If you’re heading to an interview or an appraisal you may be asked to talk about your strengths, but many people are confused about the difference between strengths and skills. That’s because it IS confusing: people all over the internet are defining skills, clarifying strengths, underlining the differences and at the same time using them synonymously.
Skills are often described as something you learn how to do through repetition for which there is a best practice or a set way of doing something like coding in a given language or swimming a specific stroke. Strengths, on the other hand, are defined as things we are naturally good at and didn’t really have to learn, or softer, rather more intangible character traits, such as social intelligence, courage, honesty and curiosity. However, the latter examples are frequently referred to specifically as ‘personal’ strengths. Unlike skills and other strengths these are difficult, if not impossible, to measure objectively, but they are important and should be included in your full list of strengths.
So personal strengths aside it’s the ‘other’ strengths that cause the most confusion; the ‘naturally good at’ strengths. Take languages as an example: the ability to speak French may be a skill, but the ability to learn languages relatively easily is a strength; someone that presents well could be considered to have good presentation skills, but many may say presenting is one of their strengths. What about something you didn’t know how to do a year ago that after some training you’ve found yourself to be particularly good at? Sometimes the difference between the two seems a very blurred semantic line.
However, the new focus on strengths in strengths-based interviews may shed some light on what we all really mean when we talk about a strength.
Competency-based interviews, which could be called skills-based interviews, ask what you can do and what you have done; strengths-based interviews ask what you are good at and what you enjoy doing. That enjoyment combined with proficiency is what gives you the energy and flow that strengths-based interview questions are really seeking to discover in a candidate.
If we start from a point where every ability, in which competence can be objectively measured (so that excludes personal strengths), that adds value is a skill then every skill that we know we are good at and we enjoy is a strength.
Skills vs strengths: it doesn’t have to be complicated; it’s just a matter of asking yourself “am I good at this, do I enjoy it and does it add value?”
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