Strengths v. Skills

When I teach students about choosing careers/majors I explore many options that review their interests, values and skills. When we discuss skills we also discuss the difference between skills and strengths.

Skills are something we learn and can improve upon with experience, while strengths can be described as talents and abilities that are special to an individual.

Strengths usually also indicate that you have an interest in the area.

So when you determine your strengths, think about the combination of your interests and skills.

What are your strengths?

There are a few good resources available to help people determine their strengths.

Check out the StrengthsQuest and Strengths Finder 2.0 for some references to strengths. What’s nice about these resources is that the strengths are sectioned out into common categories with definitions that help you determine your strength areas. These two resources also have assessments to help you determine your top strengths, but for the purpose of this blog let’s use a personal method called “true type.”

Let’s take a look at the common strengths as defined by StrengthsQuest and pick out your top 3 strengths. They define 34 strengths alphabetically such as Achiever, Futuristic, Relator, and Woo.

If someone was to review the strengths and pick Activator, Developer, and Individualization as his/her top three strengths. These three strengths are defined, by StrengthsQuest as:

ACTIVATOR: People especially talented in the Activator theme can make things happen by turning thoughts into action. They are often impatient.

DEVELOPER: People especially talented in the Developer theme recognize and cultivate the potential in others. They spot the signs of each small improvement and derive satisfaction from these improvements.

INDIVIDUALIZATION: People especially talented in the Individualization theme are intrigued with the unique qualities of each person. They have a gift for figuring out how people who are different can work together productively.

What Do Those Strengths Mean in the Workplace?

The person with these three strengths has the ability to manage and lead very effectively when he/she uses his/her strengths to their full advantage. This combination of strengths shows us that this person has the ability to recognize each person for his/her own personal strengths as an individual and within a group. Not only does this person recognize strengths,  but he/she can also determine how to cultivate those strengths to make an organization function and steadily improve.

Careers I would suggest a person like this to consider would be in management, consulting/counseling, sociology, or human resources.

If it’s hard for you to pick your top three, then you may want to consider purchasing an assessment or consulting a career counselor to assist you with the assessment and interpretation. The most important thing to remember is that if you can recognize your own strengths and capitalize on these you can increase your chances of success.

If you choose careers that you’re good at and interested in (in one word: strengths), the theory is that  you’ll be a happier and better worker/student. If you’re still not sold, then consider the college courses in which you achieved your highest grades. You were obviously skilled in those classes, but did you also enjoy these classes?

If so, then consider those areas personal strengths.


Karen is a Career Counselor and Internship Coordinator at Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne (IPFW). At IPFW she assists students in finding internships, coordinates and assists with campus-wide events, teaches a Career Planning course, and meets with students individually to assist them with all aspects of career development. Connect with Karen via LinkedIn or Twitter.

Related posts:

  1. Pump Up Your Brand with Your Strengths and Interests
  2. Identify Your Skills – Identify Your Brand
  3. Show Your Skills and Experience Through Stories

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