Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Career Planning: A Little Strategy Goes a Long Way

Many of us spend more time planning our next vacation, designing our dream kitchen, or researching cell phone plans than we do developing a clear plan for our career success. If you feel that your job search is floundering or your career is stalled, a career plan can be the answer that moves you forward.

Most of us understand that having a career plan is a good idea, but we get stuck when it comes time to actually create the plan. Think about your career as a company whose success you are deeply invested in. How would you manage your career differently if you were running a company? How would you plan for the future success of your career if you ran it like a company? Successful companies and organizations use a strategic tool called a SWOT Analysis to help them stay current and ahead of the competition.  SWOT is an acronym for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats.

The SWOT Analysis is a great tool to use in career planning since it prompts you to think about your current situation and your career goals in unique ways. Download the SWOT Career Analysis Worksheet and follow these simple 5 steps:

1. Begin your SWOT by writing your targeted job title at the top of your worksheet. This is your goal for the SWOT.  You can use a SWOT for long term career planning - what is your ultimate career goal? Or for short term goal setting - what is the next position you would like to attain?  Either way, deciding on a specific job title keeps your SWOT focused. (If you are not sure of your job search goal, take some time to invest in career exploration.)

2. Next you want to identify the STRENGTHS you already possess that are relevant to your goal. Again, try to be specific. For this step, stay focused on the strengths that are internal to you - the knowledge, skills, and abilities you bring to the table. In terms of the position you are seeking, ask yourself:
  • What do I do well?
  • What unique skills do I bring to this position?
  • What do others see as my strengths?
3. Once you have identified your internal strengths, you will want to look at the other side of the coin. What are some of your WEAKNESSES in relation to the job you are targeting? It is important to be honest and specific in this step. Remember that once you know where the gaps are, you can work to fill them.  Think about:
  • What skills, knowledge, and abilities am I lacking?
  • How can I overcome these? (For example, attending an educational seminar or volunteering for a project.)
4. Now it is time to look beyond your internal qualities and think about OPPORTUNITIES. These are external possibilities that you can capitalize on in order to move closer to your goal. Start generating your opportunities by asking:
  • Do my strengths unlock potential jobs in industries or with employers that I haven’t considered?  
  • What are some areas of growth that exist within my current company or industry?
  • What technologies can benefit me?
  • What professional associations or LinkedIn groups might present new possibilities?
5. The final step in your SWOT Analysis is to identify external THREATS. These might be obstacles, competitors, or other hurdles you may encounter on your journey to accomplishing your goal. This critical information allows you to plan ahead in order to identify and overcome any challenges. Consider the following:
  • What industry trends might harm me?
  • Who are my competitors and what are their strengths?
  • Which of my strengths and opportunities might help me overcome these threats?

Once you have completed your SWOT Analysis, you will have a better idea of your current career situation in relation to your goals.  This is the first step in career planning!

Share with us in the comments below your thoughts on completing a SWOT analysis. In addition, if you are a WGU student or alum, please request an appointment with a WGU Career and Professional Development Specialist to discuss how to further develop your strategy and take your career to the next level.

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