The start of a new year is filled with new beginnings and resolutions—and many good intentions to do things better. Before getting too far into what aspects of yourself and your career you would change, you should take the important step of analyzing your current situation. A good method for doing this is conducting a SWOT analysis—a technique that helps you assess strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats. Strengths and weaknesses are internally focused, while opportunities and threats are more externally focused. Together, these four areas can provide you with a complete picture of your career health and prospects.
Strengths. Identifying your strengths, both professionally and personally, can be fun and confidence boosting. To help you identify your strengths, you might ask yourself these questions: What are your strongest technical skills—retrosynthetic analysis or method validation? What are your best soft skills—communicating in writing or motivating others? Your list shouldn’t be superficial but rather a thoughtful consideration of what you enjoy and do well. Think about the skills you’ve used to achieve your most significant professional accomplishments and include them.
Weaknesses. Identifying weaknesses may not be as much fun as thinking about what you do well, but it’s just as important. For this step, you may ask yourself: What are the areas of your work where you don’t shine? Do you consistently find yourself needing to ask for help with certain tasks? Are there parts of your job or career you don’t enjoy or tasks you never want to do again? Maybe you consider it a weakness being tied to a particular geographic location or having never managed other people. Revisiting past performance reviews can help remind you of areas where you need improvement. Consider asking close colleagues to give you candid reviews of your performance.
Opportunities. Look outside yourself for opportunities that may arise in the next few months or years. You can ask yourself questions like Is your organization starting a new project that you could volunteer for? Can you educate yourself on a new technology and use those skills in your work? Are there imminent transitions at your company, such as staff members retiring or other changes likely to make new roles available soon? Is there a conference or workshop coming up that could help you enhance your knowledge and skills? Take stock of the opportunities available to you, and learn where you can seek out new ones.
Threats. You can’t be prepared for threats if you aren’t aware of them. Examine and research your organization, sector, field—even your personal life—to build an awareness of changes that may happen in the near future, and ask yourself how they could affect you. Consider questions like Is there a strong competitor for your company’s main product? Are customers’ needs changing, and if so, how is your organization responding? What major demographic, cultural, or technological trends are affecting your industry?
Writing down an honest assessment of your situation in each of these areas will help you create an accurate picture of yourself and your current professional environment. Once you have conducted a thorough SWOT analysis, you can begin to evaluate it to determine if you are content with your current situation and prepared for the future. If you decide that you are not, you will be more prepared to take action and make changes.
Get involved in the discussion. The ACS Career Tips column is published monthly in C&EN. Send your comments and ideas for topics for future columns to firstname.lastname@example.org.