Master the Most Underrated Competency for Career Success
The #1 career competency that drives success across industries is a strength that anyone can develop — and one that is crucial to both overall career success and acing job interviews.
The competency is career management, the ability to strategically and proactively plan and run your own career.
In fact, today’s college students are being taught “career management” as one of the eight most critical competencies for career readiness.
The first step in taking control of your career management is developing the self-awareness to know your strengths and preferences, to understand your work values and future goals.
While you can’t control the whims of the job market or random hiring managers, you can take control of your own development and priorities.
Today’s article is about how to ensure that true self-awareness drives all of your future career decisions.
Career Management Starts with Self-Awareness
Most hiring managers wouldn’t say they need someone with self-awareness or career management skills and you won’t see these words in most job descriptions.
However, managers are absolutely looking for employees who know what they want, are motivated to succeed, can set goals and go after them, and take a proactive approach to improve on strengths and addressing weaknesses.
To me, competency in career management requires two important components. First, you need the self-awareness to know yourself, your values, and what you want. Second, you need the tactical skills to take action – including networking, problem-solving, and interviewing skills (of course).
If you haven’t taken the time to think about career management in a while, or you’re feeling stuck, we have some ideas to help you master this competency — including both the self-awareness and associated interview skills you need to keep ascending that career ladder (or jump off to do something completely different).
Why It’s Important
There are many successful people who are extremely unhappy. Despite their success, their hearts just aren’t in the work that they do.
At the same time, there are many bright and talented people who never find the success they deserve. They can’t seem to overcome some limiting weakness or they get stuck in a role that doesn’t tap into their real abilities and they can’t figure out what to change.
If you don’t put some time and effort into understanding yourself, it’s easy to lose your way – in your career as well as other areas of your life.
It’s also incredibly easy to get so caught up in the demands of the day-to-day that you don’t have time for digging into self-awareness. Sometimes it takes a bit of work and introspection to figure out what your values are, especially when taking in to account how values and priorities can evolve over time.
Many of my coaching clients first sought me out because they were struggling with a career change. They knew something was missing but had no idea what to do about it.
I’ll never forget one client who struggled to articulate his goals in our first session.
He got frustrated and burst out with, “I don’t know! I haven’t had time for introspection in years!” Understandable. He had a big job, a big house full of kids, and lots of other responsibilities.
He needed a coach to force him into self-awareness — one session at a time. He had all of the information. He just needed the time and the prompts to ask himself the right questions.
Hacking Career Management
A career counselor or career coach can be a great help in achieving the self-awareness you need to manage the next steps in your career. However, there is also plenty you can do on your own to get more clarity around what you want and how to get it.
In terms of career success, some of the key areas of self-awareness are:
Career Values, Work Preferences, Strengths, and Weaknesses. Here’s how you can gain more insight into each of these.
1. Career Values
Your work values are what’s most important – even essential – to you in your work. Work values should be aligned with your overall life values, but also allow you to focus on what’s important to you in your career.
Your work values should guide your decisions on the job and in life. When you honor your top work values every day, you’re a much happier and more fulfilled person, which translates to better productivity and overall job success.
However, it’s easy to lose sight of important values. After all, no job is perfect and everyone makes compromises.
For each individual, there are compromises that you should NEVER make because it would take you too far from your work values and lead to stress and unhappiness.
It’s a good idea to revisit your career values on a regular basis. Work values change and evolve over time. What made you feel fulfilled at 26 may leave you uninspired at 46.
To assess your current career values, check out our lesson on values in our First 90 Days curriculum in Big Interview.
The lesson and accompanying assessment are part of our recommended strategy for preparing to succeed in a new job. However, the exercise is useful for people at all different career stages.
There are also other useful values assessments out there, including the Knowdell Career Values Card Sort.
2. Work Preferences
In addition to core work values, most people have work preferences that play a key role in their career decisions.
For example, one person may need lots of team collaboration to feel engaged, while someone else greatly prefers to work on their own. The structure and predictability that you require might make someone else feel micromanaged.
You probably already have a sense of some of your work preferences. There are assessments that can help you dig a little deeper if you like.
Keep in mind that assessments, even the most established and best-known assessments, are not infallible or magical.
In career coaching, I often use assessments, but make it clear to clients that the assessment results are merely a jumping-off point for thinking and discussion.
Often, the results ring true. Sometimes, the assessment doesn’t get it quite right but leads to the client being able to pinpoint just what feels right and what feels wrong.
Some of the best-known assessments that focus on preferences include:
The MBTI was developed in the 1940s and inspired by the work of Carl Jung. Over the years, millions of people have taken the MBTI. The MBTI aims to assign you as one of 16 types based on your answers to a series of questions. Your four-letter type includes preferences in four different dichotomies: Extraversion/Introversion, Sensing/Intuition, Thinking/Feeling, and Judging/Perceiving.
The MBTI terminology can be a bit misleading, so it’s important to read up on the meaning behind your results to better understand them. In fact, the MBTI is designed to be taken with the guidance of a qualified coach who can help you interpret and apply the results. More background on the MBTI. (Note: We don’t make a commission on this or any other recommendation in this article.)
The DiSC is another widely-used assessment. It’s a favorite in corporate training programs. The DiSC is based on the idea that each individual is a blend of four styles – Dominance, Influence, Steadiness, and Conscientiousness. The assessment helps you identify how each style influences your behavior and preferences. More information about DiSC assessments.
Career management is much easier when you have a clear-eyed understanding of both your strengths and weaknesses.
I’ve found that many people have difficulty pinpointing their strengths. When I ask about strengths in a job interview, I tend to hear generalities (good with people, hard worker, detail-oriented, etc.).
These are all positive qualities, but you need to get more specific if you want to be able to leverage your strengths to their full potential (and come across as brilliant in job interviews).
Sometimes, people have good insight into where their strengths lie but have difficulty articulating those strengths to others.
If you haven’t recently taken inventory of your strengths, it’s well worth your time, especially if you have a job interview coming up soon.
For my coaching clients and Big Interview users, I recommend starting with a simple exercise of cataloging at least 5 strengths and writing a proof point for each. The proof point should get specific about how you demonstrate that strength. For example, people skills might mean you’re a sales superstar or it might mean you’re a fantastic manager.
If you want to go deeper, I also recommend the CliftonStrengths (formerly called StrengthsFinder) assessment. Many of my clients have found this assessment to be a useful way to identify and prioritize their top strengths. Read more about CliftonStrengths.
We all have weaknesses and we all hate being asked about them during job interviews. However, an honest view of your weaknesses can help you greatly in your self-development.
Some people shy away from thinking too much about weaknesses because they are embarrassed or in denial. Others are overly self-critical and avoid any challenges that could call attention to perceived weakness, thus missing out on opportunities.
Naturally, you don’t want to dwell on weaknesses. However, it’s important to be aware of weaknesses that could hold you back.
In many cases, there are ways to improve or effectively manage those weaknesses. And yes, sometimes a clear-eyed understanding of weakness can help you avoid making a mistake.
So what are some of the weaknesses that you’ve struggled with?
These can be genuine weaknesses or qualities that could be perceived as weaknesses by others.
Your weaknesses might include “fixable” things like limited experience or knowledge in a certain area. In these cases, you can find a class, mentor, or a project that can help you develop.
You may also see certain soft skills or personality qualities as weaknesses when it comes to your career.
For example, shyness isn’t necessarily a weakness in general, but it might be a challenge if you’re trying to get ahead in a profession that requires a lot of networking.
In some cases, you can work on these weaknesses and manage or overcome them. For example, you could practice and get coaching until you’re able to handle networking responsibilities despite your shyness.
In other cases, you may feel that weakness is not something that you can or want to “fix.”
This awareness can help you guide your decisions. Maybe that means partnering up with a colleague whose strengths complement your weaknesses. Maybe it means saying no to projects that you know would not be a good fit.
When it comes to job interviews and performance evaluations, it’s helpful to be able to talk about your weaknesses in a self-aware way, though you certainly don’t need to be 100% candid.
Career Management & Job Interviews
Greater self-awareness will empower you to leverage your strengths, improve your weaknesses, set inspiring goals, choose the right career opportunities, and position yourself for success.
It will also help a lot with job interviews.
Self-awareness is a competency that hiring managers value greatly.
Self-aware employees know how to set goals and motivate themselves. They know their strengths and weaknesses and are always looking for ways to improve. They are excellent team members because they understand how their behavior affects others.
Unlike other in-demand career competencies we’ve covered (like leadership, teamwork, etc.), self-awareness isn’t typically targeted with a specific behavioral question like “Tell me about a time when you were self-aware.”
Instead, it’s a competency that is essential in giving great answers to ALL of the most common interview questions that influence hiring decisions – including questions about strengths and weaknesses, successes and failures, goals and motivations
Here are a few examples of common job interview questions that call for self-awareness:
- Tell me about yourself (knowing what to focus on)
- What makes you stand out from other candidates?
- What are your greatest strengths?
- What is your greatest weakness?
- Tell me about a time when you failed. What did you learn?
- Tell me about a time you received negative feedback.
- How would your previous manager describe you?
- What motivates you?
- What is your leadership style?
- Where do you see yourself in five/ten years?
- Why did you choose your career path?
- Why are you looking for a new position now?
- What are you looking for in your next role?
There is no simple, one-size-fits-all way to answer any of these questions (though there are some guidelines and best practices that you can read in the linked articles). That’s because great answers require self-awareness and an ability to articulate what makes you different.
Interview skills are essential to successful career management. Once you’ve understood your values and preferences and set your goals, you’ll need to sell other people on your abilities.
The Bottom Line
Knowledge is power. Self-awareness is your key to effective career management – and to showing your best self in job interviews.
Increased self-awareness will also help you with other important career management skills like career planning, networking, and resume writing.
Practicing introspection and regularly checking in with yourself about your work values, work preferences, strengths, and weaknesses will empower you to manage your career with a competent self-awareness that will continue to increase your happiness and satisfaction throughout your working life.