The problem is that most career-planning tools don’t help you understand your position relative to your competition. In addition, they rarely expose external threats or blind spots that can derail your career.
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. How can you adopt a new point of view? Try conducing a personal SWOT analysis.
A SWOT analysis (which is an acronym for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats) will give you a broader awareness of your abilities and expose hidden opportunities, explained Kim Giangrande, an HR consultant and principal of IntuitiveHR.
“It’s like looking in a mirror,” she said. “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.”
With that in mind, here’s how to perform a personal SWOT analysis to advance your career.
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. The information will also help you prepare for the rest of your job-hunting, promotion-seeking journey, Quast advised. For example, you can use your personal inventory 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?
Putting It Together
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. (Giangrande shared this template to help you get started.)
“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.”