A SWOT analysis, short for strenths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats, is a useful tool that helps to identify gaps between your strengths and what is required to achieve your career goals. This type of analysis takes into account factors that are within your control as well as future threats that are out of your control yet can impact you professionally. If done correctly, a personal SWOT analysis will help you develop a comprehensive action plan that enables you to achieve your professional goals.
Create a two-by-two grid on a piece of paper or on your computer using a word processing or spreadsheet program.
List what you consider to be your strengths in the upper left quadrant. Pay specific attention to the advantages that you possess that those around you do not, such as relevant awards, education, certification, values or personal resources. Ensure that the strengths that you list set you apart from those around you instead of merely duplicating those your peers have. Having an advanced degree in business law may be a strength when working in a corporation, but it is more of a necessity if you are an attorney in a large law firm.
Move to the upper right-hand square in the grid and list your weaknesses. Be brutally honest and include how you perceive yourself as well as how others perceive you; seek feedback from others if necessary. Weaknesses should include those traits that may impact your career negatively, such as poor work habits or lack of management skills, education or experience. Professional development specialist Lynne Snead recommends that you only list relevant weaknesses. A fear of public speaking, for instance, may not be relevant if your job does not require you to lead meetings or give presentations or speeches in front of a crowd.
Detail future opportunities in the lower-left quadrant of the grid. Monster.com defines opportunities as "uncontrollable external events that you can potentially leverage." Opportunities may include an upcoming professional event that will allow you time with potential employers, a vacancy coming up in your department that you possess the qualifications for or the adoption of new technology in your organization that you are already versed in. Review what you have listed as your strengths as you detail opportunities to ensure that there is a clear correlation. If there is an upcoming job opening in the Information Technology department but knowledge in that area is not one of your strengths, you should not list it as an opportunity.
Define perceived threats in the lower-right portion of the grid. Threats are external events that may have a negative impact on you professionally, particularly those that are out of your control. Your list may include an upcoming restructure or downsizing in your company, reduced demand for the key skills that you possess or a problematic boss or co-worker.
List your professional goals on a separate page, separating short-term goals from those you want to achieve long term. Short-term goals might include getting a raise or promotion or switching jobs, while long-term goals might include a major career shift.
Compare what you have written in the four boxes against your professional goals and identify any gaps and specific actions you can take to achieve your goals. If you would like to move into a new position in the company but your SWOT shows that you do not have the knowledge or expertise for that job, it is a clear gap that you can close by pursuing the necessary training.
Note those items you have listed as threats and ensure that you have a plan in place to mitigate any risks to your career. If the economy is showing signs of slowing down, and you are in a junior position in your department, for instance, your risk-mitigation plan might include updating your job-related education and starting to actively network to better your chances of finding new employment if your company institutes layoffs.
Seek feedback from others regarding your strengths and weaknesses if you feel comfortable doing so. In a professional situation, success is not merely about how you perceive yourself but also how others perceive you.