A strength, weakness, opportunity and threat (SWOT) analysis is a common tool for assessing your company’s strategy. It provides leaders a new perspective on what the organization does well, where its challenges lie and which opportunities to pursue. A personal SWOT analysis can do the same for an individual, providing insights based on your personality strengths and weaknesses, the challenges ahead and the opportunities you may find now and in the future. Here’s how to conduct a SWOT analysis.
The SWOT analysis was first devised in the 1960s by business icons Edmund P. Learned, C. Roland Christensen, Kenneth Andrews and William D. Guth. In 1982, Heinz Weihrich took the concept one step further, constructing a 2 x 2 matrix to plot out the answers to the four key aspects. He placed strengths and weaknesses across the top of the matrix, and opportunities and threats in the bottom row. This remains the most common way to conduct the analysis today.
While there are other formats for the SWOT analysis, in its simplest form the matrix is a four-quadrant table with a color-coded grid looking something like this free SWOT analysis template:
The creators saw strengths and opportunities as favorable and within your control, while weaknesses and threats are dictated by external forces. With this information, identify how to leverage your strengths to make the most of your opportunities and discover how to mitigate threats.
When conducting a personal SWOT analysis, first set a goal. Do you want a new job or a new responsibility in your current position? Are you looking for personal growth or to go in a different direction? With your goal in mind, ask yourself questions about each of the four areas. It’s important to be as honest as possible with your answers.
Try to see yourself from the standpoint of a colleague and view any feedback with objectivity. According to Caroline Smith, an editorial manager at Centrica, it’s best to focus less on where you are today and more on the potential of what you can become. [Related article: Honest Employee Feedback Starts at the Top]
“Don’t limit yourself to the strengths that you’re currently exhibiting in your job. List all of your strengths, even the ones that have been dormant for a while,” Smith said. “Pay particular attention to the things that you have that your peers don’t: How are you different, unique and special?”
A personal SWOT analysis requires real introspection. Set aside the time to think deeply, then sleep on it and revisit your analysis the next day. You won’t think of everything in one sitting, and questions or answers that pop into your brain overnight might be the most revealing insight of the entire exercise. Return to your analysis a few times over a week or two to truly capture complete answers.
Though the SWOT analysis was originally designed for analyzing businesses, it’s now often used by governments, nonprofits, investors and entrepreneurs.
To begin, find a SWOT analysis template online that makes sense to you. Then, get ready to evaluate your strengths, acknowledge your weaknesses and identify what makes you excited about your career.
Begin by identifying your strengths – the traits or skills that set you apart from others. Ask yourself these questions:
The next step is identifying weaknesses – the areas you need to improve because they could cause career setbacks. These are some questions to consider:
Proceed to the opportunities section, which are the external factors you can leverage to get a promotion, find a new job or determine a new career direction. Here are some questions to ask yourself:
Finally, look at any threats – the external factors that could hurt your chances of attaining your goal. Consider these questions:
Moving outside your comfort zone will keep you from simply reinforcing your existing beliefs. Be unflinching in revealing faults and weaknesses, but also in celebrating your personal strengths. Don’t be afraid to consult colleagues for their honest opinions if necessary. [Related article: 10 Development Goals for Better Leadership]
Evaluate your results using two popular methods: matching or turning negatives into positives. Matching means connecting two of the categories to determine a course of action. When you turn negatives into positives, grow a skill set through education or find a creative way to transform a weakness to a strength.
For instance, the SWOT analysis may have identified that you’re outgoing, and an introspective or isolated work environment may not suit you. That may lead you to pursue a position in sales, where your extroverted personality allows you to excel. You can also update your resume to reflect what you have learned to ensure it represents your desired career path. [Follow our resume writing tips to help you stand out.]
Once your personal SWOT analysis is complete, it is crucial to follow through on the results 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,” said Marlo Zarka, a certified professional coach. “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 … 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.”
Once you create an action plan, track your progress. Set up measurements and keep working toward them. Step by step, you will get where you want to be if you stay committed. To aid this process, take advantage of free goal-tracking tools.
The SWOT analysis remains a staple of MBA programs and business education courses nearly 60 years after the concept was developed.
Conduct a SWOT analysis for your business by asking many of the same questions. Consider your company’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats within the marketplace. Consider conducting additional analyses such as the PEST analysis, competitive analysis and the Pareto analysis. These can be adapted for personal use, making them worthy exercises for both personal growth and business success.
Ross Mudrick and Chad Brooks contributed to the writing and reporting in this article. Source interviews were conducted for a previous version of this article.