Originally developed in the 1960’s as a strategic planning method for businesses to measure internal and external forces impacting their company, the SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats. As the name suggests, the SWOT analysis looks at the strengths and weaknesses of a company or business venture, as well as the opportunities and threats that it may encounter in the marketplace, with the end goal being the formulation of clear, focused and realistic long term goals. The SWOT analysis has been proven to be a practical, beneficial tool and it remains widely used throughout the business community.
When companies perform a SWOT analysis, essentially what they are doing is simultaneously looking inwards and outwards, in order to access their place in an constantly evolving marketplace, identify ways in which they can improve and zero in on areas which they will be able to find success. Recently, the SWOT analysis has also been embraced as a tool for personal development, and more specifically, for personal career development. Like businesses, job seekers need to know where their strengths and weaknesses lie, identify the areas where they are most likely to succeed and, above all, develop a realistic long term strategy for future growth and development. In short – this analytical framework that has been helping companies boost their bottom line for over a half century can also be tremendously beneficial to an individual in pursuit of his or her career goals.
When performing a personal SWOT analysis, the most vital component is complete honesty. I’m sure we have all embellished are strengths and downplayed our weaknesses in job interviews, but that is typically done for the benefit of others. Our SWOT analysis is strictly for personal development, and not only do you do yourself no favours by omitting facts or stretching the truth, but you actually render the entire process useless.
With that out of the way, lets take a closer look at the individual components of the SWOT analysis. To start, let’s focus on the internal factors; strengths and weaknesses.
When analyzing strengths, I find that it helps to borrow from the SWOT analysis’ origins. Imagine your career is a business and you are a potential new product. How do you differentiate yourself in the marketplace? What makes the product of ‘you’ more valuable than the other products on the shelf? List any assets you come up with in this scenario as strengths. These could include learned skills (project management experience, typing speed, sales ability), personality traits (charisma, work ethic) or often a combination of the two (ability to close sales, fluid public speaking).
For weaknesses, you need to identify some potential problem areas where you are likely to be outperformed by your competition. As with strengths, this could be a personal issue that you know you struggle with (fear of public speaking, quick tempered) or something skill related (no prior sales experience, lack of credentials). It is of particular importance to be honest here. By acknowledging and identifying your weaknesses, you give yourself areas to improve upon. Remember, this analysis is for your eyes only – if you have trouble waking up in the morning and frequently arrive late to work, include that.
Opportunities and Threats
The external factors of SWOT, opportunities and threats, often have an inverse relation to one another and can very greatly, depending on what you are trying to accomplish. If you are looking to climb the career ladder within your current job and obtain a management position, an opportunity could be the fact that you are the only internal candidate with a management diploma, while a potential threat could be that one of your coworkers recently filled in for the boss while she was on vacation. When applying for a new job, or finding out what type of jobs you should apply for, a potential threat could be that you lack a relevant diploma. A related opportunity could be that you are currently unemployed, and therefore have the time to obtain the diploma from a local trade school.
After completing the SWOT analysis, you should be able to paint a very accurate picture of your current situation. You will hopefully find that becomes much easier to identify adjustments you need to make and areas you need to improve on in order to meet certain job requirements or differentiate yourself from the field, as well as the areas in which you currently stand out. A personal SWOT analysis is a great way to sharpen your skills, prepare for job interviews, identify potential issues and pounce on new opportunities. Whether you are looking for a new career or to move up the ranks with your current employer, a SWOT analysis is a worthwhile pursuit.