Your Point of Difference is Your Strength

John Watters, Executive Officer – AusSIP

Quite frequently we focus on our differences as being a weakness. However, if we move the kaleidoscope ever so slightly, our point of difference could very well be our greatest strengths.

By default, people generally wish to be accepted by their peers. In social settings, peers are often chosen by default based upon like interests and pastimes. In work and educational environments, peers are often grouped by factors beyond the individuals control. Becoming ‘part of the team’ can override individual talents and directions. Such notions have been re-enforced through a plethora of conducted surveys both in HR circles and the vast majority of boards.

When HR professionals are interviewed regarding qualities or attributes they are looking for in candidates, frequent responses indicate initiative, self-efficacy, problem solving skills, calculated risk taking and sound communication to be imperative. Peering at the media landscape, leaders must also demonstrate the ability to be think, argue and speak on their feet as the moment arises.

The most charismatic leaders most likely demonstrate skills and attributes that the majority of people do not possess but nonetheless desire. It is most likely, those same people were told by a range of people that the very skill that sets them apart is their weakness or something they should work on. Many of the greatest orators were told that they couldn’t be quiet. Some of the greatest IT advancements have been made by people who didn’t finish university because they were too distracted by gadgets.

Your point of difference is what makes you, you. It differentiates you from others and is most likely your natural default in both your personal and professional lives. It is also this difference that can assist in career and employment planning. For example, a person who loves to talk about anyone or anything, is probably not the best psychologist; someone who only likes to work outside and cannot sit for too long, is probably not the best tax auditor; and someone who only likes working with adults, is probably not the best primary school teacher.

Against this backdrop, how many people or examples do we know of where there are obvious mismatches? How often are students chastised for their differences? How often are people placed in a new role under a ‘restructure’ whereby the new position is at complete odds?

The greatest movement in the labour market generally occurs in the period after the Christmas break. With most people taking some sort of break as well as thinking if not wishfully dreaming of new year resolutions and decisions, reflective thoughts often centre around the mismatch between their current and future positions. Interestingly, marketers have also picked up on this trend with a multitude of advertisements encouraging people to upskill in areas they are more akin to. In reality, such ads are encouraging people to follow their true strengths.

While the world does not and should not revolve around the whims of individuals, too often we fail to see in ourselves traits that are desirable to others. For young people who have little employment and career experience and direction, this challenge is greater. When I was a student, I had the opportunity to undertake work experience with a legal firm. My understanding of the law profession was largely shaped by television and what I thought law was about; arguing and evidence. When I was confronted with mounds of legal briefs to read through, the luster of what I had thought and what reality was, clashed. When a barrister, whom I had been shadowing for a couple of days, told me that for every hour he spent in court, he spent ten hours in research, that was enough for me to change my career trajectory.

What gains you the most attention, whether positive or negative, is most likely your greatest point of difference and preferred mode of operation. If you can’t be quiet, try public speaking or sales. If you can’t sit still, try following a career in outdoor activities. If you can’t take work a 9-5 work week, try seasonal or shift work. If you can’t make your mind up, try your own way.

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