A positive attitude and confidence are essential elements of successful career planning. However, self belief should be founded on a realistic understanding of your abilities and how these can be utilised to the best effect.

When assessing their future direction, many businesses use a strategic planning technique known as a SWOT analysis, where the ability to achieve a specified goal is assessed on the basis of four factors:

  • S = strengths
  • W = weaknesses
  • O = opportunities
  • T = threats

Creating a personal SWOT analysis

Although designed for use by companies, this technique can be easily and effectively applied at a personal level. The first step in creating an individual SWOT is to identify your career goal. This could be to secure a promotion, change employers within the same industry or re-train in order to embark on a completely different career.

Whatever your objective, it helps to imagine and write down the desired outcome in as much detail as possible. This will focus your mind and allow you to accurately monitor progress.

The four elements of a SWOT

Strengths and weaknesses relate to personal characteristics that will either help or hinder you in achieving your goal. Questions you may wish to consider are what you excel at in your current job and where you could potentially do better. Are there areas where you need to boost your skills or experience to create a more rounded CV? All you’re doing at this stage is creating a list for each heading.

Opportunities and threats are circumstances that will impact on you - either positively or negatively - but are out of your control. These include the economy and your employer’s financial stability, as well as events closer to home such as your family life.

Opportunities are situations that could be beneficial to you, such as your company winning a big contract or a new employer moving to your local area. Threats are developments that are likely to harm your job prospects, such as the ongoing public spending cuts.

Take time to write down as many points as you can for each of the four sections and a range of potential outcomes from probable to worst case scenario. Be honest with yourself and, where appropriate, involve those closest to you such as family, friends and workmates so you can create a complete picture of your personal circumstances.

The benefits of SWOT planning

While it’s impossible to know what’s around the corner, realistically facing the situation head on will help you to plan for every eventuality. By creating a rounded and realistic view of your wider environment, you will be able to work out what changes are required to take advantage of upcoming opportunities or minimise threats.

For example, you might decide you need to gain new skills to protect your job or enhance your CV. In that case you could study for a relevant professional qualification in order to acquire new knowledge or demonstrate your abilities to an employer.

Whatever your situation, it’s always better to be prepared and take action to strengthen your position and employability.

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