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Identifying Unique Competencies and Passions


Identifying Unique Competencies and Passions

Written by Hannah Chism


What is the importance of knowing who we are? And how does it relate to your career?

Most individuals spend more waking hours working than anything else. Thus, this drives a central need for having a career one actually enjoys. Part of that enjoyment involves competency, as most people are success-oriented and derive gratification from self-efficacy. The other part of enjoying one’s career is passion or interest, as this fosters investment. For many, it seems one or the other is generally the situation either due to life circumstances (albeit education, physical or mental limitations, resources, life roles, etc.), limited self-awareness, low motivation, fear or intimidation, or other inhibiting factors. Often the default is to secure a job one is skilled at, rather than one that is enjoyable, as both may feel/be unattainable. When this occurs, it is crucial to create space for one’s passions and interests outside of one’s occupation (see Self-Care as An Essential Practice).

Thus, it is something to be celebrated when one is able to marry competency with passion in a job, as it is a rare occasion to find both. The most rewarding part of being a career coach and career counselor is helping individuals identify careers that encompass both their passions and competencies. In order to secure a career that embodies one’s strengths and passions requires two primary components: 1) identification of these areas 2) ability to convey one’s transferrable skills, competency, and investment. This article discusses the first component.

So, how do we figure out who the heck we are, as it relates to our careers?

In order to figure out who we are, involves reflecting on one’s identity. This can feel like a massive and overwhelming undertaking, as there is a daunting amount of data (contact a career coach or career counselor for assistance). One’s identity primarily encompasses values, passions, beliefs, interests, experiences, strengths, skills, and personality. For the sake of consistent language, I have categorized these components into two groupings. The first grouping is competency, which consists of skills, strengths, and background experiences. The second grouping is passion, which includes intrinsic motivation, interest, values, and beliefs. One must also consider personality, which can best be understood through reflecting on the roles one plays in various environments. This is important data for determining the type of company culture you would like to join. In order to gain self-awareness within each of these areas one must create space for reflection and take inventory of their life.

Process of Identification

There are several ways of acquiring data about who you are as it relates to your career. One avenue is through formal assessments, albeit personality, skills, or interest inventories. With formal assessments it is important to evaluate their reliability (consistency across time*), validity (accuracy of measurement tool*), and cultural relevance. Moreover, it is imperative to reflect on the results and determine if they feel congruent.

Another route of gathering relevant career data is through informal assessments, such as interviews, lists, or journaling. Again, the purpose of this process is to gather data about your areas of competency and passion. As aforementioned, competency involves strengths, skills, and background experience, while passion includes intrinsic motivation, interest, values, and beliefs. Two strategies for collecting such information can be accomplished through a reflective inventory or a career narrative.

Reflective Inventory

The inventory involves a close reflection of one’s life by asking oneself a series of questions. Some of these questions might include:

Passions, interests, values, and beliefs. Where do you spend your time? What breaks your heart most? When do you feel most alive?

Strengths. What have previous/current supervisors said about you? What have others said they like about you?

Background experiences. Which positive and negative experiences have stood out to you? What have you enjoyed in your previous jobs? What did you dislike in your previous jobs?

Skill sets. What skills have you developed in your professional experience? Which skills are transferrable from personal experiences?

Personality. What role do I play in the office? What role do I play at home? What role do I play in my friend group? Describe yourself in three words.

Career Narrative

A career narrative highlights your career goals by reflecting on how your experiences have informed your career aspirations. The practice of creating a career narrative can inform your career quest. Here is a link with information about creating a narrative. This narrative can be as long or short as it needs to be.

An Abbreviated Career Narrative While I do not often like to discuss myself nor my personal experiences professionally (much less in a blog), it feels pertinent for this article. Thus, below is my career narrative:

I am skilled at working with people. My strengths lie in intentional presence with others and asking insightful questions. I am passionate about people’s stories and communicating verbally and nonverbally that each life matters. I love working with repairing individuals’ stories, as each of us have our bruises. These bruises often impact our present life and inhibit us from living wholeheartedly. My personal background has given me the ability to empathize well with others. I received professional training in counseling in order to become a skilled counselor. I have a professional background in human resources, which has prepared me to guide others well in the career process. I have always played the role in social settings of being an insightful, intentional question-asker and encourager. I embody being a coach and therapist.

I am one of the fortunate few who has found a career that I am both passionate and competent at. I would love to walk alongside you in finding the same.

The End Goal

The point of these exercises is to identify your unique competencies and passions as they relate to your career. The next step involves conveying these areas in order to secure a job that embodies your passions and competencies. As you must know yourself in order to ‘sell’ yourself.

Finding Support Through the Process

Career decisions are often overwhelming. The process of reflecting on one’s competencies and passions is exhausting. It can be daunting to embark on an authentic reflective process as it relates to your career and is often set aside due to competing priorities and limited margin. However, a dissatisfying career greatly impacts one’s mental health and relationships; thus, increasing the importance of finding a satisfying, congruent career. Moreover, often when one does reflect on questions similar to the ones mentioned in the reflective inventory section or drafts a career narrative it can stir unresolved wounds or additional questions. If this occurs, it may be necessary to seek the assistance of a mental health professional to help you process through such emotions or questions. A career coach or career counselor can be helpful at gathering and guiding important data and channeling it into a summative, practical outcome with tangible career options.


*Houser, R. A. (2015). Counseling and educational research: Evaluation and Application, 3rd