What is your differentiator? What makes you the best content marketer, the best CEO, the best personal trainer or the best therapist? Regardless of your job description, I can already tell you the one thing that makes you the best: It’s what sets you apart.
When an interviewer asks about your strengths and weaknesses, they care less about what you’re bad at and more about how well you know yourself and what differentiates you from everyone else.
Whether you know exactly how to answer the “strengths and weaknesses question” or whether you still flounder when it comes up, here’s how to hone in your differentiator and own your strengths.
1. ASK “WHAT AM I NOT?”
Let me give you an example.
I’m not a motivational speaker. I’m an inspirational speaker who inspires you to motivate yourself. I’m not an expert on a specific topic. Instead, my keynote is perfect for opening conferences or closing conferences because my heart, humor and interactive activities inspire people to make real change. I’m also not a TedTalk speaker who gives a 20-minute speech with a powerpoint. My goal is to take my audiences on a 90-minute emotional rollercoaster that leaves them thinking about their lives in a whole new light.
By drawing lines around what I do and what I don’t do, I’m able to confidently say that I am the best inspirational speaker of my kind. I’m not saying I’m better than every other speaker out there: I’m saying that because I’m in a category of one, I give my audiences an experience that no other speaker can.
What about you? What are you not? How does that free you from who you think you should be?
2. LET GO OF YOUR WEAKNESSES
Most people forget the most crucial step of embracing their strengths, and that’s letting go of their weaknesses. If you can never hit the tennis ball over the net but you can hit home runs in baseball, what value is it to keep playing tennis? If you quit tennis and spent that time on practicing your baseball swing, you could make it into the MLB! All that to say—you have permission to detach emotionally from the skills that you’ll never be a master of.
I often wonder if our modern mental health crisis is due, at least in part, to the emotional toll weaknesses can take on our psyche. If you focus solely on what you’re not, you’re not going to experience joy or success. Don’t let the world define you by your weaknesses, and don’t define yourself by them either. Your self-confidence depends on it.
I know this from experience. When I was in school, because of my dyslexia, I was the worst speller in my class. No matter what I did or how hard I worked, I was never going to make it to the Scripps National Spelling Bee. So I had a choice: I could spend the rest of my life lamenting my inability to spell, or I could move on, make friends with spell check and hire a ghostwriter when it came time to write my best-seller. Needless to say, I chose the latter!
Stop spending your time on things that you’re mediocre at or selling something that isn’t your best product. Instead…
3. FOCUS YOUR ENERGY ON YOUR STRENGTHS
Realizing I would never be a spelling champion or an English professor, I played to my natural strengths and learned how to dance, juggle and do magic. Now that doesn’t mean I was born knowing how to juggle five balls—I had to spend thousands of hours on the skills I learned as a mime in order to master them. On long bus rides to work as a teenager, I practiced the coin roll on both of my hands. When I was in my twenties, I once stayed up all night until I was able to juggle five balls.
Most of us are not prodigies, and I’m no exception. I just knew that I naturally gravitated toward performing and hand-eye-coordination, and so that’s what I focused my energy on. (And remember, even prodigies aren’t’ prodigies in every skill.)
4. USE A TOOL TO FIND YOUR STRENGTHS
What if you’re not sure what your strengths are? Finding your strengths is a lifelong journey, but there are some amazing tools that can help to speed up the process. My favorite is StrengthsFinders.
A common denominator in some of the best teams I’ve worked with is the use of StrengthsFinders—both in higher education and in corporations. This tool allows teams to divide and conquer based on their strengths and explains differences in working styles to promote empathy.
My top strengths are:
- Positivity (No surprise here.)
- Activator (I like to turn thoughts into action.)
- Ideation (I enjoy talking about ideas and possibilities)
- Strategic (I can come up with alternative paths to success)
- Communication (It’s easy for me to put my thoughts into words.)
As I think about the work that I do, I use all of these strengths almost every day. I think you’d have the same reaction when you find your strengths. You have to pay to take an assessment, but I promise to you that it’s worth it. I also promise that you’ll find that you have incredible strengths to tap into. If you go through the test, please share your strengths with me!
Check out my friend Dan Donovan’s blog to learn more! He’s the senior director at Universal Studios Orlando, and his insight into StrengthsFinders inspires me every day.
5. NEVER STOP IMPROVING
Even once you know what your strengths are, don’t stop.
In giving my keynote Living Life At Performance Level, I’ve received a standing ovation from many different types of audiences, whether the people in it are C-Suite executives, Headstart teachers, or airmen in the U.S. Air Force. But this doesn’t just happen: In order to stay relevant and tailor my keynote to diverse audiences, I have to be up on the latest business trends and the way that innovation is changing multiple industries. I also have to have phone calls with key leaders to customize my message.
Too many people get to “performance level” and think that they’ve arrived. New flash: You’ll never arrive!
Apple is one of the most successful companies on the planet, and even though the first iPhone was amazing, they’ve kept iterating. We’re not on the second version of the iPhone—we’re on the tenth!
How can you continue to iterate your strengths?
6. HOLD ON TO YOUR CORE BRAND
Another case study in brilliance from Apple is that for as much as they improve things, their key differentiators never change. The iPhone is still a touchscreen. There is still only one button on the front. It still functions through apps. The key is to keep innovating, but never so much that you lose what sets you apart.
Similarly, the throughline of my keynote stays the same: We’ll always juggle; we’ll always play Simon Says (which you’ll always lose), I’ll eat fire, and you’ll probably cry in the last five minutes. But I could talk to you about education, wine and spirits or safety (to name a few) depending on your conference.
I owe any success I’ve had to owning my unique skill set, and I think you’ll find that the same is true for you. Your greatest strength is your differentiator, so don’t be afraid to own who you are—and let go of who you’re not.
By the way: If you have a conference coming up that you need a killer opener or closing speaker for, I’d love to inspire your people! We’re now booking for 2019. Click here to contact me about my availability.
As a speaker and author, Curtis Zimmerman has impacted over one million people with his life-changing messages and award-winning programs. Curtis is an expert at transforming organizations by inspiring individuals to live their lives at performance level.
Want to be inspired? Check out his podcast The Next 24 Hours.