How to identify your job strengths to make a career change

Do you feel stuck in a job that makes you unhappy? “The Art of Living Dangerously” author Jennifer Murphy says the first step to determining your perfect job match is knowing what makes you tick.

How to identify your job strengths to make a career change

Use Your Strengths To Achieve Job Satisfaction

Ever had a job—maybe even your current one—where you felt like a square peg trying to squeeze yourself into a round hole?

Jennifer Murphy has been there. After a decade as an Army officer, Murphy earned an MBA and snagged a series of plum senior management positions at huge global corporations. You know, the type of jobs everyone would be happy to have…right?

Unfortunately, job satisfaction isn’t one-size-fits-all. And in Murphy’s case, these high-level, dream-worthy jobs made her absolutely miserable.

“I felt trapped,” she recalls. “I had created a lifestyle for myself that demanded a big salary, so I felt I couldn’t step off the treadmill, even though I didn’t want to be there.” 

Her book, The Art of Living Dangerously: The Rebels’ Guide to Thriving in a World that Expects You to Conform, explains how she discovered her true calling and made a career change—and how you can, too.

Since starting her coaching firm, No Limits Life Empowerment Institute, in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, in 2012, Murphy has counseled hundreds of people who are unhappy in their careers because they aren’t using their talents to do work that challenges and excites them.

“When you don’t like your job, you then tend to think about how much you don’t like it everywhere else you go,” she writes. Not only is this highly stressful and hard on your health, but “your friends don’t want to hang [with you] because all you do is bitch about your boss or co-workers, and you can’t relax enough to enjoy your personal time.”

Monster recently spoke with Murphy about identifying your strengths and using them to bolster your search for meaningful work.

Q. Why is it so important to know what our strengths are?

A. It’s the difference between thriving and just surviving. Tapping into what you’re good at makes you happy to go to work every morning. If one of your biggest strengths is connecting with other people, for instance, a job that isolates you in a corner is not a situation where you’ll do your best work. Yet, so many people find themselves settling, as I did, for a role that’s just not right for them.

I recommend using the University of Pennsylvania’s Positive Psychology Center’s strengths-assessment tool (called the VIA Survey of Character Strengths), which anyone can take online for free. It ranks 24 strengths we all possess, in varying degrees, and tells you which ones are “most present” and “least present” in you. You can use that information, along with feedback from bosses and colleagues who know you well, to pinpoint the kind of work that’ll make you thrive.

Q. What if your perfect job means taking a big pay cut?

A. Been there! And so many of my coaching clients are in that boat, too. First, once you know your strengths, do some strategic, big-picture thinking, and ask yourself: What kind of life would I want if I could start over tomorrow? What kinds of experiences do I want, and what kind of people would I surround myself with? What would I like to create and be remembered for? Get really clear on that, or you could find yourself taking a job you’ll like even less than your current one.

Then, it’s OK to start small! If you are looking at taking a pay cut, at least in the short run, figure out how much money you really absolutely need. When I left my last big corporate job, my then-husband and I started with small cutbacks in spending, like downgrading our cable TV plan and driving less. Start small, but start tomorrow—don’t put it off.

By the same token, you don’t need to make a big dramatic leap right away. Try “shadowing” someone for a day or two who has the kind of job you think you want. You may love it even more than you thought—or you may discover you just liked the idea of it, rather than the reality.

Q. What specific advice do you give your coaching clients who are job hunting?

A. The most successful job hunters approach the whole search as a learning experience. After each interview, ask for candid feedback from the interviewer, and write down what you learn from that—especially if you don’t get a job offer. What can you do differently next time? What do you just need to let go of?

Don’t forget to make a note of what you did well and what went right, too. Job hunting is hard on the ego, particularly if you’re moving beyond your previous experience and your comfort zone into something different. In doing that, you’ve put yourself out there. You’ve allowed yourself to be vulnerable, and that’s not easy—so give yourself the credit you deserve.

Strengthen your job search

Now that you’ve determined what your strengths are, your next step is to join Monster. As a member, you can upload your resume (that you updated with your newly discovered strengths) and receive alerts for jobs that are better suited to your talents and interests.


Anne Fisher has been writing about career and workplace trends and topics since 1996. She is the author of If My Career’s on the Fast Track, Where Do I Get a Road Map?