Early Career

Advance Your Career: Leverage Your Spikes

At Career Protocol, we talk a lot about overcoming failure. That is because to grow, it is critical to assess weaknesses and develop in those areas. But if you only focus on your areas for development, you may never get the chance to shine. Shining matters too.

Your strengths enable you to give something back and pay something forward. They give you the chance to become a star contributor at critical moments. And, they enable you to teach and mentor others. In the consulting world, we would call these qualities “spikes.”

Imagine plotting all your skills on the x-axis of a graph and your ability level on the y-axis. Wherever your ability level “spikes” into the high positive values for “y,” those are your key strengths.

Even if you are in your very first job or completely new to a company, you will still be able to identify areas of strength and even areas where you are stronger than others or stronger than average.

In fact, this Spike Self-Assessment is something you might do in your first week in any new job, because no matter where you are in your career, you need to understand your strengths so that you can leverage them in your work and use them to contribute to others.

If you are in the middle of your career or have been in your current role for a long time, determining and leveraging your spikes can help propel you to the next promotion or plum assignment. You may already know exactly what they are, but since a lot of professional culture places emphasis on areas of development, you may not have taken the time to consider where you are more skilled relative to others.

Spike Self-Assessment

How to find your spikes:

  1. Start with the comprehensive list of the skills expected of someone in your role. Your performance review or job description is a good place to get this information. If these are not available, instead use your own common sense and understanding of your job and make your own list. You may also want to have a conversation with your manager to ensure you include his or her expectations of someone in your role as well.
  2. Do a self-assessment. Rate yourself on a scale of one to five on these abilities, assuming that the average person in your role would score a three. Pay particularly close attention to your strength in a given skill relative to your abilities in other areas. For example, while you may perform well on both financial analysis and strategic thinking relative to peers, in which area do you feel you are stronger?
  3. Compare your self-assessment to any past assessments you have had – performance reviews, feedback from managers, etc. Readjust your numbers if past evaluation suggests you are either stronger or weaker in a given area.
  4. If there are people you work with who have demonstrated an interest in helping you grow professionally, be they colleagues, managers, or subordinates, consider interviewing them and soliciting candid feedback on strengths to validate your assessment. For example: “I am trying to identify my relative strengths, and in the past I have been given strong marks for relationship management and communication skills. Does that sound right to you?” Or alternatively: “What would you say are two or three of my key professional strengths?”
  5. Finalize the list. You should have come up with somewhere between one and three key areas that are your spikes, or relative strengths.

In the process of identifying your spikes, you may also have identified some weaknesses. That is useful information too, and you may then want to make a plan to develop in those areas. But that is not the point of a Spike Self-Assessment.

Once you have identified your spikes, you will then want to make a plan to capitalize on them.

Maximize Your Spikes

  • Ensure you have had the chance to demonstrate that strength. If you give yourself top marks for relationship management, but in your current role, your work has not put you in front of clients, then diplomatically lobby for client-facing opportunities.
  • Even if you have already demonstrated your strengths, continue to seek projects that put those skills front and center, while being sure not to neglect opportunities for development in the process.
  • Ensure you contribute meaningfully in these areas when circumstances permit (e.g. client presentations, team meetings, ideation sessions, etc.)
  • See if there is an opportunity for you to participate in training others on these subjects through formal or informal firm offerings.
  • Further develop the area by pursuing additional professional development opportunities in or outside your firm to begin to establish yourself as an expert in this arena.
  • Consider engaging these strengths in your extra-curricular activities and community service.

By identifying and leveraging your strengths, you will be sure to make the most of them throughout your career and beyond.


Hi, I’m Angela Guido, the Founder of Career Protocol. I help early and middle career professionals define and achieve ambitious goals, embrace learning opportunities, and have more fun in their work. If you are interested in maximizing positive impact, career success, and joy, you have to check out my blog and join my Insider’s List.




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