Making More Money By Playing to Your Strengths

I’ve been doing college counseling off-and-on for several years now, helping high-schoolers and parents navigate the difficult applications process. I recently met with the family of a high school freshman who asked a very common question: what is more important – being really well rounded or having a few key strengths?

Well, having both is obviously the best option – but if something has to give, I always tell people to play to their strengths.

Why? It’s simple – we live in a world that rewards specialization. No one is good at everything, and colleges (and future employers) will recognize that.

Instead, make an effort to show that you are really good at a few things. Paint a picture of why you stand out from the crowd. Highlight your passion and your strengths; it is better to be top-tier at something rather than being a jack-of-all-trades.

When I applied to colleges, I knew that my academics were not my selling point. I wasn’t a BAD student, but there’s no way that I could convince top-tier schools that they should let me in on my grades alone.

So I took a different strategy. I focused on my many leadership experiences, painting a picture of an aspiring visionary who could develop his management skills with the right mentorship. This helped the schools answer two important questions: first of all, how will this student contribute to the community, and secondly, how might he represent us as an alumnus?

So how does this help me make more money?

More than ever, employees want to know how you can contribute value right off the bat. In a tough economy, they want a quick return on investment. They don’t want to speak years training you, only to see you pack up and leave for a better opportunity. Being able to demonstrate immediate value through your strengths will allow you to command higher salaries and greater job security.

Take for example my friend Eric, who works for a financial software company in Chicago. Eric freely admits that he is not what you would call a “people person.” He knew that he didn’t like the idea of management, but he still wanted to make money.

With this goal in mind, he leveraged his strengths in mathematics and computer science to become an expert on designing market-making financial platform. This unique skill set landed him an extremely lucrative job and a clear path going forward.

The principle of specialization and emphasizing your strengths is even more important in entrepreneurship. Ramit Sethi , the author of bestselling book “I Will Teach You To Be Rich.” Ramit is a complete genius when it comes to marketing and public relations. He is very effective at communicating difficult concepts in a fun and accessible way, and the sales of his book reflect this.

I’ve heard that Ramit spends up to 18 hours per blog post – that doesn’t leave a whole lot of time for other business ventures, but he’s making a great living by investing in his strongest talents.

Ok, so playing to your strengths is obviously important, but how do you figure out what they are? It isn’t always easy to figure out, and it’s even harder improving in an area where you are already strong. Here’s a three step process to help you identify and turn your strengths into serious rewards.

Step 1: Learning

The first step is learning about the different types of intelligence. Many people that being smart is all about having a high IQ or doing well on school. But twenty-five years ago, researcher Howard Gardner came up with the theory that there are many different kinds of “smarts.” Understanding these will help you know where you are strong and where you need to improve.

-  Bodily-Kinesthetic: This is also known as “physical intelligence.” If you are really good at sports, you probably rank highly in this area. If the idea of running and catching things makes you feel sick, this is probably not your strongest area.

-  Interpersonal: This type of intelligence allows you to better understand other people: their emotions, motivations, desires, and intentions. Many good salespeople have very high interpersonal intelligence.

-  Visual-Spatial: People who are strong in this area tend to be good with directions and at the visual arts. They are also really good at activities like putting puzzles together. This is probably not your strong suit if you get lost all the time (like I do).

-  Verbal-linguistic: This type of intelligence allows people to communicate more effectively with other people. You probably rank highly in this area if you are strong at writing and speaking.

-  Logical-mathematical: Logical and mathematical thinking helps with problem solving and is critical for careers in science and engineering. These people tend to be good at understanding numbers, patterns, and relationships.

-  Intrapersonal: Don’t confuse this with interpersonal intelligence. While interpersonal intelligence is useful for dealing with other people, intrapersonal intelligence helps you be more self-aware. People with high intrapersonal intelligence tend to have a strong intuition about their strengths, weaknesses, and motivations.

Do one or more of these sound like you? This gives you a great foundation for thinking about your strengths, and sets you up for the next step: brainstorming

Step 2: Brainstorming

Brainstorming is exactly what it sounds like – it’s all about coming up with ideas. In this case, you’re trying to come up with a list of things that you are good at. Here are three steps to get you started

1)      Make a list of stuff you enjoy. This is the best place to start. It’s a LOT easier to be good at something you are passionate about

2)      Make a second list of stuff people have told you you’re good at. Maybe a boss at work has praised you for being a great public speaker, or perhaps your friends have told you that you give particularly insightful, objective advice.

3)      Figure out the overlap between the lists – these are your strengths that you can most easily (and enjoyably) build upon.

Step 3: Testing

Now that you have your list of strengths, you can conduct a few experiments to see how you can benefit from them. As always, the goal is to use your strengths effectively to generate the maximum financial reward.

-  Contracting: Let’s say that you are an artist and want to make money through graphic design. No matter what you’re good at, you can find literally hundreds of employers posting jobs every day on sites like It’s free to sign up – a great way to test how good you are at minimal cost.

-  Coursework: Education is a great way to sharpen your skills while figuring out what you actually enjoy doing. While going back to school full-time is often unaffordable, there are many cheaper options online and at your local community college.


At the end of the day, your strengths and skills are going to be the primary driver in making you more money. So any time that you spend discovering and honing them is time well spent.

What Are Your Strengths? How Did You Discover Them?

2 Responses to “Making More Money By Playing to Your Strengths”

  1. Jao Wei-Shieh says:

    Very Interested in post! Good job!

    I agree with you as my strengths are in C++, Perl, Leadership, Mentorships & College Application Processing.

    Thank you for post ^^

  2. [...] a number of personality traits involved. For example, all of these individuals do a great job of playing to their strengths. But what else? Is there something about the opportunities they pursue that enhances their chances [...]

Leave a Response