You’ve updated your CV, sent in your application and have now got the good news that you have been selected for interview. So what’s next?
Typically interview preparation involves spending time reviewing common interview questions, preparing answers and choosing a handful of practical examples which demonstrate how you are suitable for the role. This works well for many people and most of the time, but not all of the time.
If you find a list of interview questions daunting, or simply don’t know how to get started, an interview SWOT may help. SWOT is an acronym for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats. It’s a tool commonly used in business and can be just as useful at an individual level. When completing an interview SWOT, it may be helpful to follow these steps before you begin:
Take some time to reflect on your experience to date. This may be time spent in education, working, travelling, caring for family, enjoying your hobbies and more. Identify times where you have overcome challenges, and grown personally or professionally.
Read the job description and any other information you have on the job or the company. Imagine what it will be like to work in the company, doing the job you have applied for. What life experience will you draw from? This could be anything from using a technical skill to complete the job to using personal skills to become part of the team, and everything in between.
Note any areas of the job or the company that were unclear to you when imagining what it will be like working there. What do you need to find out to make sure that this is the right choice for you?
You will notice that we haven’t looked at the CV. This is because a CV is typically constrained to education and work experience, with sometimes a brief reference to hobbies and achievements. It’s best to complete the SWOT with a broad frame of mind, allowing yourself the opportunity to draw from all your experience.
I typically complete the SWOT using a pen and four sheets of blank paper; one each for strengths, weakness, opportunities and threats. This allows you to lay everything out at the end and identify possible links, which we will speak about later. Now that we are ready, let’s take a look at each of the four areas.
Strengths are internal to you and are fully within your control. These are areas that you excel at, that you are confident and comfortable in. Your strengths enable you to move forward at work, or in life overall. On the first page, write down any strengths which you have developed through education, work or other areas of your life. Some questions to help you identify strengths include:
What parts of the job specification have you experience in, either through direct work experience and education, or through indirect life experience?
What are you comfortable and confident doing?
What would other people, such as co-workers, friends and family, say you are good at?
Weaknesses are also internal to you and prevent you from performing at your best. They could put you at a disadvantage compared to others. However, like strengths, weaknesses are within your control and can be changed. On the second page, write down any weaknesses you are aware of that may impact your ability to do well in the job. Some questions to help with this include:
What areas of the job specification do you lack knowledge or experience
What areas do you avoid because you lack confidence?
What would other people, such as co-workers, friends and family, say you need to practice more?
While strengths and weaknesses are internal to you, opportunities are external and outside of your control. Opportunities can help you grow and addresses weaknesses. On the third page, write down any opportunities that you are aware of within the job and company, as well as questions you’d like to find the answers to at the interview stage. Opportunities may include:
Training and certification provided by the company
Support of a mentor and co-workers when you start the role
Career progression and personal development
Finally we look at threats, which are also external to you and outside of your control. When looking at threats in the context of applying for a job, the most obvious ones are other candidates who appear to be better suited to the role. However, since it’s practically impossible to know every person you are competing with, attempting to identify threats from competition is really a waste of time. This time is better spent working on your strengths and preparing questions to identify opportunities which will combat weaknesses. Instead we will focus on any threats to your success, assuming you get the job.
On the fourth page, write down any threats you are aware of within the company. Similar to opportunities, it’s also good to write down any questions you’d like to find the answers to. Threats may include:
Existing problems within the team that are impacting performance
Advancements in technology which may require the role to change in the short or medium term
Economic and other factors which may be impacting the industry
When you have completed each of the four areas, it’s time to bring everything together by looking across each of your strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats as a whole. This is where I find laying out the sheets together most useful; you can begin to connect areas of weakness which could be helped by opportunity, strengths which could counterbalance weaknesses and threats, and more.
The SWOT is a great tool to use as part of any interview preparation. It typically results in a deeper awareness of what you can bring to both the job and the company overall, as well as an updated list of questions which you will have for the interview. Both of these encourage a more two-way conversation regardless of which of the common interview questions come up during the interview.
So what are you waiting for? Complete your interview SWOT and ace that interview!