How to Identify Your Strengths and Weaknesses
15 min. read
Updated October 29, 2023
What are you good at?
That’s a question we all want to know about ourselves, as well as the question that occasionally comes after it: What aren’t you good at?
If you don’t know how to answer those questions about yourself, keep reading—I’ll help you come to a better knowledge of yourself.
When I was 14, I discovered a strength I didn’t know I had. My older brother had purchased a home gym, but there was one problem neatly expressed in three words: “Some assembly required.”
After a few hours of working together with very little to show for it, my brother huffed off, cursing under his breath and leaving me alone with the sheet of assembly instructions. Little by little, I worked through each step until later that night, the gym stood ready for action.
That day I learned that I had an ability that my brother didn’t have at the time, and it meant I had something of value to offer.
If you’re thinking about starting a business, identifying your strengths and your weaknesses isn’t just an exercise to make you feel good (or bad) about yourself. It’s a process that will allow you to understand how you can be most effective at what you do, and where you’ll need to improve if you want to be successful.
In this article, I’ll help you identify your strengths and weaknesses. To do so, I’ll walk you through creating some lists, talking to people you trust, taking a personality test, and trying new things.
1. First, create two lists
Before you use any outside sources to help identify your strengths and weaknesses, I’d recommend that you spend about 30 minutes alone creating two lists.
Your first list is going to be centered on your business or entrepreneurship goals. Call it something like, “Skills Needed to Succeed.”
Don’t worry about whether you’ve thought of every possible skill required for your business to succeed. This is meant to be an overview, and is fairly general. Depending on your business, it might list things like, “an understanding of the market,” “business development,” “website development,” or “product expertise.” Once you’ve completed your list, highlight the skills that you already have, and put a star next to the ones you think you’ll need to develop. Then, set this list aside—you’ll come back to it later.
The next list you’re going to create requires you to be completely honest about yourself. You can create two columns, one called “Strengths” and the other called “Weaknesses.”
Depending on your personality, you’ll find one of these columns a lot easier to fill out. I can only encourage you by suggesting that you do your best to be objective. Don’t beat yourself up over what you think are major flaws, and don’t overestimate how great your strengths are. Just write them down, and move on.
You also don’t need to have a comprehensive list of 100 strengths and weaknesses. If you’ve included more than 10-15 items in each column, then you’re probably starting to focus too much on strengths and weaknesses that aren’t that significant.
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Examples of what you might add to this list range from aspects of your character, like “calm under pressure” or “achievement-driven,” to technical skills you may have, like “HTML expertise” or “project management experience.”
The purpose of this list will be to start off with some general ideas that you have about yourself, and then get input from other sources to help you refine your list.
To help you think about what to include in your strengths and weaknesses, try asking yourself questions like:
- What am I good at?
- What have others complimented me about?
- What have others had to help me with on more than one occasion?
- Which projects and tasks seem to drain my energy?
- Which projects have I spent hours on without getting tired?
- What are my hobbies, and why do I like doing them?
After you’ve spent some time honestly assessing your strengths and weaknesses, it’s time to get input from those closest to you: a significant other, your mentor, close friends, or family members.
2. Talk to people you trust
The problem with using a list of strengths and weaknesses that only you’ve completed is that you have a biased opinion of yourself. Most people think too highly of themselves, or too little of themselves.
If you’re like me, then you somehow manage to do both at the same time. We all need some kind of “sounding board” to help us gain clarity and get closer to the truth about ourselves. That’s where other people come in handy.
Try thinking of three to five people whose opinions you trust, and who have had the chance to live or work with you for an extended period of time. You want people who have observed your behavior and character in a number of different situations. For most people, that group will include a significant other, perhaps a mentor or advisor, a best friend, one or more siblings, or your parent(s).
The length of your relationships isn’t the only thing to consider. The most important thing is whether or not you value or trust their opinion of you. Some friends and family members will be too biased—they either think everything you do is amazing, or their opinions have been hurtful and destructive in the past. Carefully select people who have a good track record of being balanced and helpful, even when they’ve needed to tell you something that you didn’t want to hear.
Once you’ve got a group of people selected, reach out to them. You can go out to coffee with each of them, or simply send an email with some questions and ask for their honest feedback.
When you reach out to them, make sure you give some context as to why you’re asking for their opinion. Tell them that you want to start a business, and that in order to be successful, you’re trying to take stock of your strengths and weaknesses. Ask them what it is about you that they think will contribute to your success. Then, ask them to tell you the weaknesses you have that may cause you to fail.
As you receive feedback, start adding more details to your two lists. You’ll start to see that some of the strengths and weaknesses you listed are confirmed by those you trust, while others that you listed aren’t as significant to the people who have spent time with you.
Refine your lists.
3. Take a personality test
In addition to the time you’ve spent thinking about yourself and the opinions you’ve gathered from others, personality tests are another useful resource to help you identify strengths and weaknesses. Here are some of my favorites:
Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI):
The MBTI test is the gold standard for corporate-level personality tests. Several years ago, my previous employer paid for an instructor to administer the tests and coach us through our results (I’m an ENFP, in case you were wondering).
The test measures you within a framework of four areas: energy (introvert versus extrovert), decision-making, taking in information, and approaching the outside world.
DISC Personality Testing
Another highly favored, corporate-level personality test. At another job, I went on a two-day work retreat with my coworkers. Amidst the full schedule of ice-breakers, ropes course excursions, and games, we also discussed which DISC type we were, and how we could best relate to each other (I’m a D/SI, by the way).
Again, there’s a full assessment that you can purchase for $29, or you can try their free assessment.
When I was in college, I was on the executive team of our student government. We were required to read two books that were developed by the Gallup Organization: “First, Break All the Rules” and “Now, Discover Your Strengths” (which has since been republished as StrengthsFinder 2.0).
Included in the books was a code to take the Strengths Finder test, which determines your top five “talent themes” (mine were Achiever, Ideation, Harmony, Learner, and Woo). You’ll need to buy the book—the Kindle ebook is only $10.99—in order to get an access code for the test.
However, out of all these personality tests, the StrengthsFinder test is most geared toward helping you understanding the unique talents you have to offer the world.
How to Fascinate
Most recently, I helped the team at Palo Alto Software complete a new personal assessment test created by Sally Hogshead for her book, “How the World Sees You.” After answering 28 questions, this test will place you in one of 49 possible “Archetypes.”
What makes this test unique is that it approaches the results from an aspect of branding: What makes you unique, and how should you use that to communicate your strengths to others? The results also give you your “dormant” advantage, which is another way of discussing a possible weakness.
Are You Entrepreneur Material?
This one’s more for fun. It’s our new Bplans Quiz, and when you answer seven questions, we’ll tell you whether or not you’re ready to start your own business.
This one’s meant to be light-hearted, but don’t be surprised if it ends up being fairly accurate, and gives you some ideas about how to grow and develop new skills.
Disclaimer: Personality tests are a bit like horoscopes—they’re just general enough that they can apply to as many people as possible. More often than not, your result will be mostly accurate to how you see yourself, while missing the unique details that really make you who you are.
If you can combine the broad strokes of a personality test with the fine details provided by your own self-assessment and input from others, you’ll start to get a pretty good picture of your strengths and your weaknesses. Personality tests are also really useful for giving you some common language and terms to express your strengths and weaknesses.
4. Try new things
One problem with identifying strengths and weaknesses comes when you have a lack of experience. In some cases, you might look at your list of weaknesses and notice that it mostly boils down to “I don’t know, I’ve never tried.” For instance, how do you know if you have an athletic or artistic ability if you’ve never tried to do something athletic or artistic?
I’m a big believer in pushing yourself to grow by doing things you’ve never done before. To be honest, if you’re reluctant to try new things, then here’s your instant personality test result: don’t be an entrepreneur.
However, if you’re interested in trying new things to identify your strengths and weaknesses, here are some groups of experiences that won’t require a lot of time or money:
- Painting/Drawing: Grab a brush, some cheap paints, and some paper (or a canvas), and follow along as you watch a YouTube tutorial video.
- Singing: Maybe you’ve avoided a karaoke bar so far, but push past your fear of embarrassment, and sing some of your favorite songs.
- Dancing: YouTube will come in handy again, as there are thousands of dance tutorial videos. In the privacy of your own home, you can practice again and again until you think you’ve got a dance down.
- Video: We live in an incredibly exciting time where many of us have the basic equipment required to make a video with movie-level quality, right in our pocket. Challenge yourself to create a 15 or 30 second video with one primary objective: get your viewers to have an emotional response.
- Cooking: Follow a recipe in a cookbook, visit Allrecipes, or watch another YouTube video. Make a meal that you’ve enjoyed at a restaurant, but never tried making at home. You might be surprised to find a skill that will save you some money too.
- Standup Comedy: Many cities have open mic nights at comedy clubs. Feeling brave? Try to write a five-minute set of jokes and perform them for complete strangers (pro tip: invite some friends along for moral support).
- Launch your own website: Not sure what it takes to launch a website? Services like Squarespace make it extremely easy to try.
- Google’s Digital Analytics Fundamentals: Take this free online course and learn more about what makes some websites work better than others.
- CodeAcademy: You can learn computer programming absolutely free.
- Investing: There are now apps like Stash that let you start investing with as little as $5.00. Read up on investing, and get your feet wet with small amounts first.
- Your own finances: I’m always surprised by how many people fail to manage their money with a personal budget. YouNeedABudget is great for first-time budgeters who need a lot of instruction on managing their personal cash flow.
- Rock climbing: Most rock climbing centers have reasonable prices, all the necessary equipment, and experts to help you. It’s a great way to spend a couple of hours, and nothing beats the feeling of success when you can ring the bell at the top of the wall.
- Train for a 5K: This might take you a few weeks, but with free Couch to 5K apps and a supportive friend, running in your first 5K race can be a very fun and rewarding challenge.
- Yoga: Whether you get a Groupon deal for hot yoga in your city, or simply throw on a YouTube video (Yoga with Adriene videos are a personal favorite), trying yoga will give you another layer of self-reflection as you pay attention to your body throughout a session.
- Udemy: We’ve recently hand-picked 14 online courses that will help you develop some business knowledge. Most of the courses are as low as $20.
- Coursera: You can also try free online business courses. If Coursera doesn’t have what you’re looking for, you have plenty of other free options: Stanford Online, MIT OpenCourseWare, and EdX.
- The SBA: The U.S. Small Business Administration works with a number of local partners to counsel, mentor, and train small businesses. By introducing yourself, you’ll be connected to a network that is sure to help you gain new experiences directly related to starting a business.
Fair warning: Some of these experiences are going to show you very quickly what you’re not good at.
You might fail, and in some cases, you might fail miserably. But in order to really identify a strength or weakness, you’ll have to push past that initial feeling of failure to learn something valuable about yourself.
Simply trying something new doesn’t mean you’ll automatically identify strengths and weaknesses. You’ll need to be alert when starting something new, and I highly recommend you take some time afterwards to process the new experience you just had.
To help you process, here are some brief questions you can ask yourself to help identify possible strengths and weaknesses:
- Did you enjoy the experience?
- What did you like about it?
- What didn’t you like about it?
- Did it come easy to you, or did you find it difficult?
- Is this something you would want to keep doing and get better at?
- When you encountered difficulty learning or performing the task, what motivated you to continue?
Evaluating your lists
Now that you’ve spent some time identifying your strengths and weaknesses, you can evaluate which ones need some additional attention from you.
Some of your strengths represent the absolute best you have to offer right now. Other strengths may need to be further developed before they can be used to their fullest potential. Finally, some strengths likely won’t be integral to your success.
In your “weaknesses” column, some weaknesses will be glaring. You will need to address them and improve upon them before you’ll be able to succeed. Other weaknesses, like some of your strengths, may simply be irrelevant to your overall business objectives. Finally, some weaknesses may be important, but maybe you’re not the one to overcome them. In order to understand what I mean, we need to talk about opportunity cost.
What is opportunity cost?
Opportunity cost is most often used as an economic term, but it’s a useful concept for considering your weaknesses. The concept is fairly simple: given a set of limited resources, opportunity cost represents what you lose out on when you choose to spend your resources on one alternative over another.
In this case, you have a limited amount of time and money available. Let’s say you have “lack of sales ability,” and “lack of accounting ability” listed in your column of weaknesses. If you focus your time and money on developing the skills necessary to become a better salesperson, is the benefit greater to you than if you were to spend those resources on developing your accounting skills?
If you evaluate those weaknesses, and decide that improving your sales ability is more important, then what are you supposed to do about that accounting weakness? One person’s weakness is another person’s strength. It’s okay that you’re not going to be great at everything. Instead, improve what you can and bring people alongside you who have strengths that balance out your weaknesses.
Many entrepreneurs bring this up as an “aha” moment for them. Entrepreneurs tend to try and do everything by themselves, and quickly burn out. Once they were able to bring in the right people who could do some things better than them, their business was able to become more productive and effective.
I hope you’ve found these suggestions useful as you work to identify your weaknesses and strengths. Is there something else you’d add to my list? I’d love to hear about a time when you discovered a strength you didn’t know you had, or when you identified a weakness and worked to overcome it.