When you hear about a top performer, you might think of someone who is good at a specific skill. For example, Michael Phelps was the top swimmer in the world. That made him better than approximately 99.9999999999% of the population. Not bad.

We don't need to be the top performer in the world to be successful. But as we grow in our careers, we would like to stand out in the crowd.

When interviewing, we sometimes talk about branding. What is your brand? What is the special label you'd like to put on yourself when hunting for your next position?

Let's say that you'd like to have a brand name for yourself as a top software engineer. You want to stand out in the crowd as one of the very best engineers.

There are 4 million software engineers in the US. You would need to be absolutely outstanding for anyone to know of you as an excellent engineer.

Instead, what if you were known for your unique combination of skills, rather than a single skill?

For example, imagine that you're a good engineer, built some VR software, did mobile development, and helped build a video game engine at a previous job. You're competent, but not particularly awesome.

Instead of trying to stand out among 4 million engineers, you've specialized. If a startup wants to hire someone to help build their mobile metaverse game software (not actually unlikely), they'll be looking for a software engineer with mobile, VR, and gaming experience.

Out of the 4 million software engineers in the US, you're a rare bird. If they stumbled across your resume, they'd be thrilled. In this unique space, you'd be considered very attractive. This would be due to the breadth, rather than your depth, of experience.

There are plenty of highly skilled people who are successful due to the depth of their experience. However, for us normal mortals, I think breadth of experience is what drives our success.

When we talk about using our strengths, we mean recognizing those niche things you do well, and figuring out how to leverage your strengths to be a top performer in your field.

Strengths vs weaknesses.

I wanted to first explain why I think it's important you focus on your strengths, not your weaknesses.

When coaching people, I often run into clients who are obsessed with their weaknesses.

"I'm pretty bad at writing, can I get a job at Amazon?"
"What about my educational background, I didn't go to a top school."

Businesses don't hire you for your lack of weaknesses, they hire you for your strengths. Your strengths are what enable you to be successful.

If you're a bottom 10% writer, it would be silly to ask you to write. If you worked hard, and got yourself up to the middle 50% writer, it would still be silly to expect you to write as your primary job.

Mitigating your inability to write does open the doors to positions which require the skill as one of many. Getting to “not terrible” is then a good idea.

However, more essential is that you find a job in which you have strengths you can leverage. If you have the right strengths, we can all figure out how to work around your weaknesses.

My 7-year-old, learning to snorkel :) Building skills! If only she can figure out how to be paid for this.