Monday, December 27, 2010

Unique Gifts

by J.T. O’Donnell

Why You Can’t Identify Your Strengths

Anyone who’s ever done some soul-searching about their career has stumbled across one or more experts telling them to focus on their strengths as a way to find satisfying work. I call them Unique Gifts because out of the 100’s of people I’ve worked with one-on-one, no two people have the same combination of strengths. Each one is different and special.

Identifying Unique Gifts Can Feel Impossible

I’d say at least 50% of the people who have completed a PSA (Personal Strengths Assessment) with me stop in their tracks when they get to the Unique Gifts exercise. They call or e-mail me completely frustrated. They say things like, “There is NOTHING unique about me, “ and “I don’t have anything special.” I love when this happens because I know a huge Ah-ha Moment related to their career is about to occur. Why? This is the point in their self-discovery process where I get to point out the power and importance of leveraging their Unique Gifts.

They’re Not Unique to You - Hence, Why You Can’t Identify Them!

Our Unique Gifts are strengths that we have developed over a lifetime. Without even realizing it, they are skills and abilities we’ve been nurturing. Usually, because we had early success or failures that made us realize we could use them to get the results we want. As a result, they don’t feel special. In fact, we usually make the mistake of thinking that everyone can do what we do. So, when we finally recognize what our Unique Gifts are, we find it easy to incorporate them into our career as a way to get results without it feeling like work.

EXAMPLE: Meet Jeff…

This past year, I had a mid-career professional named Jeff come to me for help developing his job search. He was being laid-off as a project manager and was worried that he would have a tough time differentiating himself amongst a sea of unemployed project managers. He was right. Most job seekers don’t understand how to identify and incorporate their Unique Gifts into their brand as a way to catch an employer’s attention. As we went through the process, Jeff was able to focus in on what his specific strengths were as a project manager. It turned out he had a successful track record of taking complex projects that involved input from multiple departments and creating communication and coordination strategies that helped everyone to stay informed and on schedule. He even had quantifiable proof that his project management resulted in on-time delivery and zero need for re-design after implementation – a pretty impressive statistic. Ironically, Jeff never saw this as unique. He said to me, “J.T., this is what a project manager is supposed to do. How can I say it’s a strength of mine?” It wasn’t until I pushed back and asked him how he learned this was something a project manager must do that he had the Ah-ha Moment I was waiting for. He immediately started speaking in an energetic and confident tone. He proceeded to tell story after story of projects he had seen fail when he was just starting out. He effortlessly shared how he contributed to fixing some of these past failures and how he eventually got put in charge of his first project after the manager had to be let go for incompetence. A powerful career story rolled off his tongue and you could feel the sincerity and passion he possessed. At that point, the expression in his face change as he realized his particular approach to project management really was his Unique Gift. After that session, Jeff revamped his career tools (resume, LinkedIn profile, cover letter template) to properly reflect his Unique Gifts. Jeff got three interviews and 2 job offers shortly after. He said talking about his Unique Gifts in the interviews was what got him the offers. He found it effortless to talk about his success without feeling like he was bragging. Why? Because he knew he was telling the truth.

How to Identify Your Unique Gifts

The secret to determining what’s special about you is to spend some time truly focusing on it. If you can’t do it alone, then get help. Often, others can see what is unique about us better than we can. I have my clients talk to family and co-workers. I also give them a set of self-discovery questions designed to guide them towards the Ah-ha Moment such as, “What was the last thing someone asked for your advice on and why do you think they came to you?” These kinds of questions can help you see patterns of success that point to your Unique Gifts.

Everyone has Unique Gifts. The key is to keep working until you identify them. Trust me. Once you do, you’ll find the process of job search and career development a lot easier.

Jeanine Tanner “J.T.” O’Donnell is a career strategist and workplace consultant who helps American workers of all ages find greater professional satisfaction. Her work has been cited in Wall Street Journal, USA Today, New York Times, The Boston Globe,,,,,,, and dozens of other national publications. In 2008, she founded the career advice site, which is now a top 10 world-ranked career advice blog, featuring the best career experts in America, and in 2009, she launched the first ‘Career HMO’ - CAREEREALISM Club, a virtual career center staffed by experts that helps professionals advance their careers. Her book, CAREEREALISM: The Smart Approach to a Satisfying Career, outlines her highly successful career-coaching methodology. Aside from her company, you can find J.T. on LinkedIn and Twitter, as well as her nationally syndicated column with Dale Dauten.


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