Want a fresh way to size up the state of your career? How about taking a page from the business-school playbook and running a SWOT analysis? SWOT, which stands for strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats, is a simple yet powerful model MBA students use to analyze the strategic positions of companies, products or business situations. But you don't need to be an MBA to apply the SWOT technique to your own career planning.
How to Create a SWOT Analysis
The model is a basic two-by-two table, with strengths and weaknesses laid out in the top two boxes and opportunities and threats in the bottom two. You've probably considered your strengths and weaknesses already, but the SWOT model takes it a step further by making you think about the external factors that bear heavily on the health and direction of your career. These factors -- mainly physical location, industry, company and profession -- signal potential opportunities and threats. Looking at the quadrants together can be a creative way to think about where you are in your career and the directions you could take.
To get an idea of what you could incorporate into your own SWOT chart, look at some examples in each category:
Strengths are your internal, positive attributes and selling points. You have some control over these. Examples include:
- Positive personal traits.
- Relevant skills, competencies, knowledge and work experience.
- A solid education.
- A strong network.
- Commitment, enthusiasm and passion for your field.
Weaknesses are your internal negative attributes. You have some control over these as well. Examples include:
- Negative personal characteristics and poor work habits.
- A lack of work experience or relevant experience.
- A lack of education.
- No network or a small one.
- A lack of direction or focus.
- Weak professional or career-management skills.
Opportunities are uncontrollable external events that you can potentially leverage. Examples include:
- Favorable industry trends.
- A booming economy.
- A specific job opening.
- An upcoming company project.
- Emerging demand for a new skill or expertise.
- Use of a new technology.
- Referral to a high-powered contact.
Threats are uncontrollable external factors that may work against you and require you to take protective action. Examples include:
- Industry restructuring and consolidation.
- Changing market requirements and their impact on your employer.
- Changing professional standards that you don't meet.
- Reduced demand for one of your skills.
- Evolving technologies you're unprepared for.
- The emergence of a competitor, either to your company or to you personally.
- A company decision maker who does not like or support you.
An external factor can sometimes be both a threat and an opportunity. For example, the emergence of a programming language that replaces one you know is a threat if you do nothing about it and an opportunity if you commit to becoming one of the early experts.
Do Your Own SWOT Analysis
1. Draw a two-by-two grid on a sheet of paper, or create one in a word-processing program.
2. In each quadrant, write out ideas in bullet-point form. Be as specific as possible.
3. Stretch to come up with true insights. Take a break if you have to, and revisit your analysis when you're fresh. You can even show your SWOT to a few close contacts to get their views.
4. Edit. Delete repetitive ideas, and sharpen less specific ones.
5. Analyze what it all means. Use the tool to:
- Validate your current position.
- Understand the skills, attributes and experiences you should emphasize and the ones you should downplay.
- Brainstorm possible career directions.
- Highlight opportunities to take advantage of.
- Flag possible threats.
6. Determine possible actions. There are four types of actions you could take:
- Strengthening a specific skill or adding something to your strengths quadrant.
- Minimizing or eliminating a weakness.
- Pursuing or exploiting an opportunity.
- Protecting yourself from threats.
Revisit and update your SWOT chart periodically to add a level of sophistication and effectiveness to your career planning.