How To Identify Your Best Talents and Skills

Making a career change? Wish you had a list of your best talents and skills to help you define a more satisfying career, as well as related careers that would be interesting to you? But perhaps you struggle with which abilities are truly your greatest (or if you even have any to offer at all) and how you might want to apply them to your career change. The following step-by-step process, developed from some of the best work of several career experts, will help you recall the skills and talents that give you the most pleasure, and then help you develop a prioritized list to guide you in your career change choices.

1. Review your talent and skill history to support your career change process

Throughout your life, you’ve had a chance to try your hand at a variety of talent and skill areas in related careers. And you probably discovered you didn’t possess a natural inclination in many of those areas, and you’ll want to steer clear of career change options that would involve those skills. Playing piano was one of those experiences for me. Even though I took lessons for a year, and practiced the recommended number of times each week, my mother and I both agreed that it would be better for me to leave that activity alone.

Yet as a child, there were probably several pursuits that did come naturally—or seem especially enjoyable—to you. You may have participated on a sports team, made crafts in summer camp, or organized games with neighborhood buddies. Within your family, you may have always been the one who orchestrated get-togethers, researched needed information, or repaired broken items.

You’ve probably also received feedback from others on what they believe to be your strengths. Your Aunt Margie may have said, “You are so creative!” or your teacher may have complimented you on your carefulness and attention to detail. Bosses have probably given you feedback, too, either directly through comments such as, “You’re great at resolving customer problems,” or indirectly by repeatedly assigning you certain tasks.

So what are some of those talents and skills you’ve demonstrated—or been recognized for—throughout your life? Make a list of at least five as they relate to these topic areas:

  • Activities you recall spending time with and enjoying as a child.
  • Subjects that came easy to you and were fun for you in school.
  • Things that you’re “known” for within your family, as in “Sarah’s always been so good at X.”
  • Types of assignments, or requests for assistance, that are frequently asked of you by family members and employers.

Create this list and then set it aside.

2. Recall your “Great Feeling” experiences as they tie into related careers

In addition to the activities you were drawn to as a child, and the qualities you’ve been praised for at home, school, and work, there are most likely several instances in your life when you felt great as you made use of a particular skill or talent.

Career experts recommend that you ask yourself these questions: When in your life have you had great-feeling experiences that involved use of a particular skill or talent? To help you remember some instances, consider the following times in your life. Aim to recall at least five great-feeling experiences that come to mind:

Early childhood experiences: Working on particular assignments, participating in certain activities, spending time with hobbies or projects on your own.

Middle school or high school experiences: Developing skills that interested you, seeking out opportunities to learn and master more about activities you enjoyed.

College or early work experiences: Trying your hand at different tasks, learning new skills, successfully handling work duties or special projects.

Hobbies and outside-of-work experiences: Pursuits you seek out in your free time, because they interest you and bring you so much pleasure.

Later career and life experiences: Times when you’ve felt deeply satisfied because of your involvement in a particular project, task, or activity.

Jot down a few notes about each experience for reference later.

3. Consider your untapped talents and skills that may link to related career change options

While there are many talents and skills you’ve been exposed to in your life, there are also many more that you haven’t yet experienced…but may want to factor into your career change planning. These may be areas where you have potential to excel, but you haven’t had a chance to experience the ability well enough to know for sure. Yet they may be ideal skills and talents to incorporate into your career change options!

For instance, in college I once took a computer class. For one assignment, we had to write a program that would allow only a certain number of people into a bar at once. As people left the bar, more people could enter. I have positive memories of working on that project. It was the only experience I’ve ever had with programming. Since then, I’ve wondered if I would have enjoyed programming, if I’d chosen to develop the skill further.

What skills or talents are still waiting in the wings for you, hoping to be considered and developed, and possibly put to use in your career change? Make a list of any that come to mind for you as you think about the following, aiming for a minimum of three or more career change talent or skill areas you may want to develop:

Talents or skills you’ve admired in others and thought, “I might be pretty good at that myself.”
Abilities that you’ve had an introductory exposure to—and enjoyed—but haven’t developed further.
Skill development goals you’ve had in mind for yourself, but haven’t yet accomplished.

Excerpted and adapted from “Career Coward’s Guide to Changing Careers” by Katy Piotrowski, M.Ed.