You’ve probably heard the Lewis Carroll quote, “If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will get you there.” The question is, will you like where you end up?
As a leadership and career coach, I’ve seen it time and again with my clients: Being strategic about your career path pays off. And, over the years, I’ve found a tool that can help: the SWOT analysis.
SWOT is an assessment of strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats, often used for strategic planning in organizations. By doing a personal SWOT analysis, you can set yourself up to maximize your talents, diminish weaknesses and make the most of opportunities — throughout your career.
Here’s a look at what’s involved.
Establish a Goal for the Future
Before you can determine your career path, you need to figure out where you’re going — what your overarching goal is.
Are you just starting out and planning the first leg of your career? Or maybe you need a job, ASAP, to pay the bills. Mid-career, you might be thinking more about job satisfaction. So your goal may be to up your engagement at work or prep for a leadership role.
Later, you might decide it’s time to pursue a passion or to make yourself more relevant, so you can take your career to the next level. Remember, goals can change. So revisit your goals at different stages of your career.
Do Your Personal SWOT Analysis
Keeping your goal in mind, do your SWOT analysis using a template such as this free online resource from MindTools. Fill in your strengths and skills, weaknesses, opportunities you believe are available to you, and risks or threats you may face in your desired work environment. The MindTools website also gives you tips and questions to help you drill down to identify each of these traits and circumstances.
Sample questions to consider include:
- What advantages do you have that others may not? Any relevant skills, certifications, education or connections, for example?
- Which of your achievements are you most proud of?
- Do you have a passion or talent for something that you haven’t yet tapped into in your work?
- What tasks do you avoid because you don't feel confident doing them? For example, do you have trouble organizing projects? Talking to clients?
- Do you have any personality traits or tendencies that hold you back in your field? For instance, if you have to conduct meetings regularly, a fear of public speaking would be a weakness.
- Do you notice others outperforming you in particular skill areas?
- Have you researched what jobs and skills will be in demand in the future?
- What trends (management or otherwise) do you see in your company, and how can you take advantage of them? Is role experimentation encouraged? If your focus is on changing careers, what trends do you see overall in your field, such as an increase in specific skills?
- Is there a need in your company, or your community, that no one is meeting — such as someone to pinpoint areas of customer dissatisfaction or someone to run for a local political office?
- Is your company modernizing its business processes, leaving you feeling like you might need additional training?
- What obstacles do you currently face at work? Are there changes in social norms or the economy that could affect your career choices?
- Are colleagues competing with you for projects or roles? Is your company considering cutbacks?
Take Time to Reflect and Seek Input
Once you’ve completed your SWOT, review what you’ve included and reflect on what you see. Does something jump out at you? Is there a major strength or a weakness you haven’t considered in your career plans? An opportunity just waiting to be explored? A threat you hadn’t thought through?
After doing some self-reflection, ask peers, supervisors and mentors for their input. This step can uncover things you hadn’t thought about and supply additional data for your analysis.
Create and Implement an Action Plan
Now it’s time to start an action plan — a to-do list of practical next steps based on what you uncovered in your SWOT analysis.
Start by thinking about how you can leverage your strengths in relation to the goals you’ve established. For example, say your goal is to increase your job satisfaction midcareer. You’re a creative thinker and you’re not using that strength in your work often. Consider finding a project or role where creative thinking is more highly valued and you can put it to use.
Then look at your weaknesses. What can you do to mitigate or eliminate these? If you’re missing a key skill needed in the promotion you’re after, for instance, you might find a class or online resources you could tap into to build your abilities.
Next, think about how you can make the most of your opportunities. Do you have connections with others who could tell you more about a field you’re interested in or who could help get your resume in front of a hiring manager?
Last, but not least, review your risks or threats. If studies show there will be a downturn in your chosen field, for example, determine how you might adapt. Your chosen field won’t necessarily change, but your specific focus could be more finely tuned to prepare you for your preferred job.
When your list of action items is ready, prioritize according to what you think will be the most important steps in achieving your goal. Choose your top three to tackle first, develop a timetable and follow through. When you’ve finished, move to the next three. And keep in mind that trying to accomplish every item on your list all at once can be counterproductive, causing you to scatter your energies and making it harder to move forward.
At every career stage, I’ve seen the personal SWOT help my clients gain focus. I encourage you to try it out as a way to boost your career, enhance engagement in your work and guide you in your personal growth. If it does even one of these things for you, it will be well worth the time and effort.