Personal Development: Finding Out What you’re Good At

Written by Tom Staunton

What are you good at? If you’re anything like me, it’s easy to talk about what you’ve done or what you know, but genuinely working out what you are good at is pretty hard. I’m not sure if it’s a British attitude that naturally prefers self-deprecating but I’m pretty sure a lot of it comes from the fact that ability can be a bit hard to get hold of us a concept.

The big problem with this is that to successfully manage your career, knowing what you’re good at is vital. Firstly, if you don’t have a clear idea about what to do with your future, your abilities can be as good a place as any to start. This is what I found leaving uni with a History degree under my belt. I didn’t have a profession I particularly wanted to go into; nor did I have something I believed in that I wanted to get behind, but I did have something I thought I was good at – researching stuff.

Secondly, to put it simply, employers want to hire people who can do what they want and in a packed field they’re going to go for the people who can convince them they are best at what they want them to do. It’s one thing knowing what good communication is, but are you good at it, and could you persuade a prospective employer that you’re good at it?

I reckon one way to come up with this sort of information about yourself is to think about what you have been good at in the past. Real life evidence gives us confidence in our opinions about ourselves and makes it easier to persuade a recruiter. This idea underpins a little exercise I use called an SKA story.  It comes in two parts.

Firstly, write down five occasions when you achieved something you’re proud of, or were particularly excited about achieving at the time. Of the five, it’s a good idea to pick at least one example which is extra-curricular, at least one from work/study and one which is at least five years old. It probably works best if you write each occasion on a separate piece of paper, add a short description of the event, if you want.

Secondly, you need to work out how you achieved this. The learning theorist Benjamin Bloom came up with three different types of learning. We can use these to pinpoint what you used to achieve your successes. Bloom’s three types of learning are SKILLS, KNOWLEDGE and ATTITUDES. These can be defined as follows:

SKILLS: These are the abilities we need to perform a task, e.g.: to pass a driving test, you need good observation skills, anticipation, judgement, reactions, etc.

KNOWLEDGE: This is the knowledge that was needed to complete the task, e.g.: to pass a driving test you need to know how a car operates and about the highway code.

ATTITUDES: This is to do with having the emotional and personal facets to do something, e.g.: passing a diving test requires perseverance to learn and calmness in the actual test.

For each of your examples try and list at least three things in each of these categories. Doing this across five examples should begin to build up repeated patterns of what you have used to accomplish your achievements in the past. You should see repeated attributes that you used repeatedly. It may also show you how you’ve developed these facets.

Working through this builds up a bigger picture of who you are, and what you are good at. This bigger picture can be useful for yourself – knowing how you want to develop towards your goals, when writing an application, or in an interview. I find a lot of graduates are stronger on what they know about the outside world of work and the knowledge they have gained from their course, but weaker on what they know about themselves. I think this sort of exercise really helps with this. Why not give it a try?

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photo credit: All in One Training via photopin cc

About the author

Tom Staunton

Tom works as a HE careers adviser, he is particularly interested in how creativity, narratives and digital literacy can be used to support students career progression. You can read his blog and you can follow him on twitter as well at.