(This article appeared previously on AOLJobs.)
In business, companies large and small are always working on being strategic and developing growth plans. Individuals are less inclined to be strategic. That key difference is why employees, rather than employers, get caught off guard by business closings and changes in the business environment.
But that can now change. With just five steps, four simple boxes and one simple exercise, you can become as strategic about your future as any hot Fortune 500 corporation.
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Almost all company growth discussions start with a SWOT (pronounced "swat") analysis. SWOT is an acronym for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats. To do a SWOT analysis, list at least one example for each attribute. Then step back. The view from four angles should help you identify ways to build on strengths, shore up weaknesses, take advantage of opportunitie, and protect yourself from impending threats. There may be more items in one box than another, but there should always be more than one item per box.
As basic as SWOTs
are for businesses, they are rarely done for individuals. Now's the time to even the odds and put this simple business tool to work for you. Whether you're unemployed, employed but looking to grow into a new position or under-employed and wondering how to break out to show your true potential, a SWOT analysis is a great way to take control of your own destiny.
(MORE: What You Should Know About the 50+ Job Market)
Here are five ways to get the most of out of the exercise:
Step 1: Get Away
Companies rarely do SWOT analyses on site. They take their top executives off site to gain some perspective and spend a day, usually with a facilitator, to fill in the boxes.
Take yourself to a library or coffee shop and spend at least 15 minutes on each box or attribute.
If possible, take someone along who can act as your facilitator and spend at least a half day with you. Make sure to buy your “facilitator” some coffee, or a sweet, but their job is not to be sweet to you. Rather they need to press you hard and often to think of more items to put in each box, particularly those for opportunities and threats.
(MORE: Give Yourself a 360 Interview)
Step 2. Be Your Mother
Humans, by nature, tend to concentrate on weaknesses. A SWOT analysis always starts with strengths. That's because given a choice, it's frequently more efficient for a company to further develop strengths rather than work on weaknesses.
Here's an example: Google is great at search. Whatever other businesses it develops, the company's No. 1 goal is always to improve its own search functions so other companies can't enter that space.
When you were a kid, it's a good bet that your mother would tell you how great you were and your answer was, “You have
to say that because you're my mother.” For this exercise, be
your mother and don't be timid in listing your strengths.
This comes in especially handy when an interviewer asks the inevitable question: “Why should we consider you for this job?” By doing the SWOT, your strengths will be on the tip of your tongue.
Step 3: Be a Trend Spotter
To find opportunities, you don't have to be a psychic, but you do need to pay attention to local news.
Is health care growing in your neighborhood? That means jobs in the health industry are growing and not just for doctors. Check local health care sites for job postings on everything from accounting, customer service, food service or shipping jobs.
Have local politicians voted for solar energy? If so, someone local has a new opportunity for installing solar panels and someone else can get good at selling solar in the area.
Some of the best sources of new business growth are right at your fingertips. Check out employment trends at AOLJobs.com
or, for a local perspective, get a copy of state- or city-affiliated business newspapers. Don't assume the cost is out of your range. Rather than jewelry or a tie, ask for a subscription for your next birthday or the holidays. Not sure which news publications are in your area? Check out www.bizjournals.com
Another easy way to find opportunities is to follow business-news sites. Start with Daily Finance
and its affiliated business news site
through the Huffington Post. Skim Fortune
at the library, two publications that specialize in recognizing business trends. Or digitally flip through Wired
or Fast Company
, two publications that pride themselves on spotting business futures.
Step 4: Become a Business News Junkie
A threat is something that is outside your direct sphere of influence but can affect your livelihood and growth potential. When it comes time to fill in the threats box, become a local news junkie — the kind who reads the local newspaper. As much as we like to fault newspapers for printing negative news, it's the negative news that clues you in to impending threats to your career.
Most people, when honest, are well aware of threats. But by not writing them down and facing them directly, they leave themselves unnecessarily open to business closures. It's the ostrich syndrome.
If for instance, you are in the transportation industry, it's important to know why Uber is considered a disrupter and how it may affect not only taxis but also rental car giants in big cities, and soon, smaller metros. And if you're interviewing for a transportation job, it's important to show prospective employers that you know where the industry is headed.
Step 5: Think Like a College Student
Companies are great at creating one-, three- and five-year plans. Once out of high school or college, people rarely think four years ahead, but it's that type of forward thinking that is required to keep you on a growth trend.
It's easy to say that time is limited, there are only 24 hours in a day and you don't have time to follow the news or to take an hour for a SWOT analysis. Time is a constraint we all face. But limited resources, including time, are easy excuses for not taking action now to protect your own future earnings.
Instead, take control back. Do a SWOT analysis on yourself and be brutally honest about your strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats for future success. Then get to work on pieces of the puzzle to strengthen your own positioning.
It will put your career back in your own hands.
Rhona Bronson is an AOLJobs.com contributor. She has spent more than 30 years in marketing and communications positions with well-known consumer product and media brands. After being laid off as a Senior VP of Marketing in 2009, she started a marketing and consulting company in North Jersey. She later led a marketing group for a regional newspaper in South Jersey. Laid off again in 2013, Bronson conducted a focused job search resulting in her newest position as Director of Marketing for the Delaware River and Bay Authority.
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