What careers coaches won’t tell you about SWOT analysis

SWOT analysis – What careers coaches won’t tell you

The SWOT analysis can be a great career planning and development tool, but not in the way that many career coaches and educational tutors suggest.

kickstart your career swot analysisSince 2006 when I first started writing about the use of SWOT analysis, I have seen very little change in the way that SWOT is explained. As a result, many people new to the model either misunderstand it or use it believing it to have little value. That is a shame, as the tool [SWOT analysis] is robust and flexible. This flexibility also leads to many feeling it is a poor or inadequate tool.

There are many educational establishments  that have good tools for doing a career swot analysis – for example:
Portland state

UC Davis

These and many others are useful tools, but like many of the tools on the internet miss a key point. A missing link that causes confusion around the world.

Using a SWOT in the context of career planning is very different from traditional strategic and marketing planning. When it comes to a career swot analysis, it is about a person, not a function. It is time to get personal and very specific. Without meaningful details, the data is of no value. So why waste your time doing such an exercise?

In this piece, I want to walk you quickly through the model and how to use it in a way that makes sense and hopefully in a way that helps you to understand how to use the model in a way that shows its value to you.

The Basics – what is a SWOT analysis?



  • Strengths are things you are good at.
  • Weaknesses are things you are not good at
  • Opportunities are situations that can be fortuitous for you
  • Threats are situations that can have a negative impact on you

Traditionally a SWOT analysis is presented as a simple 2×2 grid with these words as titles, and the rest is left blank. It is the blank, white space and lack of clarity that causes most people the issue.

If you want to find out more about the background to SWOT analysis read our comprehensive piece on the history of the swot analysis

READ  SWOT analysis

How careers tutors usually position SWOT

Often there will be a worksheet that says something along the lines of:

“Taking stock, SWOT analysis of my current situation”

This is often seen to be the start of the process, and at the same time acts as the driver for actions.  Unfortunately, this is where things start to go wrong for many. This simple tool starts to look like a burden, rather than an enabler.

Doing a SWOT at this time is OK, but it can build up issues and barriers.

SWOT Analysis works best in context

Rather than looking at a SWOT from where you are now, consider a SWOT in the context of what it is you want to achieve.

So the first thing you need is a goal. that goal may be as simple as:

“get my first job”

“get a promotion”

“Earn a degree”

“complete a module or get credits” etc

The goal itself is not important, what is important is to have one. For example, what you write as a strength for one objective or goal, could easily be a weakness for another.

Identify the SWOT factors in the context of your goal

Write your goal at the top of the page. Keep this goal in mind. then answer the following questions.

What am I good at or know that will help me achieve the goal? (Strengths)

List 5-8 items

What am I not good at or do not understand fully, that could stop me achieving my goal? (Weaknesses)

List 5-8 items

What is changing, that is not in my control that may help make it easier to achieve my goal? (Opportunities)

For example changes in Politics, educational needs for certain roles, what social attitudes are changing that may make things easier for me

List 5-8 items

What is changing, that is not in my control that may help make it harder to achieve my goal? (Threats)

For example changes in Politics, educational needs for certain roles, what social attitudes are changing that may make things easier for me

List 5-8 items

Have you covered all the factors?

The disadvantage of a blank sheet Career SWOT analysis is that we put down the first things that come to mind. Typically, it is not easy to list factors that really enable us to achieve our goals. However, it is the factors that we need to think about most that enable the best and most effective change. Be as specific as you can, for example, if you say “skills” are a strength – that is meaningless. If on the other hand, you list “First Aid certificate”, that is quantifiable, and anyone looking at the SWOT can easily say “yes that item is a strength”. The more specific and detailed you are, the more value the SWOT process will be for you.

READ  Porter's Five Forces for competitor analysis & advantage

Each factor needs to be as specific as you can. For example, there is no value in writing “Threat – competition, lots of people applying”. unless it is easy for you to identify a strategy to overcome or reduce the threat. Equally an opportunity such as “will help build skills” is too broad and meaningless. better would be “Opportunity to develop my sales presentation skills”

The elements I like to encourage people to think about include:

For Strengths and Weaknesses in Career SWOT analysis

People – who do I know that might be able to help me/ who don’t I know that may be a weakness? – think LinkedIn connections

Resources – what resources, behaviours and abilities do I have that give me an advantage> What lack of skills/ qualifications may be a barrier for me in this context?

Innovation – How do you think?

Marketing – For us as individuals, this is about communication and knowledge. What does the world know about me? Any information on social media about me? What does my CV say? Are factors are advantageous or a disadvantage to me in their eyes?

Operations – Skills and capabilities, what can I do?  what can I not do?

Finance – what constraints do I have? are there commute issues? are there living cost issues? can I take a low pay job to get experience first? Can I do voluntary work to build experience?


Opportunities and Threats in Career SWOT analysis

Political – what changes are happening that may create an opportunity for you, or be a threat – for example, BREXIT, It may be an opportunity for increasing employment opportunities in the UK or a threat if you had aspirations for business travel

READ  How To Write A Business Diagnostic Tool

Economic – what changes are happening that can be an opportunity or threat to achieving your goals, ie, cost of living changes, housing costs etc.

Sociological – what changes are happening that can be an opportunity or threat to achieving your goals, ie, social norms, expectations etc.

Technological – what are the changes happening, based on your skills and potential goal, is this a threat or opportunity for you?

Legal – is there legislation that can act as a threat to you achieving your objective, or does it create an opportunity, for example, the coming changes to copyright or speed limited vehicles?

Environmental – in the environment relevant to your goal, are there factors that may create an opportunity or a threat for you. for example, if you are a creative that specialises in creating bespoke plastic drinking straws, is that an opportunity or threat?


Adapted PRIMO-F and PESTLE models to help

Using adapted versions of both the  PRIMO-F and PESTLE analysis models can help us build relevant SWOT analysis for helping us with our career plan. Yes, doing this creates a little more work. At the same time, helps us to cover factors that can make all the difference in achieving the goal.


What careers coaches won’t tell you about SWOT analysis
What careers coaches won’t tell you about SWOT analysis

Change the goal, change the SWOT

If you want an effective Career SWOT Analysis, then you need to rewrite one for each goal. In the same way that one generic CV cannot be used for all job applications (or at least not if you really want the job!), the same is true for a Career SWOT analysis.

A factor that is a strength for one goal, may well be a weakness for another.


It is all about the context.  I hope this has helped, and I wish you great planning and a successful career.

Mike Morrison

View posts by Mike Morrison
Mike is a consultant and change agent specialising in developing skills in senior people to increase organizational performance. Mike is also founder & director of RapidBI, an organizational effectiveness consultancy. Check out his linkedin profile MikeMorrison LinkedIn Profile

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Scroll to top
This site uses cookies. Find out more about this site’s cookies.