The term "SWOT" should be fairly familiar to those of you with business degrees. It's an acronym that stands for strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats, and it's a strategic planning tool companies use to determine their competitive advantages. That is, to determine exactly what makes them unique from their competitors. Identifying weaknesses provides valuable insight into the areas these businesses can work on. And knowing both opportunities and threats gives them the chance to take advantage of favorable situations and avoid potential pitfalls.
The same formula also applies to you. Whether you're seeking simply to improve yourself in your current job or you're active on the job hunt, you can use SWOT to your advantage.
You likely have a general idea of the qualities you possess that employers appreciate. Maybe you're great at turning work in before deadlines, or you exhibit a high level of creativity in all your projects. Here you should consider your positive personal characteristics, competencies, work experience, and education. Start simple and then describe examples of each strength.
We all have weaknesses, and recognizing your own faults is the first step to improvement. Think back to your last performance evaluation. In which areas did your boss say you could improve? Where do you find yourself struggling in your job? What negative characteristics do you see in yourself?
If you're not paying attention, you can miss out on valuable opportunities for advancement. Network with people in your company to keep your ear to the ground on promotion opportunities. Meet others in your industry who might have a lead on an unadvertised job. Find ways to make yourself valuable at work, and see what opportunities present themselves. Look for additional training opportunities in management or industry-specific programs that may be needed to increase your marketable skills.
For employees, threats may come in the form of layoffs, recessions or cutbacks. Simply being aware of your company's financial climate may lessen your surprise if the company lays off people. Keep your resume updated and never stop networking, even when you think you have job security. Do some research on your industry. Is your field highly competitive? Are there many candidates vying for the same positions? How do advances in technology affect your line of work? Are there new industry-specific trends that employers are listing as requirements or "nice to haves" in job ads?
Once you have your SWOT analysis, analyze what you have written and look for ways to use it in your career planning. Which strengths can you use to your advantage? What strengths would you like to add? How can you overcome your weaknesses? Which opportunities can you pursue? Can you eliminate or minimize the threats? Identify these areas and use these insights to keep your skills sharp and evaluate your position in the changing marketplace.
Lindsay Olson is a founding partner and public relations recruiter with Paradigm Staffing and Hoojobs.com, a niche job board for public relations, communications, and social media jobs. She blogs at LindsayOlson.com, where she discusses recruiting and job search issues.