Gifts, Talents and Skills

How do you set yourself apart from the hundreds of applicants competing with you for your next dream job?  You may find yourself up against people with more experience or education and more prestigious job titles on their resumes.  Your challenge is to let the interviewer know that you are a special person who brings more to the table than your experience might lead her to believe.  It’s time to talk about talent.

Talent is defined by Merriam Webster online as a special (often creative or artistic) aptitude, general intelligence or mental power.  Simply put, it’s what you’re good at, and most of us don’t talk about our talent enough.  Paul and Sarah Edwards, authors of many books on finding great self employment opportunities, say that “talent is a gift you are born with; a skill is a gift you give yourself.”  You will often see talent and skill used interchangeably, but they measure very different things.  Skill can be built through hard work and practice, but it will always be limited by your talent.  Talent defines how fast you can develop essential skills; it will be what sets the top performers apart from the average employee.

You may be surprised to hear the same ideas applied to everyday jobs. We don’t often talk about talent in human resources, and for good reason.  Talent, unlike skill, is easy to recognize but hard to measure.  It can be even harder to discuss, although it can be a tremendous advantage if you know how to present it in an interview.

We talk about talent all the time in the creative arts, but we seldom address it in an office setting.  Our dictionary definition above gives us several synonyms to consider: aptitude, power or intelligence.  The key to recognizing a talent is that it is something that comes more easily or naturally to you than to others. Think about what people often praise, compliment, or appreciate you for, according to the Edwards.  Is there something people regularly ask you to do for them?  Is there something people say that you are so good at “you should get paid to do it?”  Chances are, that’s one of your talents.

You might be good with numbers; you might be a mechanical whiz.  Do you have a gift for speaking or writing, or are you the best in the office at organizing projects or sketching out designs?   Your gift may come so easily to you that you discount it.  If you’ve ever found yourself saying “Oh, anyone can do this,” or “It’s nothing; these things just come easily to me,” you’re probably overlooking the very talent that makes you special and unique. 

Why does talent matter, and why should you want to talk about it?  Training can only take you so far in a job, especially a complex, knowledge-based job.  At a certain point, the work challenge will exceed your experience and training.  It’s at this point that talent can – and will- make a difference in your performance.  Employers hire degrees, credentials and experience, but they’re really looking for talent.  If you have it, they want it.  And they will pay to keep it.

Still not sure you have any natural gifts that will win you a job?  That’s OK.  Given the choice between having natural talent and building skills, most of us are better off working hard to develop skills.  We have all known people who wasted their natural gifts; they may have lacked the discipline to hone their talents, the fortitude to persist in finding an opportunity to use them, or lacked the confidence to know just how good they were.  Character, dedication, and discipline are as rare as natural talent.  You can win a lot of points with a prospective employer by displaying how your hard work and discipline help you achieve results on the job.

Whether you’re a natural or work hard to become good at what you do, it’s important to strive for excellence and to be able to articulate that you can do the job well. Do good work, and learn to tell a good story.

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