Career decisions mapped to the heart’s desire and your natural strengths

Ben Mallinson
Ascent Publication
Published in
7 min readApr 5, 2018
Image by Mihajlo Elakovic

It can be challenging to know where to start when considering a significant transition in life, and career transitions are no exception.

Part of the difficulty in making important career decisions is underpinned by:

1. not mapping career goals to what makes you happy, and to what you are naturally good at doing

2. not knowing what your personal and professional strengths really are.

I have taken on jobs in the past where I didn’t put much thought into these two things. With other career decisions — I did.

In my experience, investing the time in nailing these points — mapping your goals to what you are good at doing, not just what you would like to be good at, and knowing your strengths — pays dividends in developing your career with a sense of focus and confidence.

Tell me about your strengths

In job interviews the generic ‘Tell me about your strengths’ request is one that many people seem to struggle with. Perhaps second only to ‘Tell me about your weaknesses’ — or worse yet — ‘Can you tell me what your colleagues would consider to be your biggest weakness?’

I can recall one interview where I was asked that particular question, and boy did it knock me for six!

I think that one of the key reasons people find it confronting to tell others about their strengths is due to a misplaced sense of modesty; thinking that knowing your strengths and how they can be put to good use in a certain role somehow equates to being an arrogant upstart.

Ultimately, this view doesn’t really serve anyone. It won’t expand your career prospects, and it certainly won’t help a prospective employer to gain a better understanding of why they should invest in you.

So let’s cast aside modesty and meekness, and get on with the task of better understanding what you have to offer.

During a stint of time working as an executive assistant and project coordinator for a top management consulting firm, I came to realise that although I liked the organisation, I was not a natural fit for the role. My strengths were being under-utilised.

I hadn’t thought long enough about how compatible I was for the role before taking that job. The company seemed to be so vibrant, and I got swept up in that instead of focusing on alignment (or misalignment) of my strengths to the opportunity.

What is it that you are doing when you feel happy?

Once I came to the decision to move on to another opportunity, I started researching my options and reaching out to anyone I thought could help me figure out my next step.

I am a big believer in the value of learning from people who can provide you with a different perspective. It is amazing the things you can learn when you are bold enough to ask people for advice.

During a coaching session with a mentor, she asked me:

“Ben, what is it that brings you the most happiness?

What is it that you are doing when you feel happy?”

I paused for a few moments, realising this wasn’t something I thought about often enough.

Then I said something along the lines of:

‘I am happiest when I am with people…

Facilitating them to connect with others or to learn something new, whether it be about themselves or something else.’

This simple question changed the way I thought about my career path.

Stripping things back to what makes me happy, in the simplest sense, was a powerful starting point for making my next career move.

It led naturally to other pertinent questions.

What are the skills and attributes I naturally demonstrate when I am in my element?

(Cheerfulness, empathy, facilitating purposeful discussion, building rapport, rallying people around an idea, organising).

What are the things I really care about?

(Striving for a more inclusive, fair and just society, community, not leaving those that are most disadvantaged behind).

My job search led me into a role that I love; leading the learning and development portfolio for a government reform project that enhances safety and protections for health and human services clients.

Embrace the journey you are on

Some other questions you might like to think about as part of your job search are:

· What about your current role do you value and would like to continue doing more of in your next role?

· What would you do differently if you had the opportunity again?

· What would you like to leave behind?

It’s important to acknowledge and embrace the journey you are on — where you’ve come from and where you are heading, your successes and your mistakes, the good decisions and the bad ones.

These things are what make you who you are.

Getting clarity on the answers to these questions will provide you with a framework to help identify just what it is you are looking for in your next opportunity.

Whether it be formally (advertised jobs, attending an interview) or informally (analysing job descriptions, looking at company websites, graduate information sessions, reaching out to people in your professional network for a chat, etc.)

Mapping your career goals

If you are thinking about making a career change, try to identify three different job roles and three types of organisations or sectors you would like to work in.

Then conduct some high level research into these job roles. This could be through looking at job ads, speaking with people working in the sector, etc.

Based on your research, formulate a rough set of criteria for what a competitive candidate for each of those roles might look like (soft skills/personal attributes, technical skills, qualifications).

Pay attention to the jobs that rouse excitement in you because that is where most of your energy should be invested — after all, people tend to excel at things they enjoy doing.

Of the job options you identify you may well find there is one role that particularly resonates with you and decide to focus your job search on that exclusively. That’s fine — just be aware of the risks of putting all your metaphorical job seeking eggs into the one basket.

Be careful not to rely on only one source of information.

Just because one company places a strong emphasis on one criteria, a particular qualification or a minimum amount of experience for example, doesn’t mean that another company recruiting for a similar role will share the same expectations. Be deliberately broad.

Once you’ve established the criteria for each of the roles that interest you, then identify where you currently sit against that.

If you meet 60–80% of the criteria then you should be going full guns blazing, applying for those roles.

Only 60–80% you say? Yes!!

It is rare that a candidate will meet all of the criteria on an employer’s wish list for filling a vacancy.

There are some roles that are an exception to this, where a particular qualification or set of expertise are mandatory rather than desired . For example, it is mandatory in most TAFEs in Australia that even if an aspiring tutor is an expert in a particular subject area they must first attain the Certificate IV in Training and Assessment qualification in order to be able to teach that subject.

But when it comes to most other roles, if you meet a majority of the criteria then you will be a competitive prospect to consider for that opportunity.

If you fall below the 60–80% threshold then establish an interim goal as a stepping stone to the long term career goal. This could be a more junior role or a different role altogether, but in a relevant professional environment to gain experience and exposure, undertake study or whatever the next step may be to get to where you want to go.

When mapping your career goals:

· Map your goals to what you are good at doing, not just what you would like to be good at.

· Don't be afraid to reach out to others to help you figure out your next step.

· If you meet 60–80% of the criteria for a job role you like the sound of then you should submit an application.

Remember to ask yourself these questions when thinking about a career move:

· What is it that you are doing when you feel happy?

· What are the skills and attributes you naturally demonstrate when you are in your element?

· What are the things you really care about?

· What about your current role do you value and would like to continue doing more of in your next role?

· What would do differently if you had the opportunity again?

Mapping your career goals to what makes you happy and to your natural strengths will increase your hit rate as you pursue opportunities.

What’s more, it will also enable you to progress down your job seeking path with clarity of purpose, and perhaps even a little bit of swagger!

Good luck out there.