Businesses use SWOT analyses (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats) to help them plot their next moves. Where should they spend their money, where save it? What opportunities should they go after, and which aren’t worth the effort? That same approach can be just as valuable for you as figure out your next career moves.
Identifying Strengths and Weaknesses
These are specifically tied to your career goals. So, for instance, if you’ve worked for as a medical librarian for five years and your goal is to become a law librarian for a firm that specializes in healthcare law, your previous expertise is definitely in the “strengths” category. If, on the other hand, you wanted to move into the green-technologies field, your lack of knowledge or experience in this area would be in your “weaknesses” category.
Identifying Opportunities and Threats
Opportunities and threats are about external circumstances – what’s going on in your area of interest that may affect your career goals? (You have less control over these than you do your strengths and weaknesses, because opportunities and threats involve others’ actions and decisions.)
An example of an opportunity if your career goal is to become a law librarian for that healthcare-focused law firm is the expansion of legal challenges for both providers and consumers of medical and healthcare services, not to mention the ongoing effects of national healthcare legislation. Essentially, it’s likely we’re going to see a lot more legal firms specializing in healthcare issues.
A threat would be the possibility that law firms started moving away from employing law librarians and instead relied on data analysts and paralegals to fulfill the role previously held by law librarians. Although this isn’t necessarily the case with today’s law firms, it’s an example of the type of potential career threats that you might consider.
Learning from Your SWOT Analysis
The reason to do a SWOT analysis is basically to be able to tilt the odds in your favor: if you can identify an area of weakness, you can do something about it. For example, in our green-technologies job scenario, you could improve your position by undertaking a program to learn as much as possible about the industry, its players and competitors, trends, issues, and other relevant information. Y
ou might want to take a course in green technologies. You might want to join a trade group related to green technologies where you could volunteer and meet people in the profession. Bottom line: once you’ve identified your weaknesses relative to a specific career goal, you can steps to fix them.
With opportunities and threats, on the other hand, think “hope for the best and plan for the worst.” Roughly translated to your career, that means you want to position yourself to take advantage of potential career opportunities and, to the extent possible, create “Plan B” action plans in case the threats you’ve identified go live.
For example, an opportunity might be that your region is becoming a hub for start-up, innovative healthcare services firms (and the law firms who will work with them). A threat would be that your state economic environment is not conducive to business growth, and so it’s difficult for those healthcare start-ups to succeed.
In that case, your back-up Plan B might be to consider relocating to a region with a healthier economic climate for healthcare companies, or to explore whether generalist law firms in your area have healthcare practices where you could add value (and get a job).
Think of your SWAT analysis as a terrific diagnostic tool for moving your career toward your next career goal. Knowing your strengths and weaknesses enables you to maximize the former and improve the latter. And although you have much less control over opportunities and threats, by taking steps in advance to position for either outcome you’ll be much better prepared to thrive on opportunities and survive the threats.
Trying Out Your Own SWOT Analysis
Ready to test this out? Grab pen and paper, and create your own four-quadrant grid. Then give yourself some time to think about your current circumstances and how they do or don’t support achieving your career goals. Your answers to the following questions should give you a feel for the types of issues to consider in regards to your specific career goals:
- What skills do you have that are unique, current, and in-demand relative to your target opportunity?
- What professional development courses or training have you recently completed?
- What experience do you have working with data or digital assets (two growing LIS opportunities)?
- Do you have network connections in your field of interest?
- Do you have positive relations with previous employers who could recommend your work?
- Do you have an out-of-date skill set?
- Have you neglected opportunities to build your professional network?
- Have you avoided keeping up with current professional technologies?
- Do you dislike dealing with change, or having to adapt to it?
- Do you expect a salary that reflects your seniority, or years as an LIS professional?
- Is there a large number of potential employers in your region?
- Is the field you’re interested in economically healthy and growing?
- Can your work be done remotely, so that it will be less dependent on your local economy?
- Is the regional economic development council committed to helping local companies grow in this field?
- Is there a shortage of skilled information workers in this area?
- Are companies in your area of interest struggling in your region?
- Have there been recent layoffs at companies you were considering for employment?
- Are potential regulatory constraints liable to damage employment opportunities?
- Has a new competitive technology come into the market that’s likely to damage existing (potential) employers?
- Are information jobs in this field susceptible to being automated or outsourced?
Obviously not all of these questions will apply to your specific circumstances. But consider them to be representative of ones that might be relevant for you, and then think through the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats likely to apply to your career goals. Once you’ve worked through your SWOT analysis, it will be much easier for you to identify and prioritize your next career steps.