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Tech Career Insights: How to Use a Personal SWOT Analysis Before Setting Goals
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How to Use a Personal SWOT Analysis Before Setting Goals

By Andréa Reid

It’s never too early to think ahead in your career. While running OfferZen’s mentoring programme, Project Thrive, I’ve learned a lot about how junior developers can set themselves up for success. Here’s how a personal SWOT analysis can help you set better goals.

Personal SWOT analysis for better goal setting

I’ve seen time and again how careful and thoughtful goal setting can make all the difference in charting the course of a junior developer’s career. That’s why we make use of the personal SWOT (strength, weakness, opportunities, threats) analysis tool with our Project Thrive mentees.

You can download this personal SWOT analysis template to help you get started!

What is a SWOT analysis?

As the name suggests, a SWOT analysis is a roadmap that’ll help you identify:

  • Strengths: “What am I good at?”,
  • Weaknesses: “Where can I improve?”,
  • Opportunities: “What am I not taking advantage of?” and
  • Threats: “What is standing in my way?”.

You can then use these findings to inform what goals to set. Typically, the SWOT analysis is used at an organisational level, but it can be used for personal development as well.

How do I do a SWOT analysis?

There are numerous times in life when it’s helpful to take stock. You might be stuck and unsure of your direction, considering a career change, or vying for a promotion. These are all excellent times to complete a personal SWOT analysis.

Strengths

To start the process, consider what you currently have going for you. When you think about your strengths, don’t just list your hard skills, also think about yourself as a holistic person and include your soft skills, characteristics, attitudes and habits. Pay special attention to attributes that help you stand out from your peers.

For example, it’s common for junior developers to have a degree in computer science. So make a note of that extra training and project work you’ve done. The more specific you can make your answers, the better. You might have an attitude of determination and a habit of working really hard until you’ve reached a goal. Add those too!

You can use the following questions to guide you in this step:

  1. What qualifications/certifications/training do I have?
  2. What do I do well? What are my specialised skills?
  3. What personal characteristics do I consider to be strengths?
  4. What additional resources or contacts do I have at my disposal?

Your answers could look something like this:

  1. I have a bachelor’s degree in computer science, but I’ve been coding since I was a kid and have a track record of learning a new language every few months.
  2. I’m excellent at working with people.
  3. I adapt to new systems very quickly. I’m skilled in HTML, CSS and JavaScript.
  4. I’m a great listener and problem solver. I’m tenacious and dedicated to my goals. I have a growth mindset.
  5. I’m taking advantage of internal team training opportunities. I have ongoing personal projects where I’m learning new languages.

From my experience training mentors and mentees on how to work through the SWOT analysis, I’ve seen that it’s common to take certain skills for granted, especially if they come naturally to us, or because we’re already highly skilled in them.  This points to one of the pitfalls of the SWOT analysis: it’s self-reported. To help counteract this, consider reaching out to a colleague, mentor or manager to ask what they think your strengths are. You might be surprised to hear what they have to say. This step of the process will help to highlight these potential blind spots.

While it’s sometimes hard to talk about your strengths, this step gives you a solid foundation. You’re now far better placed to be strategic about where you need to build and grow.

Weaknesses

We all have development areas. This part of the process will help you understand where you might need to spend a little extra time to excel. Try to be as honest as you can and withhold judgement. Every development area you identify comes with opportunities to improve.

It can also show you if there are some aspects of your profession that you’re just not suited to, and that’s ok. For instance, many of our mentees struggle with unpacking technical concepts with non-technical people. Pinpointing areas of improvement like this for yourself will help you seek out specific development opportunities in this area.

To help you assess your weaknesses, use the following questions as a prompt. For each point, think of possible ways you could build on these areas. Remember to consider both soft and hard skills.

  1. What skills do I currently lack?
  2. What things do I have difficulty with?

Your answer might look something like this:

  1. I’m skilled in Python, but I need to put a lot more work into C++. I don’t have any experience with PHP yet and have never worked in Ruby or Go. I can work on developing these skills through personal projects, or by asking to be assigned more diverse projects at work. I can start by watching training videos for the languages I’ve never worked with, and build from there.
  2. I struggle to remain motivated when working in languages I don’t enjoy. I’ll sometimes procrastinate and have to rush, which can lead to silly mistakes in the final product. I am also sometimes impatient when I have to communicate with someone who doesn’t understand the technology I’m working with. I could look for a mentor so I have someone to talk to about staying motivated and communicating technical ideas clearly.

Opportunities

When we’re too focused on what’s right in front of us, opportunities can pass us by. The personal SWOT analysis helps alleviate this risk by forcing us to take stock of the opportunities that surround us. Consider the following:

  1. Are there any trends in my industry that I can take advantage of?
  2. Can I improve my skills?
  3. How can I get noticed? Is there a way I can demonstrate initiative?
  4. Can someone help me achieve my goals?

Your list of opportunities might look like the following:

  1. Cloud computing is a growing industry that I’m interested in. I can focus on languages that I know are essential in that industry, like Python, TypeScript, Go, JavaScript and Rust. I can worry less about learning languages that aren’t used there, unless they are relevant to my current role.
  2. I can volunteer for projects at work where these languages are being used. Otherwise, I can work on projects and self-learn in my own time.
  3. I can demonstrate my skill set by creating a GitHub profile and featuring my project work there, where allowed. I’ll be sure to include personal projects to show that I’m willing to do extra to learn and grow.
  4. I don’t have a mentor yet, but I can speak to a senior dev at work, or join a mentorship programme like Project Thrive.

Threats

It can feel like the sky’s the limit when setting new goals. But it’s important to remain grounded and to be reasonable about what you can accomplish. This section of the SWOT analysis is designed to help you chart a manageable course.

Consider the various aspects of your life that might hinder your development, or compete for your time. Use these questions as a guide:

  1. What obstacles do I face?
  2. What could get in my way?

Your answers could look something like this:

  1. My team lead is too busy to take on additional mentorship work with me, and the senior devs in the team are tied up as well.
  2. My role is strictly focused on a single language. There is no need or room for me to expand my programming languages in my current role.
  3. I’m studying part-time, so I don’t have a lot of capacity for self-driven project work.

Using a personal SWOT analysis to set achievable goals

Once you’ve worked your way through the SWOT analysis, you have all the information you need to create a roadmap to success.

Consider how your strengths and opportunities align. Where possible, set goals that make the most of your strengths and amplify existing opportunities. Since you are well-suited to these goals and are not threatened by limiting circumstances, they should be at the top of your priority list.

Your strengths may well help you to overcome your weaknesses, but if that’s not the case, you can use your weaknesses to whittle your list of goals down to something more achievable. Spend particular time thinking about where your threats and weaknesses overlap. These are your pain points. The more you work on them, the less likely these are to combine into insurmountable obstacles.

So now that you know the ins and outs of the personal SWOT analysis, it’s time to take a closer look at yourself. Download our personal SWOT analysis template, and if you’re looking for more support in your career development journey, you can sign up for Project Thrive and pair up with a senior developer.

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