Do you know what an SWOT analysis is? SWOT stands for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats. So a SWOT analysis is a structured plan which evaluates these four areas in your career. This way you can better identify your strengths and weaknesses and work towards improving yourself and advancing in your career.

If you feel stuck where you are and don’t know what to do, then taking the time to analyze these things is important. Here is what you need to do to perform a thorough and informative SWOT analysis.

Doing Your Own SWOT Analysis

There are two things to consider in a SWOT analysis:

1. Internal attributes – things about you that you can change (your strengths and weaknesses)
2. External attributes – things that might not be as much in your control (opportunities and threats)

To properly analyze these things, divide a piece of paper into four parts and label them Strengths and Weaknesses on the top and Opportunities and Threats on the bottom.

* Starting with your internal attributes, begin listing all of your strengths. This can be things like work experience, education, technical knowledge in your field (e.g. hardware, software, programming languages), transferable skills (e.g., communication, teamwork, leadership skills), personal characteristics (e.g., strong work ethic, self-discipline, ability to work under pressure, creativity, optimism, or a high level of energy), your contacts and network. Include anything else you consider to be a personal strength.

* Now it’s time to figure out your weaknesses, but they should still be things you plan to build on and improve. Post these in the box next to strengths. Some examples of weaknesses you might possess are: lack of work experience, low grades, wrong major, no goals, lack of self-knowledge, lack of specific job knowledge, weak technical knowledge and skills (leadership, interpersonal, communication, teamwork), negative personal characteristics (e.g. poor work ethic, lack of discipline, lack of motivation, indecisiveness, shyness, too emotional).

* Once you have all of that down, it’s time to move on to the external attributes – opportunities – on the bottom of the page. These are positive things which are out of your control, but which you can work towards by improving on your weaknesses. They can be things like different opportunities in your field, skills which are lacking in your field, advancement opportunities in your field, professional development, location (e.g. is there more need for your field or does it pay better in another part of the country), and networking.

* Now moving onto the final piece of the SWOT – threats. This could be things like global downsizing in your field, competition from younger or more educated cohorts, obstacles like a lack of the education needed for advancement in your field, limited professional development, and no jobs available in that field.

As difficult as it may be to look at yourself objectively, especially the negative aspects, this is so important. Employers look at the whole picture when they consider you for hiring and for advancement in your field, so you need to look at the whole picture too and where you can improve, but also where you excel. This way you can not only work on yourself, but also convince an employer why they need you.

When it comes to opportunities and threats (the areas you don’t have control over), these are things you can work towards. Knowing your personal strengths can help you convince an employer why you’re a better fit than that young kid just out of college with a higher degree than you have. It can also show you what it is you need to work on to put yourself above the competition.

Having this all written out will put everything into perspective and can only serve to help you advance in the areas you want to. So, have you made a SWOT analysis yet?