You probably know about SWOT analyses from the business world. It’s the charting of strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats that helps smart companies plot their next moves. That same approach can be just as valuable for you as you take your career to the next level.
Identifying Strengths and Weaknesses
These are specifically tied to your career goals. For instance, if you’ve worked for a healthcare management company for five years and your goal is to become a law librarian for a firm that specializes in healthcare law, your previous expertise is definitely in the “strengths” category. If, on the other hand, you wanted to move into the green-technologies field, your lack of knowledge or experience in this area would be in your “weaknesses” category.
Identifying Opportunities and Threats
Opportunities and threats are about external circumstances—what’s going on in your area of interest that may affect your career goals? You have less control over these than you do your strengths and weaknesses, because opportunities and threats involve others’ actions and decisions.
If your career goal is to become a law librarian for that healthcare-focused law firm, an example of an opportunity is the expansion of legal challenges for both providers and consumers of medical and healthcare services. A threat would be the possibility that law firms started moving away from employing law librarians and instead relied on data analysts and paralegals.
Learning from your SWOT analysis
The reason to do a SWOT analysis is to be able to essentially tilt the odds in your favor: if you can identify an area of weakness, you can do something about it. For example, in our green-technologies job scenario, you could improve your position by undertaking a program to learn as much as possible about the industry, its players and competitors, trends, issues, and other relevant information. You might want to take a course in green technologies. You might want to join a trade group related to green technologies where you could volunteer and meet people in the profession. Bottom line: once you’ve identified your weaknesses relative to a specific career goal, you can steps to fix them.
With opportunities and threats, on the other hand, think “hope for the best and plan for the worst.” Roughly translated to your career, that means you want to position yourself to take advantage of potential career opportunities and, to the extent possible, create “Plan B” action plans in case the threats you’ve identified go live.
For example, an opportunity might be that your region is becoming a hub for start-up, innovative healthcare services firms. A threat would be that your state economic environment is not conducive to business growth, and so it’s difficult for those healthcare start-ups to succeed. In that case, your back-up Plan B might be to consider relocating to a region with a healthier economic climate for healthcare companies, or exploring whether generalist law firms in your area have healthcare practices where you could add value.
Think of your SWOT analysis as a terrific diagnostic tool for moving your career to the next level. Knowing your strengths and weaknesses enables you to maximize the former and improve the latter. And although you have less control over opportunities and threats, by taking steps in advance to position for either outcome you’ll be much better prepared to thrive on opportunities and survive the threats.