As a businessperson, you may have heard of a SWOT Analysis. It’s a planning method used to evaluate a project or business venture’s related Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats. The strengths and weaknesses are internal to the project or business venture and can be controlled, to some extent. Opportunities and threats are external to the project or venture and can’t be significantly controlled.
In this article, I’m going to tell you my personal experience with a different kind of SWOT analysis I was asked to do as an undergraduate business student. One of my professors invited each student in her marketing class to write a SWOT analysis assessing themselves as future employees. This special assignment was for extra credit on the last day of the semester. The purpose was to help each student define their personal brand. I always remembered and kept my work from this exercise, so I believe it could help you, too.
To follow along, open up your word processor or use a pen and paper. In one sentence, write down your top short-term career goal. Then, write down one word that describes you as an employee and a person. Now, write down four personal characteristics that set you apart from the competition. Write a few short sentences explaining why you chose these words. This will help you prepare to assess yourself.
Now it’s time for the actual SWOT analysis. Start by listing your strengths. Remember, these are internal aspects. The professor warned us that this is the hardest part for many business people. We are taught to be modest, but to sell ourselves, we must be willing to advertise what we offer! Next, write down your weaknesses. Keep in mind that these too are things you have some degree of control over.
Now, write what your opportunities are. These are ways you can capitalize on the global business environment. Next, write down your threats. While it’s frustrating to think of disadvantages you can’t directly control, remember that you do have the power to adapt to these threats.
Are you ready?
As a college junior, I completed this assignment thoughtfully and went to the final, optional day of class. The professor went around the room and told each student to read some of what they wrote out loud. After all, developing a personal brand doesn’t do much good if you can’t communicate it. The patterns that emerged surprised me a little. While I had felt pride when using the words “ambitious” and “diligent” to separate myself from the competition, I found that many other students had said the same things. When one young man joined the chorus in describing himself as “hard-working,” the professor chimed in.
“A lot of employees see themselves as hard-working! If you’re going to use this to distinguish yourself, you better have the history to back it up.”
Later, after entering the workforce, I noticed just how common unsubstantiated synonyms for “hard-working” really were. Back in class, there were some students who really did stand out through how they described themselves. For example, one girl said she was “positive,” and then explained how her upbeat attitude had helped her succeed academically and culturally as an international student in the United States. The professor was impressed.
As predicted, students needed some encouragement to share their strengths. When it came to weaknesses, many students, including myself, volunteered that they lacked math, science, and technical skills. The professor encouraged everyone to see these as opportunities to learn valuable skills in the workplace. When it came to opportunities, many students mentioned the growing interconnectedness of international markets as an opportunity for greater success. As a threat, the global economic recession, which had recently taken hold, was prominent. Hearing that other students had similar concerns was intriguing. I feel this exercise made it easier to write a resume with helpful revisions later.
As you can imagine, your SWOT analysis won’t directly translate into a resume. But, if done carefully, it will give you a feel for how to customize it, since you want a resume that highlights your strengths and deemphasizes your weaknesses. Of course, being asked to describe your strengths and weaknesses is also common during interviews, so having a response ready helps. Finally, thinking about your opportunities and threats guides your career path.
If you have friends who are working on their resumes or CVs, this can be a fun activity to try together. Your friends can often give you new insight into your strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats. You may also find that reading your own SWOT analysis out loud gives you a new perspective on yourself!
Whether you do this exercise alone or with friends, give it a serious try. Remember, you need to know a product well before you can sell it. If you haven’t thought much about yourself as an employee, how can you sell yourself? Once you become an expert on yourself, you’ll be highly qualified to sell this valuable, unique product.