“What are your strengths and weakness?”
This question creates more fear in the heart of job seekers than any other. Most people dread this question and also don't understand the psychology behind it. Even if you're never asked this question in an interview, you must know how to answer it, in order to effectively compete for a job. Read on, to learn how to answer this question...
Over the past ten years, I have worked with thousands of business professionals, yet very few can succinctly state their USP, Unique Selling Proposition. Even seasoned, business executives often fail to understand what their competitive advantage is and do not know what differentiates them from their competition. In traditional career counseling, you'd embark on an exploration process in partnership with the counselor. The goal would be to use narrative counseling techniques to elicit your USP. The process can be lengthy, it can be frustrating and it is definitely time consuming.
The term “SWOT analysis” is as common in business school, as the term Picasso would be in Art school. You hear this term in conversations in the elevators, you see it in the business textbooks and students and faculty talk about it all the time. It's typically used to evaluate the Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats involved in a potential, project or business venture.
About 8 months ago, I had an epiphany, an “aha” moment and realized that the shortest route between point A and point B was a SWOT analysis! So, I appropriated this concept and adapted it from its’ traditional usage and form. Now I use this process in my individual Career Advising sessions and in my Executive Career Education Workshops. As a result, the time it takes to determine a clients’ USP, has been cut in half. This enables a client to quickly begin customizing paper-tools, create a career action plan and beginning their job search.
The rudiments of a SWOT Analysis are contained in the outline below. It is recommended that you work with an experienced and licensed, Career Management Counselor to expedite the process and gain insight into your competition. Also, check out my post on SWOT research for Interview Success! It lists what's hot and what's not - as it relates to a candidates competitive advantage.
What advantages do you have?
What do you do better than anyone else?
What unique or low-cost resources can you offer?
What do people in your market see as your strengths?
What factors mean that you "get the sale"?
Consider this from the point of view of your customers and people in your market. Be realistic and write a list of your characteristics. How do you know what your differentiator is, if you never see your competitors resumes?
One of the biggest competitive advantages is my knowledge of the competition due to my role as an Business Career Counselor at the University of Georgia MBA Career Center . I provide career support to 350+ professionals each semester and to all of the employers who recruit my students. This means that I have reviewed the resumes of these candidates who represent the 18 most common business specialties. I've also heard from the employers about what they are looking for in an ideal candidate.
Chances are, that I have seen hundreds of your competitors resumes and provided individual, career advising to hundreds of your competitors. The advantage of creating a SWOT analysis with a professional Career Advisor, who works in a high volume setting, is having a standard of comparison. For example, if all your competitors know how to use SPSS software and pivot tables for Actuarial Science and Risk Management then this is not a USP. Rather, it is a necessity for the pre-screening process and resume review phase in candidate selection.
What could you improve?
What should you avoid?
What are people in your market likely to see as weaknesses?
What factors lose you sales or lose you job opportunities?
Have you ever had a 360 degree review? Do other people seem to perceive weaknesses that you do not see? Are your competitors doing any better than you? It is best to be realistic now rather than face any unpleasant truths in the interview.
Where are the good opportunities facing you?
What are the interesting trends you are aware of?
Useful opportunities can come from such things as:
Changes in technology and markets on both a broad and narrow scale
Changes in government policy related to your field
Changes in social patterns, population profiles, lifestyle changes, etc.
Local events which could impact business development.
A useful approach for looking at opportunities is to look at your strengths and ask yourself whether these open up any opportunities. Alternatively, look at your weaknesses and ask yourself whether you could create opportunities by eliminating them.
What obstacles do you face?
What is your competition doing that you should be worried about?
Are the required specifications for your job, products or services changing?
Is changing technology threatening your position?
Do you have bad debt or cash-flow problems?
Could any of your weaknesses seriously threaten your business?
A detailed, SWOT analysis is the first step in a realistic, Career Action plan. Note: strengths and weaknesses are often internal to your organization. Opportunities and threats often relate to external factors. The SWOT Analysis is sometimes called Internal-External Analysis. You can also conduct a SWOT Analysis on your competitors. The SWOT process if done well and thoroughly, will help you to effectively compete in your job search. Additionally, a Career Management Professional who is experienced with your industry and sector, can help you analyze the results and "see the big picture."