As we discuss in our guide, 7 Steps to Landing a Job with Impact, which you can download for free, knowing your own strengths and weakness is an important factor in how you present yourself to prospective employers. The following is excerpted from Step 3 of the guide. As always, we'd love your feedback.
Perhaps the most common framework used in business planning is the SWOT analysis. This is a simple but effective way to understand a business’s internal strengths and weaknesses, as well as its external opportunities and threats.
Building your Personal SWOT will not only give you a better understanding of yourself and of the companies and sectors you are targeting in your job search, but it will also give you a leg up in job interviews. Let’s break down the SWOT:
Knowing your strengths is important, and you should be able to present them in a clear, organized way, citing examples from your work or academic experience. To really impress prospective employers, use a competency framework to highlight your strengths. In their strategic planning, successful businesses analyze and synthesize their core competencies in order to understand their competitive advantages.
You should too.
Start with the following exercise: rate yourself on each competency based on what people you have worked with would say about your performance. These people can include academic peers or teachers if your work experience is limited. Try to think of examples that back up your claims:
Remember that no one is good at everything, so be as honest and objective as possible. Use your relative ratings to stack rank your 3-5 top core competencies, including evidence to back up each. You will use this short list in the “strengths” quadrant of your personal SWOT.
I have interviewed hundreds of candidates in my nearly 20 years as a CEO, COO, or executive director. Far and away, the greatest deal-killer for me is low self-awareness. This often signals trouble ahead, such as a poor attitude and behavior or a lack of empathy and team-working skills.
Not knowing your weaknesses is the greatest weakness of all!
Conversely, knowing and being able to articulate your weaknesses honestly is a great strength.
To pass the sniff test, you must show confidence and humility in equal measure. You must be able to demonstrate strong self-awareness—and this starts with being able to clearly articulate your weaknesses.
“I have a tendency to work too hard” is something I’ve heard a few too many times, and it’s a phony weakness. Don’t try to disguise a strength as a weakness, as this comes off as disingenuous and shows low self-awareness. I want to get to know the whole person before I make a hire, and this includes the good, the bad, and the ugly. I want to know your shadow; remember, everyone has one. I want to hear about your failures and what you’ve learned from them.
As Ray Dalio, founder of Bridgewater Capital, says: pain + reflection = growth
In order for your prospective employer to trust that you are someone who will grow, show them your weaknesses and failures. Be sure to include what you have learned from these experiences.
Here are some prompts to get you thinking about your weaknesses. Sorry, I know it hurts.
What are your skill deficiencies? Don’t worry, these can often be learned on the job. Show ideas and a willingness to fix these.
How do you handle interpersonal conflict? Do you shy away or are you combative?
What would others say about your areas for growth?
What tasks do you avoid doing?
What holds you back? (e.g. fear of public speaking or trouble taking direction)
As you consider these questions, develop a laundry list of your weaknesses. Now prioritize and consolidate to a shortlist of your top three to five weaknesses, which you can highlight in your personal SWOT.
This is the “market opportunity” section of your career strategic plan. Here you will determine which sectors and roles best match your mission/vision and skill set.
Let’s start by determining your entry point, skills, and experience.
Recent college grads and current undergraduates
Take full advantage of your campus recruiting resources. Check to see if firms in any of the sectors highlighted in the table below are actively recruiting at your school.
Build up your resume and network by doing 1-3 internships. Unless you have other relevant work experience in your target job function and/or sector, you will need at least one internship before hitting the job market.
Early career with at least two years of work experience
Lateral: If you are new to green jobs but have some experience in a different sector, you can parlay your experience into a similar role within a green(er) sector.
Vertical: Go for a green(er) role within your existing company.
For example, let’s say you have worked as a marketing assistant for a telecom company. You can either target a sustainability job at your existing firm (vertical) or target marketing roles at firms within your target green sectors (lateral).
Experienced professionals with three or more years of work
The same lateral/vertical strategies apply, but the richer your track record, the more eligible you will be for roles with more responsibility. Be aware that telling a long, meandering story can confuse prospective employers. The longer your career, the more you will need to focus on a sharp, concise resume.
Note that a graduate degree is very helpful, but not always essential, in advancing a sustainability-related career. Graduate degrees in science or engineering help prepare you for work in a range of sectors and roles. An MBA from a good school will prepare you for management roles and help to build credibility in your resume.
Crystallizing your story and clearly identifying your strengths, weaknesses, and core competencies is critical.
A sustainability career that makes a difference is not at all restricted to college grads. In fact, see the latest break-down of the 3.2 million clean energy jobs, most of which are in trade professions like energy efficiency, wind, and solar are in the trades. Skilled workers with backgrounds in construction, plumbing, electricity, and manufacturing are in high demand.
If you are just starting out, you will need training. Your local community college or trade schools can give you the basic skills, but finding an apprenticeship with an experienced mentor will give you the opportunity to practice and hone these skills.
Use the chart in the Green Job Market Overview to help determine your ideal sector and function, but keep in mind that your first job will likely be a step along the way. If, for example, you are interested in working as an installer for solar PV systems, you may need to work for a few years in general construction first.
Experienced tradespeople with three or more years of work
Lateral: If you are new to green jobs but have a good base of experience and training in a trade, you can parlay your experience into a similar role within a green(er) sector.
Vertical: Go for a green(er) role within your existing company.
For example, let’s say you have worked for a general contractor doing a range of residential and light commercial work. If you like your company but are frustrated because you feel that the work is not making a difference, talk to your employer about expanding the business into a green sector such as rooftop solar installation or making energy efficiency upgrades to existing houses and buildings. This vertical move may require you to be entrepreneurial and work to create certain aspects of the business.
Alternatively, you can look for a new job in a pure-play green company, using your skills and experience to land a job with a solar or energy efficiency-specific company. For this, you will need to tell your story and create a resume and cover letter that are clear and impactful.