourish in their career. If you'd like to achieve greater success and happiness in at work, contact me at terry@terryobriencareers.com or book a complimentary call.


About the author

Terry O'Brien

Terry is a qualified HR professional, career and leadership coach and speaker on careers. He specialises in career development, leadership performance and career wellbeing. He is creator of the CareerWell Framework, and works with HR leaders to create a culture of high performance, success and wellbeing.

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