After being somewhat clueless and feeling somewhat but not super successful for the early part of my professional life, I finally found my professional passion about 6 years ago. Luckily, it happened to intersect with my sweet spot–what I’m great at. But the only reason I can or would use the terms “sweet spot” or “great,” about myself is because that’s what a dozen or so of my clients and colleagues told me during a “listening tour” I did 6 summers ago.

I asked them a simple question (try it sometime):

“Hey, I know I’m good at a bunch of things, but is there something you think I’m great at?”

(See the answer I received at the bottom of this post.)

What’s your sweet spot? Don’t assume it…ask!

When people are referred to me to discuss their next career opportunity, I ask them, “What’s your sweet spot? What are you great at?” This helps me position them relative to opportunities I may come across in my travels. If I only ask “what did you do at your last job,” “what skills do you have,” and “what industries are you looking at?” I won’t really get a sense of the value they have added or can add.

When they tell me their sweet spot, I then ask: “How do you know that?” They typically don’t have a great answer. My sense is that it is based on their own sense of themselves: an informal inventory of successes (and perhaps failures) they’ve had, combined with what they like to do. In other words, their answer is completely biased by their own perspective.

Others reply to the “sweet spot” question by saying they don’t really know. Sometimes they’re a bit down about that–as though they feel guilty about not knowing the answer. Some have trouble answering altogether and give rambling answers with three or more job functions they’ve performed or they say they’re like a Swiss Army Knife–a flexible and multi-talented generalist.

But matter how they answer, I always recommend that they go out and ask people in their network–trusted colleagues, clients, mentors and vendors–the same question I asked about myself:

“Hey, I know I’m good at a bunch of things, but is there something you think I’m great at?”

The outside, independent perspective you get will be priceless. Hopefully you will get you some consistent answers about what you’re great at so you can draw conclusions. You might be surprised at what they think you’re great at vs. what you thought. Plus, just asking them the question will make a positive impression, showing them you want to listen and learn.

Once you get the answers, map them against what you enjoy about your profession. How do others’ perceptions of you overlay with what you really like to do? The overlap of what people say you’re great at and what you most enjoy or get satisfaction from is your sweet spot.

Having the answer to the “sweet spot” question will give you a strong foundation to work from when looking for your next opportunity. Rather than saying, “I think my sweet spot is…” you can now confidently say, “Here’s what people have told me I’m great at,” and give examples to support your answer. Explain how you came to really enjoy that type of work. Tell them you get these insights from doing your own personal listening tour–that’ll blow their minds!

Is there risk in asking people this question?

Sure. Although you’re asking people you know and trust, some may still hedge when they answer, leaving you feeling let down. And others might not give you the answer you “wanted” or expected. That happened to me: there were a few things I thought I was great at that they didn’t mention. Oh well, better to take a risk by asking the question and finding out the truth rather than being clueless.

There’s a huge lesson here for companies, not just individuals.

Companies should never guess or assume what they’re great at based solely on internal dialogues or brainstorming sessions. CEOs, CMOs and others insisting on and lead a more introspective approach that brings in the market’s perspective. Otherwise you risk talking to yourselves and talking past the market.

I’ve worked with and mentored dozens of CEOs and companies on listening to customers and prospects to improve their marketing and sale outreach. In every case, the customer insights were surprising. Customers revealed non-obvious pain points and preferences (I call them Elevator Rants) that companies had not focused on. By learning and embracing these Rants, my clients were able to stop talking past their customers and prospects in marketing-speak and start being more relevant and engaging in their marketing and sales strategies. See examples here.

Happy listening!

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What did people say I’m great at during my listening tour?

The overwhelming majority of people I asked gave a two-fold answer: (a) engaging with a business at a deeper level and forcing them (in a nice way) to look at things from their target audience’ perspective to learn what that audience really thinks and needs; and (b) translating those insights (I call it them Elevator Rants) into hyper-relevant and laser-focused strategies that create competitive advantage. And this is what I love to do–ask my clients’ customers what really matters to them and then create marketing strategies that address those points.

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