A SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats) analysis will give you a broader awareness of your abilities and expose hidden opportunities. Let’s look at how to conduct an effective career SWOT analysis, along with some examples, so you can understand your professional position relative to your competition… and boost your career.
A good personal SWOT analysis is like looking in a mirror, explained Kim Giangrande, an HR consultant and principal of IntuitiveHR: “It forces you to take an introspective, close-up look at yourself and to recognize how you are viewed in the market by your boss, co-workers and prospective employers.” Such an analysis could also expose external threats and blind spots threatening your career, as well as internal factors and personality traits that are potentially keeping you from your ideal career path and optimized personal growth.
Conducting an Effective Career SWOT Analysis
Like any other analysis, a good SWOT analysis boils down to answering a series of questions. While a SWOT analysis may differ between tech professions—for example a SWOT analysis for a software engineer will necessarily vary in its questions and intent from one for a network engineer—some of its basics remain the same. Let’s take things one letter at a time, starting with…
Begin by identifying your strengths and the areas in which you excel. Questions to ask include:
- What sets you apart from your peers in terms of technical skills and abilities, traits, experience, certifications and performance (output)?
- What does your “product” (i.e., your skill-set) deliver that others don’t?
- What types of situations or tasks do you handle well?
- What are you passionate about? What do you like to do?
- What do other people see as your strengths?
This process might uncover valuable assets and traits you weren’t fully aware of. Thinking of yourself as a competitive product and your career as a business can help you act proactively and thrive in the fast-moving tech industry, suggested career coach and author Lisa Quast. You can use your inventory of your personal traits to tailor your résumé, prepare your answers to performance-review questions, and hone your social profiles.
Now for the flip side: answer these questions about your weaknesses. While it’s tempting to skip over this part—few people are fans of critical self-examination—this information is critical. By tackling your vulnerabilities head-on, you become a stronger tech pro.
- What is your Achilles heel?
- What negative feedback have you received from others, including prospective hiring managers?
- What tasks do you struggle with or try to avoid?
- Why would an employer select another candidate over you?
- Could you be passed over for a key project or promotion, and why?
- What knowledge, skills and certifications are you missing?
Exploring opportunities and threats provides a situational awareness that can mean the difference between success and failure, explained Ian Christie, founder of Career Growth Essentials. To stay ahead of changes in the labor market and your company that could impact your livelihood, he recommends that tech pros ask themselves the following questions two to three times a year:
- How can you take advantage of the current market? Is there an unmet need for a skill or trait that you possess?
- How can you leverage your strengths more than you’re currently doing?
- Is there an opportunity to pivot to an emerging role or industry?
- How are you uniquely positioned to solve your company’s problems or to create innovative solutions? What could be done today that isn’t being done?
- Could you enhance your skillset by transferring to a new team or project?
- Could you raise your stature and expand your network by blogging or speaking at conferences?
Keep in mind that ‘threats’ are different than ‘weaknesses.’ The latter are issues that come from within, whereas the former are often external factors that could cause real trouble in your career. Anticipating threats is ultimately just as important as recognizing opportunities.
- Which of your technical skills will be the first to go out-of-date?
- What skills do new CS grads have that you don’t?
- How could an industry-wide shift to the cloud, Big Data, IoT, mobile, or any other new technology impact your role or specialty?
- What are the biggest threats facing your industry/company and how will they impact you?
- Is your company using cutting-edge technology, or is it behind the times?
- If you were laid off tomorrow, how long would it take you to find a new position?
Don’t Forget to Look at Internal and External Factors
One big mistake that some folks make with their SWOT analysis: they don’t fully consider the external and internal factors that go into an effective, full-scope SWOT analysis.
A SWOT analysis for a software engineer, for instance, will need to break down your internal weaknesses (i.e., things within yourself that you can control) versus your external ones (i.e., vulnerabilities being actively exploited by an outside opponent or factor).
Internal and external factors will also vary wildly depending on whether you’re conducting this SWOT analysis strictly for yourself or for your team and/or company. For example, the SWOT governing you and your career can be very different from the ones facing your team. For the latter, you’ll want to sit down with your managers and team members (probably over several meetings) and figure out SWOT impacting team performance.
While it’s not absolutely essential (and more than a little complicated) to subdivide every aspect of SWOT by internal and external, it can help you refine your strategy as you seek to eliminate weaknesses and bad habits while improving on your strengths.
Tech SWOT Examples
While the SWOT format can seem simple at first glance, it can take a bit of time to put together an effective self-analysis. Here’s a tech-centric template to give you an idea; it’s based around a mobile developer:
- I have mastered iOS and Android development.
- I’m very good at shepherding apps through Google Play and the App Store.
- My project-management skills are sub-par and need to be improved.
- I need to keep up with the latest developments in the Android ecosystem.
- My company is leaning harder than ever in mobile, giving me opportunities for promotion.
- I have the skills to succeed as an independent contractor if I want to go that way.
- Peers who are mastering A.I. and machine learning tools have an advantage over me, as my training in these technologies has been slow.
- Others with the same skills can also apply for the same kinds of jobs.
- I’m very good at managing complex projects at considerable scale.
- I have great “soft skills” to communicate between stakeholders.
- I have an excellent reputation within my industry.
- I’ve had problems with speed-of-delivery when working for startups.
- Depending on the project, my awareness of technical issues (i.e., the latest tools) isn’t always up to the most recent developments.
- I’ve worked on large enough projects to apply for project management divisions at large companies.
- I have plenty of institutional knowledge to help my current company succeed at its current projects.
- Other project managers have the same skills, making it difficult to potentially compete for jobs.
- If I’m asked to work on a faster-moving project, I could have trouble.
Ideal SWOT Templates
Simply writing down strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats is a big first step toward becoming a more effective professional. Make it a point to conduct a SWOT analysis at least once a year, or before major career events such as a new job search or a promotional push. Knowing your attributes is key amidst highly competitive situations.
“Year-end is an opportune time to explore the changing landscape and the improvements you need to make to ensure that your product remains relevant in the coming year,” Quast said. In this case, the “product” is yourself and your skills. Even as you trace out your attributes, keep in mind that you don’t have the ability to act on everything you uncover.
“Prioritize your most urgent needs or skill gaps and the greatest opportunities based on the results of your SWOT analysis,” Christie advised. “Focus on making incremental improvements by creating a series of mini action plans and reviewing your progress every month.”