Leveraging Your Talent(s) – Career Lessons from AGT

By Dr. Claire Klieger

Summer comes with many pleasures—beach weather, baseball games, ice cream, and in my household…gathering as a family each week to watch America’s Got Talent. We’ve been faithfully watching the show for years, and like the judges, we never cease to be amazed that there are still acts (and talents) the likes of which we have never seen before, including this season a hand balancing act involving an 86 year old man, an impossibly in sync Indian dance troupe featuring human trampolines & acrobatics, or inexplicably incredible close-up magic. What’s more, there seems to be an audience for a wide range of talents. For instance, those acts that involve pushing the limits of human tolerance for pain by swallowing razors, putting a hook through one’s nose, or being hit with a sledgehammer while on a bed of nails may not be my cup of tea, but there is certainly audience somewhere excited to see it.  

Finding career success involves something similar—figuring out the things that you are naturally good at and learning how to best present them to the right audience. So, here are my 5 career lessons from AGT:

  1. Understand your (transferable) strengths. In all my years as a career advisor, I’ve never once met someone who didn’t have innate abilities. However, many individuals don’t realize how talented they are. Frequently one’s talents come so naturally to them that they may not even think of them as skills. Take varsity athletes. Sure, they know that they are good at the particular sport that they play but what they often fail to recognize is that the traits that make them successful in athletics (a drive for excellence, good teamwork, endurance, the ability to perform well under pressure) are also attributes that are valuable to employers in almost any professional setting. The trick then, is figuring out the qualities and skills behind the successes in your life.
  2. Be personable – it wins over the judges. Simon Cowell tells contestants all the time that presence and personality are just as important as the talent itself. Similarly, in the working world, being seen as a thoughtful, compassionate, respectful (and fun!) colleague will help you win over others in the office. 
  3. Find your compelling story. It’s no real surprise that most of the “golden buzzer” moments, when a judge selects an act from auditions to go straight through to the live shows, involve not only spectacular displays of talent but also a human interest story that truly pulls at your heart strings. Now, a sob story is not something that I’m suggesting is needed (or even necessarily appropriate) for professional settings, particularly interviews. However, the ability to successfully package your story (your background, what makes you tick as a professional, and how you can add value to your prospective work environment) is critical to appearing like the ideal fit for the job.  
  4. Be open to (and act on) critical feedback. Each season, some of the strongest and most enduring acts are typically ones that heed the critical advice of the judges on the show. In your career, you too will be more successful if you not only seek out critical feedback but demonstrate that you can positively incorporate it into your professional actions. 
  5. Stretch yourself (no, not in the AGT human contortionist style way). With each successive round, the AGT judges expect acts to “step up their game.” To achieve long-term career success, one must also continue to adapt over time, to both sharpen their skills and learn new ones to stay nimble on the job market. 

The secret to career success is nurturing your talents through positions ideally situated to work with your strengths. So, even if, like me, there is no way in a million years you could ever be a successful contestant on AGT, it’s still worth asking yourself: What am I really good at?  What is easy for me? What engages, stimulates, and moves me? The answers to these questions may help you on the way to finding a career path that lets you achieve your own “golden buzzer” moments in life. 

Author: Claire Klieger

Claire Klieger is an Associate Director of Career Services for College of Arts & Sciences undergraduates. She earned her Ed.D. from Penn and did her undergraduate work at the University of Virginia. Fun Fact: Claire spent 11 years in the Middle East and North Africa.