SWOT stands for strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats and a SWOT analysis helps you better understand yourself and plan your future career path.
A SWOT analysis can point out opportunities that you may not have identified as well as alert you to factors that may negatively impact or impede your career. If you are lucky enough to have more than one job offer at some point in your career, it can help you to decide which one is the best fit for your personality as well as skills.
Rosie Bailey, Co-Founder and Principal Consultant at people development firm OnTrack International, describes it as a crucial element in strategic career planning.
“It is a simple, powerful and effective tool which helps create all-important self-awareness at the start and during the career planning journey,” she says. “It can also help to uncover opportunities which you may have been blind to.”
A SWOT analysis isn’t difficult to perform on yourself once you know the steps to take.
The elements of a SWOT analysis can be divided into two categories - factors you can control; strengths and weaknesses, and those you can’t control; opportunities and threats. Draw up a table with these four headings and fill them in honestly. Below is a guide to some of the considerations to take into account.
List tasks/jobs at which you are accomplished and enjoy doing. These will be the factors that give you competitive edge over other candidates throughout your career so it is important to make a fair assessment of them.
Next consider your qualifications, skills and experience and how desirable they are in the marketplace before turning attention to the more personal side: how good are you at building relationships and working with others?
Work out the areas in which you know you are weak and it may be advisable to ask a tutor, mentor, colleague or manager to help with this. Include personal traits that could hold you back.
Go through your CV and determine whether there are any gaps on it that would need to be explained. Be objective and try to look at yourself as others see you.
If you are already in a job, list all opportunities and career paths that your current role could lead to both with your present employer and externally. If you would like to follow a particular specialism or even change course, include this.
Be mindful to look beyond your current projected career path and take in to account lateral moves, secondments, project work and further education that might improve your chances of securing the desired next role.
If you are not in a job, thoroughly research the market to identify potential employers. Also survey your network – friends, family, tutors, contacts from workplace experience or internships - to identify where opportunities might exist. In addition, consider where the major skills shortages might exist and therefore lead to an opportunity.
Include everything outside of your control that potentially could stop you from achieving your goal. Do not include lack of work experience or skills as ultimately you can control these.
Do include factors such as current market conditions in the sector you are aiming at or the financial stability and lack of opportunities that might exist within your current organisation.
Analysis and action
Once you have come with a list of SWOT points, you need to put them to use in a career context and build an action plan aligned to the analysis findings. Bailey advises analysing how you can identify a job role which will help you focus on your strengths, minimise your weaknesses and take the greatest advantage of the opportunities that may be presenting themselves.
“The SWOT analysis will give greater clarity about the role that you will love and the type of jobs which should be given a wide berth,” she says.
Then explore how this fits with your goals and career aims. It may be that to reach the next stage of your career further training and development is required.
Mistakes to avoid
By far the biggest pitfall to a SWOT analysis is not being realistic about strengths and weaknesses.
“There is also a tendency to be somewhat blind to opportunities and threats,” says Bailey. “Be honest: take a long hard look at yourself, be critical and if in doubt seek help and ask for honest, descriptive feedback. We all have blind spots and the more we know about our own individual blind spots the more we increase our self-awareness. Human beings notoriously find identifying their own weaknesses difficult.”
She also recommends that those early in their career revisit the SWOT analysis every six months.
“A learning person will change and develop over time meaning that the SWOT analysis will change. Use SWOT to help formulate personal objectives and goals and measure personal successes.”