How to Write a Personal SWOT Analysis Effectively

SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats) analysis - napkin doodle with cup of espresso coffee on old wooden table

In business school, a key managerial too that every student comes to know and love is the SWOT analysis. This examination of strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats is generally used to examine business issues at the strategic or managerial levels. However, a SWOT analysis can also be used at the personal level to identify your own individual strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats in order to develop a more effective path toward your goal. A personal SWOT, however, differs somewhat from a business SWOT, and it can be a bit more challenging since it involves looking objectively at your own behavior, which can be a challenge.

Like any SWOT, the most important step in writing your personal analysis is to begin with a goal in mind. Only be understanding what you want to get out of a SWOT analysis can you effectively categorize your characteristics and traits to help you plan how to achieve that goal. For example, a weakness in the pursuit of one goal might actually a strength in the pursuit of a different goal, or vice versa. Therefore, it is important to set a goal so that you can frame each element of your analysis correctly.

The second step is probably the easiest—setting up your SWOT chart. Draw two intersecting lines, or create a table with two rows and two columns. This will give you four boxes that you can use to list your strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats.

Once you have completed these two steps, it’s time to start listing.

Begin by identifying your traits, qualifications, and behaviors. Try making a list describing yourself in as many ways as possible. This can be a bit challenging since it is difficult to honestly evaluate ourselves, especially when identifying negative traits. You might benefit from asking friends and colleagues to help you identify strengths and weaknesses. As you create your list, resist the temptation to try to “spin” your list to sound more positive. Your goal isn’t to sound better to but to evaluate yourself honestly. As you do so, be sure to look beyond just your business training and qualifications. Off-hours hobbies and activities, and your interpersonal relationship skills, can also be strategically important. The wider a net you cast, the more likely you will be to develop a helpful list that will be useful as you analyze yourself. At this point, you will not be categorizing your list, so feel free to list items in any order.

Once you’ve completed your list—and don’t worry if you think of something later; you can always add more!—it’s time to begin categorizing each item on the list. For each item, label it S or W for strengths, or weaknesses. Remember, these are relative, so they are strengths and weaknesses relative to your goal, not in an absolute sense. For example, speaking French might be a weakness if your goal is to open a business in China, but it could be a strength if you plan to operate out of Montreal.

Then, enter your strengths and weaknesses on your chart.

You’ll repeat the process again, this time thinking about anything and everything that could impact your ability to achieve your goals. Consider internal factors (such as your motivation, training, experience, etc.) as well as the more obvious external factors. As you examine these, consider which are opportunities to come closer to your goal and which are threats that might keep you from achieving your goal. Enter these onto your chart. Once you’ve done so, you’ll have a complete SWOT chart and can then begin the more difficult part, the analysis.

Once you have your chart, you can follow the standard SWOT format to determine how to maximize strengths and opportunities and minimize weaknesses and threats. This analysis will form the heart of your professional SWOT analysis writing, and here a personal analysis can be a little tricky because you need to be able to be honest about yourself and areas where you could benefit from improvement and change. The key, again, is to be honest and to consider yourself objectively, as other people might evaluate yourself, and without excuses or rationalizations.

Finally, use what you have learned to develop a plan to achieve your goals. This plan will likely including making some difficult changes to help you overcome threats and minimize weakness, but when done effectively a personal SWOT analysis is a powerful tool to help you plan for the future.

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