Goal # 2, professional development:
Find / develop a sound professional niche
This post is about SWOT analysis used as a job search / career planning tool.
SWOT analysis is a framework used to clarify an entity’s situation and plan what to do. The entity is often an organisation, but can also be an individual looking for a job or career change. The SWOT framework is just a short list of four categories: strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats.
A SWOT analysis should in principle always relate to a context… For a company: a defined market. For a person: a specific type of role in a specific industry – ideally a specific job. What’s in the ‘Strengths’ box for one job type may be in the ‘Weaknesses’ box for another job type. However:
SWOT for job seekers
For a job seeker, a general SWOT analysis can help to create an employability profile and suggest a career direction.
The career consultancy business Forward Motion* presents SWOT analysis as a general career strategy tool and makes it easier to apply it by explaining each category with sub-categories. Their version addresses persons with Asperger’s Syndrome and Non-verbal Learning Disorder but can be useful to anyone who suffers from occupational confusion.
Your responses to the SWOT analysis (along with any feedback from others) can show you where your vocational talents and skills lie, the areas that you need to work on, opportunities that you may be missing and obstacles to work around.
Here is a graphic presentation with an adapted version of the SWOT framework (click the image to see full size):
Below is my application of the first part of the SWOT framework – strengths and weaknesses** – on my own job seeker situation.
The idea with SWOT analysis for career development is to use the list of strengths and weaknesses to define opportunities and threats and from there, map out a viable career strategy.
My list of workplace-relevant weaknesses (which isn’t exhaustive) reveals why I try to work freelance instead of enjoying the steady income in a regular job. There are just too many things that can (and do) go wrong in a workplace.
Quite many things can go wrong in job interviews, too. Clever HR recruiters seem to intuitively pick up subtle ‘trouble signs’ (body language? awkwardness? unresponsiveness to their cues?). So although I don’t mention any weaknesses, they somehow seem to think that ‘I won’t be the right fit for the organisation’. Duh.
Maybe they also pick up on the inconsistent and random job history of interrupted employment I try to camouflage in my resume and cover letters.
Much trouble can be avoided by working from home, but there are big jokers there too… such as lack of interest in marketing, purchasing behaviour, SEO and similar aspects web freelancers are supposed to care about. Money, in general (maybe that is why I don’t have any!).
Time management is a very tricky aspect too, and the income potential from freelance work opportunities via the Internet doesn’t look great so far.
The list of opportunities isn’t exhaustive and definitive (hopefully); it is just the options I can think of at this stage – a starting point. Here is a mash-up of the opportunities in the blue card:
Opportunities I pursue:
- Freelance work + part time job combined. I believe most in this option most because it:
1. means less vulnerability in a workplace, while it still offers opportunity to learn from an organisation, interact with people and experience frequent reality checks.
2. won’t be as draining as a full time job = better chance it will last
3. allows me to keep trying to establish a strong portfolio and build self-employment competencies and independence
I am trying to do this… I attended a job interview for a part time job last week and have an interview scheduled next week for the Interviewer part time job.
Opportunities I consider:
- Revive existing hibernating graphic design business.
My business partner (the graphic designer) may return to Australia this winter and may be be willing to give the business another go. That would return us to our key challenge: to define our unique selling proposition and market our service.
- Dog minding service or online pet supplies store (or another practical service or e-commerce business) are loose ideas I will consider a bit more before I maybe abandon them.
Opportunities I might dream about:
- Scientific research in interesting field or hobby research & write books.
Inspiring but financially unrealistic options.
If they were financially viable then I would look at the challenges: the vital importance of strong self discipline, time management and organisation skills and in the case of academic research, a political school environment with lots of young people. In the case of book authorship: the importance of talent + discipline + connections and marketing skills
The attraction is the permission and time to dive into a world of logic and imagination for a long stretch of time, uninterrupted, and build a deep relationship with it; a sort of platonic marriage of insight. To distil chaos into orderly concepts and contribute to making the world a bit more meaningful; more understood. To finalise somethings and say: ‘I made this!’
Opportunities I don’t believe in at all:
- A full time job that matches formal qualifications.
I don’t believe in this option because recruitment people tend to look for corporate cultural fit/misfit during interviews, and there seems to be something about me that pops up as an alert on their inner HR screening radar. At least that is how I think they think. In any case, I didn’t manage to pass through the interviews I managed to get to during the job search process after I stopped in my old full time job.
There’s also a great number of small things that can easily go wrong in a workplace with workplace’s typical social expectations, misunderstandings, and issues with sensitivity to ambient noise (ringing phones, talk, server noise, lunch breaks, restless and flickering surroundings), for example.
While each of the factors may not by themselves be deadly for the job, all together they form a constant pressure that drains energy, motivation and attention. Also, I lack genuine enthusiasm about corporate stuff and climbing corporate career ladders.
- Virtual freelancer as stand-alone occupation. It is too unprofitable and vulnerable to time management & work discipline failures.
- Menial full time job. I did these types of jobs before my education and they presented their own sets of meaningless and draining challenges (and the worst case of workplace bullying I’ve experienced). That’s why I decided to invest in an education.
- Go broke and end up homeless and alcoholic… always good with a fool-proof back-up option.
*This is not an endorsement – I have no idea if they are any good. I just found their job seeker-adapted SWOT check list on the Internet and find it useful.
**I’ve listed my strengths and weaknesses without asking for feedback from anyone who knows me, so it might be biased and I might overlook things others can see. The general recommendation is to not do this alone because self-evaluation can be very biased.