It’s time to take a good, hard look at yourself.
That’s why you’re here, right?
Sure, you can muddle through the process of self-awareness and professional development - or, you could give a tried-and-tested framework a go.
A personal SWOT analysis can help you tune into what makes you do your best work... and what could bring it all tumbling down.
What is a SWOT analysis?
SWOT stands for strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats.
In business, SWOT analysis provides a simple framework for reviewing your operations within the context of your market. But it can easily be applied to just about anything: relationships, personal projects and even your life as a whole.
We’ll focus on your own professional SWOT analysis here to help you steer your career to the next level.
Why is SWOT analysis so powerful?
Each element of the SWOT framework can uncover crucial information to help you move forward, get unstuck and find balance in your life and your work.
Sometimes, we don’t realise how far we have come until we put ourselves under the microscope. Recognising your own strengths is important for your self esteem and to ensure you’re dedicating your effort to pursuits that are likely to pay off.
Understanding your weaknesses is equally crucial if you want to develop as a person, but also to make sure you’re not putting yourself (or your career) at risk by relying on skills you do not yet have, or by avoiding doing important things that you find difficult.
Opportunities can easily pass us by unnoticed if we don’t take the time to look for them. Sadly, the same is often not true for threats! While some will pass by under the radar, most of them stick around and cause harm if we don’t actively engage with them.
SWOT analysis helps you to play to your strengths, overcome your weaknesses, make the most of every opportunity that comes your way and stay on top of any threats in your life.
How to do a personal SWOT analysis
It’s not as simple as sitting down and writing out four lists: strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats.
You need to dig deep to uncover these things. We recommend taking a couple of hours out of your day and finding a peaceful environment (with a pen and paper, or digital equivalents) and working your way through the following exercises.
Pre-work for your personal SWOT analysis
Before you begin, think about your goals and objectives.
These can be your current, formal objectives at work, your career aspirations for the coming year or goals for what you want your life to look like, and what it will take to make that happen.
For example, is there a ‘next step’ in your career you want to take, or prepare for? Do you need to earn X amount more in order to buy a house? Or would you like to reduce your hours, either because you’re working overtime and approaching burnout, or because you just want to focus on your family or personal pursuits?
These goals are vital for framing what you consider to be opportunities, and what constitutes a threat. Someone who wants to reduce their hours might think of a demanding upcoming project as a threat. But the same project is a clear opportunity to someone looking to demonstrate their new project management skills.
Write down your key goal before you start this activity. Remember, you can (and should) do this at least annually, so take a goal that has implications beyond the next year but is actionable within that time-frame. For example, you might choose ‘Be a strong candidate for the next round of promotions’; even if that’s outside of the next 12 months, there’s a lot you can do in that time to prepare.
Prime yourself for your personal SWOT analysis
First, take a few moments to sit quietly and carve out the right headspace. If you have any pressing concerns buzzing around in your mind, write them down and put to one side so you aren’t preoccupied with them.
If you’re into mindfulness, spend a couple of minutes practising mindful breathing. If that’s not your thing, just have a quiet break and a cup of tea.
SWOT analysis requires you to zoom in on the fine details, but also consider the big picture. The next few steps explain how to create a Mind Map to help you keep both of these views in mind as you work.
Write your goal in the middle of your document and circle it. Next, write the different key elements of your life spaced out around the circle - for example:
- Social life
Draw a circle around each item, and then repeat the exercise for each of those smaller circles. What contributes to your health, career, hobbies, etc? For example, for you career you might list your network, people you learn from or are inspired by, your dream job, things you have experience in, the commute you have to do.
No need for value judgements - just write down anything related to your professional life.
Keep working on your mind map until you have a pretty good overview of all the elements you might want to consider during the exercise. It’s okay if you’ve missed bits - you can revisit and add to it as you go.
Creating your personal SWOT lists
Now write down the four headings: strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats that come to mind. Do this off the top of your head to start with, then revisit your mind map at the end to see if there’s anything you’ve missed. For example, your lists might look something like this:
- Strengths: new qualification, reached four years’ experience, strong network, family/relationship support, excelling at written reports and data visualisation, honest/high integrity, caring.
- Weaknesses: no formal management experience, unclear career aspirations, struggling with presentations, lack of useful internal training opportunities, can be inflexible, don’t know how to switch off.
- Opportunities: upcoming promotion opportunity, five-year sabbatical on the horizon, training budget about to renew for the year, new mentorship programme available.
- Threats: competition from other skilled colleagues, mental health struggles, workload impacting social life, diet and gym time.
Enhancing your personal SWOT list
As you refer to the mind map, try drawing imaginary lines between items from different areas - how do those things interact with each other? For example:
- Your commute + coursework for an upcoming certification exam might equal an opportunity to study that you had previously overlooked.
- A management aspiration + your current workplace might equal a threat if there are no potential opportunities for you to progress.
You can also look for new associations that relate to these items. For example, you may not have management opportunities at work, but one of your hobbies might present an opportunity to develop and showcase leadership skills.
To help you identify list items that are unique to you, play ‘What would X say?’ - imagine asking several people how they would fill in these lists for you. That will help you include traits you might otherwise not have considered. Would your boss praise your honesty, for example? Or perhaps your partner would mention that you find it hard to 'switch off'?
If you struggle with ‘threats’, think of yourself as a brand. What could damage your reputation? What could allow others to out-compete you? What could bring you down or put you ‘out of the game’? Equally, for opportunities think about what could propel you forwards (even if it’s experience you could gain outside of work).
What to do with your SWOT analysis lists
Take each list and pull it apart for insights! Use the following questions to help you find the secrets that might help you unlock success.
- Do you have any new strengths that you want to practise or show off? If so, do any of the opportunities you noted down call for those particular skills?
- Are your strengths aligned with the goals you wish to achieve? If not, what can you do to develop the strengths you need?
- Which of your weaknesses are the biggest barrier to achieving your goal(s)?
- Can any of your strengths or opportunities help you overcome those weaknesses? For example, identifying a mentor in your network or taking on a new training course.
- What can you do to prepare yourself for the opportunities available to you?
- What’s the worst-case scenario if each threat comes to fruition? What can you do to mitigate the risks - can your strengths or opportunities help you?
- What role could other people play in helping you overcome weaknesses, take advantage of opportunities or navigate threats?
- What value could each of the opportunities bring to your life? Do you need to choose between any of them? If so, which align most closely with your goals and your strengths, or the strengths you want to develop?
- What things do you have the power to start, stop and continue doing that could help you achieve your goals more efficiently?
- Can you eliminate any of the threats, or shore up your defences against them? Are there any you need to keep track of or set up an ‘early warning’ system for, in case they evolve into a pressing issue?
After your personal SWOT analysis
As you answer these questions, different paths will become visible to you. Some of those paths might complement each other, while others will be mutually exclusive. Remember to keep your end goal in mind at all times and be prepared to make trade-offs in order to retain your focus.
What you do with the output is up to you! But you should now have the info you need to make an informed decision about where to focus your efforts over the next 6-12 months. There are lots of Workshop Tactics you can tweak to use by yourself to help you make and stick to plans. For example:
- Sticky Steps helps you take a big goal and break it down into actionable step. By working backwards from the ‘desired end state’ you also end up with a pretty helpful timeline that tells you what you need to do, and by when.
- Try something like Newspaper Headline for a fun way to consider what the front pages might say about your career, so you can plan to stay on the right side of the media.
- If there are strengths you want to work on or practise but you’re not sure who can help, try a Skills Market with your team (or even among your friends!) to see if there are any complementary skillsets in your network that could learn from.
And finally, if you love this approach and you’d like to repeat it with a team in relation to a specific project at work, follow the instructions on the SWOT Analysis card from Workshop Tactics.