If you're looking to change careers or surge ahead in your current job, SWOT analysis – a look at strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats – is a useful tool to assess your competitiveness and plot a course toward success. It sounds like a new-age technique, but, in fact, Albert Humphrey created the system as part of a research project he led at Stanford University in the 1960s and 1970s. Corporate leaders use it to position their companies vis-à-vis competitors, and so can you.
SWOT analysis begins with an honest assessment of internal factors, meaning things that are under your control. Start by making a list of your strengths, which may include your education, work experience, people skills and professional network. Next, identify your weaknesses, which are shortcomings in areas your employer, or a prospective next employer, would consider important. These may include lack of advanced education or technical certification, difficulty in getting along with your boss or colleagues, limited work experience, or poor interviewing skills.
Take a look at opportunities and threats. These are external factors – in some ways beyond your control – but they are an important part of the picture. Opportunities include things like increased demand in your field, further training and education, a new job field related to your skill set, or a geographic move that would put you in an area with a higher demand for your skills and experience. Threats are the opposite, things like decreased demand in your job field or better-qualified competitors.
Once you've identified these factors, it's time to figure out what to do with them. Take a look at your strengths. How can you leverage them? Consider how you can address each weakness and perhaps even turn it into a strength, for example by gaining a certification that you lack. Look at the opportunities and think about how you can exploit them, for example by taking advantage of employer-financed training. Finally, consider the threats and figure out ways you can minimize them or defend against them, for example by developing your skills to make yourself more competitive than your peers, or moving to an area where your skills are in greater demand.
Applying the Results
Every successful plan starts with a goal. Identify what you want to achieve. For example, you may wish to stay in your career field but work for another company, or you may want to stay with the same company but move to a higher level. Perhaps you feel like you need a complete change into another career field. Develop a plan of action to work toward that goal. It may take a number of years if you need more education or work experience to be more competitive, but you'll feel better knowing you have an action plan to get you there. Put your plan on paper and review it periodically to help keep yourself on course.
A retired federal senior executive currently working as a management consultant and communications expert, Mary Bauer has written and edited for senior U.S. government audiences, including the White House, since 1984. She holds a Master of Arts in French from George Mason University and a Bachelor of Arts in English, French and international relations from Aquinas College.