Identifying Your Strengths

A fast way to inventory your past and project what to focus on in the future.

Posted Nov 25, 2019

pxhere, public domain
Source: pxhere, public domain

Self-report is a valuable way for you to identify your strengths and weaknesses. Not only does that enable you to consider the full range of your life’s past experiences, it allows you to project forward: what are your latent attributes—those that life hasn’t yet afforded you sufficient opportunity to express but that you might like to. Plus, self-report is free.

To keep this self-report inventory concise and save you time, it doesn’t attempt to be universally applicable. Rather, it focuses on the Psychology Today readership—people who are well educated and/or with above-average intelligence. So, for example, it doesn’t ask about physical strength or the ability to do repetitive tasks.

Rate yourself excellent, good, fair, or poor on each of these:

Verbal (oral and/or in writing)

Explanatory—presenting complex material clearly and in an interesting manner. 

Persuasive—In addition to the ability to explain, a persuasive person is also able to move people to change behavior or attitude.


Abstract non-verbal reasoning such as used in computer programming and in mathematics, from bookkeeping to statistics to cryptography.

Spatial (design), for example, in engineering, architecture, or interior design.

Spatial (repair), for example, industrial equipment, vehicles, or ATMs.


Sensitivity to people’s feelings and motivations, including listening well and intuiting what’s unsaid. Also, that sensitivity requires self-knowledge: how their words, non-verbal cues, and behaviors affect others.


Musical. Reading music is a mechanistic skill, not indicative of musical ability. More relevant, can you play a musical instrument well by ear? Or at least can you play or sing with nuance, that ineffable talent that converts the mechanistic to the emotionally moving? It may help you to assess that if you compare one of your musical efforts to the following. Because this is Psychology Today, I’ve selected the music that is emotionally most meaningful to me: On the piano, I play my late mom's favorite song: Autumn Leaves.

Visual art (creative.)  Have others paid you or at least offered to pay you for your artwork? That’s often a better test of your artistic ability at least in practical terms than is praise, especially from people with a bias: friends, family, or teachers, who are paid to be encouraging. It costs nothing to praise; indeed it makes them and you feel good.

Visual art (evaluative.) Some people lack artistic talent but have an “eye,” They may do well as, for example, as an interior decorator or buyer for a clothing or objet d’art business.

Broadly applicable attributes

General intelligence: problem identification, analysis of multiple factors, fluent synthesis and solution generation. A century of research is unambiguous that general intelligence is the most potent ability across a wide range of tasks, professional and personal. General intelligence can be validly assessed with standardized assessments such as intelligence tests and their highly correlated proxies the SAT, GRE, LSAT, etc. The notion of “multiple intelligences” being powerful is belied by their correlations with general intelligence.

Being hard-working. Without being pressured by anyone, the person has an intrinsic drive to work long and hard.

Efficiency. With sufficient quality, the ability to get more done than most peers do.

Independent or collaborative. Some people work very well solo, others in teams.

Detail-oriented.  Some people are meticulous and enjoy the required perfectionism of detail work.

Ethics. Nearly everyone claims to be ethical, and under most circumstances we are. But when you have much to gain by cutting ethical corners, do you nonetheless remain ethical? Such people are well-suited to jobs in which they have authority over money and power.

Executive function. That's the ability to keep many things in mind at one time and to make wise decisions about what to do.

Calmness under stress. The sine qua non of this is the ability to remain calm when attacked. So, firefighter or hostage negotiator, which could be seen as requiring calmness under stress is less demanding of that than, for example, customer service reps who can remain placid amid the endless stream of angry customers, emergency room doctors and nurses, and police officers.

Low-maintenance.  Some people are able to compartmentalize personal problems so they don’t hurt their work performance. I think of Bill Clinton’s ability to be a fully functioning president despite the Monica Lewinsky scandal. Also, low-maintenance people are able to rebound from life’s inevitable setbacks and to shrug their shoulders at, for example, co-workers' screw-ups. While speaking up about serious, fixable problems, low-maintenance people know when it’s wise to roll with the punches. Being low-maintenance is an under-considered key to work and life success.

The takeaway

So, which are your core strengths and weaknesses? Does that list suggest a need for changes in your work or personal life?

I read this aloud on YouTube.