By Marianne Curphey Students How to identify your strengths and weaknesses 24 Oct 2022 In our careers as accountants, all of us have blind spots that we need to work on and skills and qualities that make us remarkable but that we take for granted. Here’s how to develop yourself in the areas where you lack confidence or experience and how to draw on your unique talents to power your career onward and upwards. Discover your potential “When you can identify what you are good at and what comes naturally to you and overcome the things that hold you back, it’s a game changer,” says Marian Evans, an Entrepreneur, Business Coach and Founder of ElevateBC. “The equation I always use with clients is performance equals potential minus interference,” she explains. “We often underestimate our potential.” First of all, work on identifying those key strengths that you have a flair for and that come naturally to you. A useful exercise is asking others what they think you are strong at so you can identify key strengths. She defines an “interference” as something that holds us back – such as self-doubt, lack of confidence or a skills gap. Once you are aware of this, you can put an action plan together to help you overcome these issues. New skills are a journey, not a destination Sharath Jeevan is the author of Intrinsic and the Founder and Executive Chairman of Intrinsic Labs. “The definition of Mastery is about being the best version of yourself you can be,” he says. “It’s not about judging yourself. Try and find motivation from getting better, and realise that there are always areas that we can grow in.” He suggests that rather than see an area as a deficit, try to see it as a growth or learning opportunity and take the first small step. “For example, suppose you are nervous about public speaking. Perhaps you could do a five-minute summary of the discussion at the end of your next group meeting. During the meeting, you could perhaps present a small section of the discussion. And so on… The key is to see Mastery as a journey, not a destination.” He also advises getting used to learning new skills because that develops a powerful “muscle” of lifelong learning that will help you as you move through your career. Be prepared to adapt and evolve Whether you’re in the market for a new role or considering a career change, it can be helpful to take stock or conduct a personal audit of your strengths and identify any weaker areas you can improve upon, says Mandy Watson, Managing Director of Ambitions Personnel. “One thing is for certain in finance: change is a constant, and it’s important to recognise the need to adapt and evolve,” she says. “In these rapidly changing times, skills such as adaptability and communication are really valuable to employers.” Having a weak area isn’t a problem – not recognising it or not being prepared to do anything about it is. “If you have a strong sense of what makes you, you, then you’re more likely to be able to express yourself with confidence when it comes to job interviews, asking for promotions and when dealing with clients,” she says. Use your strengths to harness your energy and drive Strengths energize us and enable us to perform at our peak, in both good times and during challenging times, says Liz Sebag Montefiore, director and co-founder of 10Eighty and a career and executive coach. “When managers’ strengths spot in their people and take time to recognise and develop these strengths, their teams are more likely to go the extra mile as they feel happier, more fulfilled and productive,” she says. She says there are a number of ways to understand your strengths, including: Work preferences: The type of work you prioritise and actively seek out will provide clues as to your strengths Persistence and tenacity: You are more likely to show focus and determination in areas of strengthPositive emotions: You will be energized when doing work that plays to your strengthsContinued success: You are likely to achieve repeated success when performing an activity using a strengthFast learning: You will find it easier and, therefore, quicker to learn new things when playing to your strengths Learn from the experts Consider what your job might look like in the future. Are you prepared for how it might evolve? If not, this is your chance to bolster those unique talents, so you are prepared for your career direction. “If you look at the top Chief Financial Officers and why they’ve got to where they are, you will often find it is their human skills that make the difference,” says Lewis Maleh, Executive recruitment expert and CEO and Founder of Bentley Lewis. “Whilst developing your experience is important, investing in your human skills will go a long way in furthering your career.” He says that in the future of work, human skills or “soft skills” are becoming more and more important. Unfortunately, much of the feedback you receive from line managers and job interviews tends to focus on “how you can improve” or “what you failed to demonstrate”. While this has its place, we tend to remember negative feedback or a scathing comment long after the event. Instead, he recommends you focus on what you can do well. “Now more than ever, with the relentless pace of change, and uncertainty of how the world of work is shaping up, we must think clearly and focus on our strengths,” he says. “If we want to perform to the best of our abilities and do the best job we can, don’t dwell too much on the criticism and negative feedback.” Be proactive and prepared to innovate The accountant of the future will need to hone their communication and strategy skills in order to offer clients an enhanced service, says Matt Lewns, Partner Manager at accounting software developer iplicit. After a degree in Accounting and Finance at Plymouth University, he qualified with the Chartered Institute of Management Accountants in 2017 while running the finance function at School Business Services, a global provider of education products and support. accounting software developer. In 2018 he joined Mazars UK, becoming a Financial Outsourcing Manager a year later. “With the technology readily available to businesses of all sizes, any practice can provide transactional services to clients,” he says. “What differentiates one practice from another is the services they can provide beyond this – the ‘value add’. “Practices are now seeing the value in advisory services more than ever before as the day-to-day activities become more and more automated through the use of software and technology – ‘if you think like a robot, you will be replaced by one’.” He explains that accountants now need to position themselves as their clients’ trusted business advisers, helping them to grow and achieve their objectives – whether that is scaling to exit within a certain time frame, or helping them to expand into new and emerging markets. In this scenario, using soft skills has become more important for accountants. He suggests you consider the following questions to identify areas you may need to develop: Are you able to communicate confidently and effectively with your client base?Can you build relationships?Can you leverage your internal and external network to deliver the ultimate service to your client base?Can you identify opportunities and requirements as and when they arise?What valued services beyond the statutory requirements are you providing for your clients? Focus on success, not failure “The trouble with humans is that we have evolved under a survival blueprint, worrying about all the things that could go wrong, from back when we were hunter gatherers,” says Ollie Ollerton, motivational speaker, Founder of BreakPoint, which delivers a range of corporate and individual training programmes, and a former Special Forces operative. “It means we’re wired in today’s society to look for things to go wrong and focus on them when they do. That means that out of ten situations, when we get nine wins and one failure, we focus on the failure. That negativity doesn’t allow us to move forwards.” He suggests we reframe failure and the way we use it. “If you’re never willing to risk failure because you’re scared of it, you’re never going to learn and you’re never going to grow. But if we’re willing to step into short term discomfort, we can gain confidence through experiences; good ones and bad ones.” Another powerful way to build confidence is by debriefing when things go wrong – an absolutely crucial process in the Special Forces. ‘Plan, Brief, Deliver, Debrief’ is the military adage and it boils down to ensuring there is a process for every scenario. “I can’t get my head around people in the corporate world not running debriefs; it means you don’t just move onto the next mission without learning what worked or what didn’t,” he says. “Debriefs encourage improvement; they allow staff to be involved in decisions, empowering them with responsibility, teaching them to be self-critical and to learn from mistakes. For the individual, exploring why something hasn’t worked and how you’ll tackle it differently gives you reassurance that you’re more likely to succeed at the next attempt.” Ask for feedback Asking for feedback is a powerful tool, says Jeremy Kourdi, a business writer, executive coach, consultant and Director with Kourdi Associates. You can develop insight and self-awareness or self through a 360 appraisal or a psychometric test, or by chatting with a friend or colleague about how they see your strengths and weaknesses. Another effective approach is to use a coach or to self-coach using questions such as: How is this going to play out? Where are we now? What’s going to help me get through this? What do I need to do? What attitudes do I need to have? It is also important to think about the effect you have on others through your behaviour and how that might affect your workplace relationships, he says. Further reading: Which accountancy role is right for you?The skills employers want – and how to get themCareer profiles from AAT Marianne Curphey is an award-winning financial writer and columnist, and author of the book How Money Works. She worked as City Editor at The Guardian, deputy editor of Guardian online, and has worked for The Times, Telegraph and BBC.