Many professionals recognize the value of a SWOT analysis for their companies. Understanding a business' Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats gives leaders a new perspective on what the organization does well, where its challenges lie and which avenues to pursue. However, few people realize that a personal SWOT analysis can do the same for an individual in pursuit of his or her career goals.
The SWOT analysis was first devised as a business tool in the 1960s by business icons Edmund P. Learned, C. Roland Christensen, Kenneth Andrews and William D. Guth. In 1982, Heinz Weihrich took it one step further, constructing a 2-by-2 matrix to plot out the answers to the four key questions for easy comparison. Strengths and Weaknesses were across the top, and Opportunities and Threats in the bottom row. This remains the most common and effective way to conduct the analysis.
Why conduct a personal SWOT analysis?
Ian Christie, founder of BoldCareer.com, said that while most professionals look at their strengths and weaknesses, a SWOT analysis takes things a step further by forcing people to think about the external factors that bear heavily on the health and direction of their careers.
"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," Christie wrote on Monster.com.
SWOT can also help people become the best versions of themselves, said Marlo Zarka, co-founder of coaching partnership Designed Alliance.
"Self-assessment is a key activity in striving to achieve a sense of one's personal best," Zarka told Business News Daily. "The SWOT analysis exercise ignites an enhanced awareness of what one brings to the table in a balanced light of both advantages and challenges. Organizations roll out elaborate schemes to remain competitive as well as innovative. Why wouldn't individuals want to achieve the same level of excellence for themselves?"
How to do it
To conduct a personal SWOT analysis, ask yourself questions about each of the four areas being examined. Answer honestly. Honesty is crucial, or the analysis will not generate meaningful results. With that in mind, try to see yourself from the standpoint of a colleague or a bystander, and view criticism with objectivity.
It's also important to imagine the potential of what you can become, noted Caroline Smith, copy and commissioning editor at leadership training company Mind Tools.
"Don't limit yourself to the strengths that you're currently exhibiting in your job," Smith told Business News Daily. "List all of your strengths, even the ones that have been dormant for a while. And pay particular attention to the things that you have that your peers don't — how are you different, unique and special?"
Begin by identifying your strengths. These are the traits or skills that set you apart from others. Questions to ask include:
- What are you good at naturally?
- What skills have you worked to develop?
- What are your talents, or natural-born gifts?
- How strong is your network of connections?
- What do other people see as your strengths?
- What values and ethics set you apart from your peers?
The next step is weaknesses.This part examines the areas in which you need to improve and the things that will set you back in your career. Questions to consider include:
- What are your negative work habits and traits?
- Does any part of your education or training need improving?
- What would other people see as your weaknesses?
- Where can you improve?
- What are you afraid to do or most likely to avoid?
- What negative feedback about your personality or work habits have you received?
For the opportunities section, look at the external factors you can take advantage of to pursue a promotion, find a new job or determine a career direction. Questions to examine include:
- What is the state of the economy?
- Is your industry growing?
- Is there new technology in your industry?
- Is there new demand for a skill or trait you possess?
- What are the biggest changes occurring in the current business environment?
- Have customers or co-workers given you feedback about new services you could provide, or ways to improve your manner?
Finally, look at any threats to your career growth. This part takes into account the external factors that could hurt your chances to attain your goals. The factors to take into account include:
- Is your industry contracting or changing directions?
- Is there strong competition for the types of jobs for which you are best suited?
- Do your weaknesses inhibit your ability to rise in your company or change jobs?
- What is the biggest external danger to your goals?
- Are there any new professional standards you cannot meet?
- Are there any new technology, education or certification requirements that will impede your progress?
Finding the necessary objectivity to conduct a personal SWOT analysis can be a challenge. For this reason, Zarka advised inviting others who know you well to review your ideas for accuracy.
"We often cannot see how we come across in our interactions with others, so their feedback is valuable," Zarka said.
In some cases, you may be well-served by getting the help of a professional. Zarka encouraged job seekers to work with professionals certified in various assessment instruments, or to research assessment tools online that can provided measured feedback for consideration.
Next steps: match or convert
Once you have filled out the matrix, there are two ways to analyze the information and build a strategy: matching or converting.
Matching means connecting two of the categories to determine a course of action. For example, matching strengths to opportunities shows you where to be aggressive and take action. On the other hand, matching weaknesses to threats exposes those areas you should work on or situations to avoid, and lets you know where to be more defensive of your position.
To convert is to turn negatives into positives — in other words, converting your weaknesses into strengths, or threats into opportunities. This can mean growing a skill set through education, or finding a creative way to feature a weakness as a strength. For instance, if you are very outgoing, working in an introspective and isolated environment may not suit you very well. But if you can work toward a position, such as sales, in which you interact with many people, that weakness turns into a strength and could allow you to excel.
Once your personal SWOT analysis is complete, it is crucial to follow through on the insights you uncovered.
"SWOT analysis can fail to be effective if it is simply treated as a 'laundry list,' without any tie-in to how the elements identified in the analysis can be put into play for the individual carrying out the assessment," Zarka said. "For example, how can the identified strengths move the needle in the endeavor to achieve a key goal? Or how can one navigate a potential threat once it is identified, so as to ensure no ground is lost?"
"The best outcome is to take action and succeed in the opportunities you have identified," Smith added. "This can benefit you on a personal and professional level, and set you apart from your peers and colleagues."
SWOT templates and more information
Those who want to conduct their own SWOT analyses can visit numerous career sites providing online templates and further information:
- Mind Tools
- Delrose Earl personal SWOT template
- Creately template
- Biggerplate template
- ConceptDraw template
- Quint Careers
This article was originally published in 2013 and was updated Nov. 25, 2015. Additional reporting by Business News Daily senior writer Chad Brooks.