InHerSight asked Dana Hundley, cofounder of Career Cooperative, to share how women can know their skills—and use them to advocate for themselves. These are her answers, in her own words. Are you a recruiter with job advice to share? Email our managing editor Beth Castle at firstname.lastname@example.org for consideration.
What’s your elevator pitch?
I am the cofounder of Career Cooperative, an Oakland, California-based boutique consulting firm that empowers clients to face career transitions, professional growth, and recruiting with confidence. I’ve learned a lot through the transitions in my own career and decided to combine all of that experience into what I love to do: coach candidates and companies to make connections and build their brands. It's why, with my amazing business partner, I started Career Cooperative—to connect with my community, connect job seekers and those in career transitions to an empowering “aha” moment, and connect companies to the power of employer branding and impactful recruiting and interview strategies.
At any point in your career, you might get glimpses of what your talents are, but how can you know for sure what makes you shine?
Pay attention to when you feel best about the work you’ve done. It’s so important throughout your career journey to check in with yourself often and think about what’s working and what’s not. After a big project, do you want to go back for more, or are you ready for something new? Doing work that lights you up is always going to make you shine.
Also pay attention to the way your work affects others. The simplest way to take notice is when you get praise, when you have a good review, when a client has been especially happy; take the time to ask why, and reflect on how that makes you feel. You can also pay attention to when your team has found their groove—how have you contributed?
I am also a fan and advocate of just simply asking. While it may feel like you are just fishing for a compliment, having a frank conversation with someone you’ve worked with about what they value about you and your work, or where they think your strengths lie is super insightful. Use discretion in asking; you shouldn’t broach this with just anyone. You should ask people you’ve worked with, who you respect and have a good relationship with, so they can actually make that assessment.
What about skills assessments like Myers-Briggs and StrengthsFinder—do those matter?
I personally have a lot of fun with these. Just like paying attention to the work that lights you up, the more you know yourself and the way you tick, the more empowered you are to see your strengths.
We all have different levels of awareness. Some people can be more in tune with their personalities and strengths without the use of skills assessments. Regardless, having a framework to understand yourself and actually creating space to look inward and reflect is incredibly helpful in identifying your strengths and hidden talents and helping you shape a path toward fulfilling work.
That type of self-awareness, and this is where I have found these types of personality/skill assessments really helpful, also can give you context for some of the areas where you are not so strong. And that is okay, too. Part of identifying your strengths and what ultimately lights you up at work is accepting and letting go of the stuff that doesn’t work for you.
These skill assessments can also be really helpful in connecting to your team, especially when it comes to communication and soft skills. Imagine having insight into your manager’s personality traits that affect their communication style and being able to share yours so you can more effectively communicate with each other, including in how you advocate for yourself!
Culturally, women are told early on to remain modest, not to boast. Women can actually face ridicule or backlash if we vocalize our accomplishments. How can women showcase their skills without getting dinged for, well, being a woman?
We need a larger culture shift to stop censoring ourselves, and that’s really hard, which is why community is so important. When you surround yourself with women who are advocating for themselves, talk about their accomplishments, and who support your growth, it’s inspiring. That’s how we create a new norm.
It’s also important to support your colleagues and peers by providing feedback and praise in the workplace—either through structured reviews, taking the time to shout out a colleague in a meeting, or sending an email to their manager with kudos.
In an interview setting, it’s obviously really important to speak to your strengths and accomplishments, but it’s not always easy to practice. There have been so many times when I have interviewed candidates who never give a clear sense of what they actually did in a past role because they speak in “we’s” and generalizations, which I totally get. In my first job out of college at a PR firm, it was drilled in my head to always say “we” instead of “I” in front of the client. There are times where that practice makes sense, but not always, and especially not in an interview. We have to own our work, and speaking in “I’s” and being super clear about your role, responsibilities, and impact is crucial to advocating for yourself. It’s not boastful to take credit where credit is due.
Another added bonus to creating that framework of knowing yourself and your strengths is the confidence that comes with self-awareness, which you can carry into advocating for yourself.