Joe Johnson, Ph.D.
Entrepreneur. Investor. Startup Expert.

SWOT analysis is most commonly applied to organizations and ideas. However, it can be used to great effect for personal development and as an aid in making hiring decisions.

What is SWOT?

SWOT stands for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats. It’s an effective tool for helping managers and entrepreneurs analyze their organizations and businesses, as well as specific products and services.

Introduced in the book Business Policy: Text and Cases (1965) by Edmund P. Learned, Roland C. Christensen, and Kenneth R. Andrews, SWOT analysis has remained an important analytic tool in the business sector, especially as pertaining to organizations. More recently, this longstanding tool has been applied to the individual with excellent results.

Personal SWOT Assessment

Conducting a successful, accurate SWOT assessment requires the setting aside of ego. Many of us have at least a passing familiarity with our own best (and worst) attributes, though achieving an objective consideration of ourselves as independent beings remains a difficult bar. For example, some of our positive attributes could present as weaknesses in particular contexts. If one is skilled at convincing people to adopt a specific course of action, one might be seen as either charismatic or as a snake-oil salesman. Often, the difference is minor and difficult to resolve firsthand. Striving to consider our own traits from a range of perspectives, as well as the reactions of others to us, can aid in creating a more accurate overall picture.

Before beginning, set aside some time to complete the analysis uninterrupted. Once underway, it’s better to finish in a single sitting, rather than suffering distractions as you attempt to focus on some other task. Also, commit to being as realistic and honest as possible. Understand that the resultant analysis serves as neither a congratulatory note nor a condemnation – it’s merely an exercise in better understanding the conjunction of your own strengths and weaknesses with the potential opportunities and problems you may be facing, albeit with the ultimate joint goals of minimizing negatives and developing more relevant skills.

As an entrepreneur, this is an especially useful tool for evaluating your own potential contributions as you begin a venture vs. those skills with which you’ll need assistance. By participating in a personal SWOT and providing honest feedback, you can mitigate some of the risk engendered by starting a business and achieve a better understanding of those characteristics and/or roles better earmarked for future hiring.

In her article “How to Conduct a Personal SWOT Analysis,” Forbes Contributor Lisa Quast suggests that individuals regard themselves as a “competitive product” so that they might more impartially compile a thorough list of strengths and weaknesses. Bearing that in mind, let’s get started:

Begin your personal SWOT by listing your strengths as they pertain to the project or business upon which you’re about to embark. If you get stuck, use the questions in the graphic as a prompt.

Next, do the same for your weaknesses. Then consider the external threats that could prevent you from starting or growing your business. These might be competitors, changes in the market, etc.

Finally, take note of your opportunities. Perhaps you have a patent for an innovative product and your competitors don’t. Maybe your business ideas or products have tested well with focus groups. Perhaps you’re able to undersell your competitors or go to market sooner. Maybe you have a better business idea in a completely unrelated field. Whatever perceived advantage occurs to you that might help to mitigate threats, write it down.

Putting Your SWOT to Work

Now that you’ve completed your personal SWOT, what’s next?

Just thinking about your strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats isn’t enough. Now you need to further analyze your SWOT in order to convert those insights into personal development.

With your weaknesses and threats laid out on paper (however virtually), it’s time to consider how best to minimize them, especially if they might affect your strengths and opportunities. Are there mentors you can leverage to minimize your weaknesses or training that can help you to overcome them? Is there someone in your organization who might cover any skills at which you’re weak?

Detail how you intend to overcome threats. For example, if the market is slow, how will you spur consumer interest in your product? If your competitors are doing something similar, how will you differentiate yourself?

It’s also important to reflect on strengths and opportunities with an eye toward identifying ways to capitalize on them. Are there services you hadn’t previously considered that would make marketable use of your skills/talents? Is the present business environment well-suited for your current product and/or service offerings or is your current business holding you back from pursuing better opportunities?

As you’re drawing connections between the boxes, don’t neglect to investigate the ways in which your positives might offset your negatives. For example, can your connections (from strengths) help you minimize some of your threats? Can your talents and skills set you apart from your competitors?

Hopefully, this process has yielded new insights and either helped you to establish new personal development goals or identified weaknesses/opportunities in your business (or both!) enabling you to be better prepared for challenges going forward.

Once you’ve SWOTed yourself, you may wonder how else the technique might be applied.

SWOT for Hiring

When you’re interviewing a candidate, you’re probably taking notes. Sometimes these notes are all that remain after the candidate has departed and it’s time to make a decision. Rather than unfocused scribbling, why not turn that interview note-taking into a series of mini-SWOT analyses?

While questions are being asked of your candidate, record your impressions of their strengths and weaknesses. Afterward, take time to reflect upon the interview and consider the balance of opportunities and threats they might bring to the organization. For example, perhaps Candidate A wouldn’t necessarily fit in with the existing team culture, but they’d bring programming skills that might be beneficial for future products. Alternatively, Candidate B has requested to telecommute some days and, while you don’t favor that particular work mode, they also have a proven track record with one of your competitors and industry knowledge superior to other potential employees.

A good SWOT analysis can help you to make a more informed hiring decision that not only weighs an individual’s strengths and weaknesses – something that most people already do in the hiring process to varying degrees – but also considers what threats they might present to the organization and what opportunities they might help to create. Consider creating your own list of questions for each matrix component so you can more easily SWOT hiring candidates in a standardized fashion.

A SWOT analysis isn’t solely for business models and decisions. Turn the lens toward yourself and you might discover new areas for growth or even a new business idea. Turned on potential employees, SWOT serves as a helpful tool in the hiring process. Try it and see for yourself.

About the Author

Dr. Joe Johnson is an entrepreneur, investor, and startup expert. He is the founder and principal of GoodField Investments and the GoodField Foundation (www.GoodField.com).

Joe has a Ph.D. in Entrepreneurial Leadership and an MBA. He is the author of the upcoming book on The Science of Why Most Entrepreneurs Fail and Some Succeed.

Most importantly, he is the incredibly blessed husband of one amazing wife and father of six wonderful children. He resides in Bradenton, Florida. For more information on Dr. Johnson and his work, go to www.JoeJohnson.com.