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Most of us are quite apprehensive when asked to present our SWOT analysis at interviews. For those who don't know what it means or how to answer it, this should help.

What is it?
Coined by the military, SWOT stands for 'Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats'. It is still prevalent in the corporate world (IT, marketing, etc.) and the aim is to identify strengths, improve on weaknesses, best utilise opportunities and minimize weaknesses.

Various forms of SWOT
1. Can you highlight some of your strengths and weaknesses?

2. Can you present your SWOT Analysis?

3. Why should we hire you and what are your areas of development / improvement? What opportunities do you foresee for yourself in this job?

4. What threats can you identify in the job we're offering and how do you think you can tackle them?

What experts say
James Manktelow, CEO, Mindtools.com: I have always found that a SWOT Matrix is a useful and powerful tool for mapping the way forward for my businesses. However, it is only one of the tools you will need to lead your team to an inspiring and successful future."

Ian Christie, Monster Management Career Coach, in his article 'Analyse your Career with a Personal SWOT', says: "SWOT is a simple yet powerful model to analyse the strategic positions of companies, products or business situations. You can also apply the SWOT technique to your own career planning."

SWOT is a very helpful tool for HR executives in assessing potential candidates. "Those who know their weaknesses and can openly express themselves through SWOT, have been observed to be able to adjust well in an open work culture. They are firm believers of candour in the workplace and appreciate open feedback for smooth running of an organization. SWOT helps in understanding the career aspirations of an individual and assessing how far he or she is willing to go with the organisation," says Shikha Kumar, HR Manager, ISHIR Infotech.

Kusumadhar Pandey, HR Manager, IndiaMart InterMesh says, "Using SWOT for the selection of candidate helps the interviewer understand the genuineness of responses, emotional stability, areas of development and cultural fitness with the organisation."

Do some homework
What you need to do before appearing for the interview is:

. Try participatory sessions with your friends to know more of your strengths and weaknesses.

. List down all your strengths and weaknesses.

. Explore the prospective job/employer/company to identify opportunities.

. Gain more knowledge about the industry to detect threats.

What to focus upon

'Strengths' and 'Weaknesses' involves focusing on internal factors, whereas 'Opportunities' and 'Threats' mainly focus on external ones. Talking about strengths and weaknesses gives the employer an insight into your suitability as a right candidate. It also gives you a chance to control the interview process by asking questions about the company when you talk about opportunities and threats. Be smart enough and focus on better articulating your performance characteristics. Do not just focus on what the interviewer wants to hear by playing memorized responses. Remember: The interviewer wants to see the real you.

Handling SWOT at interviews
Before the interview, ensure your resume maps what you might talk about. It should also highlight your strengths.

1. Strengths: Positives you can capitalise on, these should be your 'key selling points.'

Think of what makes you special. What influences and motivates you? What are your attributes for success? What key traits do you have? You can talk about your personal characteristics here like: Good analytical skills, determination, persistence, etc.

Examples of strengths:

a. Very confident and assertive.
b. Good communication skills.

Now these are some generic statements most of us make at interviews. However, what the interviewer 'buys' is 'how are these strengths helping in the job he has to offer' and 'what is the value they add to the job'. So, the above examples should change when mapped to the job profile you are applying for. For example, while appearing for a sales job interview, the following strengths can be highlighted:

a. I am very confident and assertive in whatever I do. I have been able to leverage customer service by converting unhappy customers to loyal customers by understanding their problems, educating them, giving them confidence and being able to solve their problems.

b. I have been involved in company presentations and workshops, and have been imparting training. My communication skills help me stand up and put forward my views in front of a group of people.

c. Having worked in customer service for two years, I have good customer service skills and customer relations.

2. Weaknesses: Negative areas you need to improve on.

This is the toughest aspect to think of and share with your future/potential company. Also, this is one area where your answers need to be more diplomatic. Avoid hinting at something that may impact the job execution in your potential company. We all know and admit that no one is perfect. Do not say 'I don't have any weakness'. Be realistic and show that you realize and are well aware of your weaknesses. Give confidence to your prospective employer that your weaknesses are not going to hamper your job.

Examples of weaknesses:

a. I sometimes tend to get into too many details that delay execution.
b. I can't say 'No' if someone asks me for help with some work.

Never highlight personal weaknesses like 'being emotional', 'short tempered' etc. Instead, diplomatic answers like the ones mentioned above also highlight your strengths, in a way, like 'having an eye for detail' or 'willingness to help others'. If you're sure, you can also talk about how you are planning to work on improvement. Keep the conversation to the point, or it may give unnecessary insights to the interviewer that you may not want to.

3. Opportunities: Positive external conditions you can take advantage of.
Talk about various opportunities you foresee in that prospective job. This will show your interest and reflect a positive attitude.

Examples of opportunities:a. While working with international customers, I may have the opportunity to learn new cultures; newer ways of working that will further help me to provide customised and better services to my customers.
b. By imparting training, I will be able to improve my confidence level and presentation skills.

Here, you may be faced with situational questions like 'Are you convinced you will need to work under someone who has lesser experience than you?' The interviewer may try peeping into how you deal with unexpected circumstances. You can frame your answer in a way that highlights the opportunity you see in this situation. For example, your answer to this question could be, 'While working under someone who has lesser experience than me may lead to some conflict, this will improve my ability to work in a team and my skills in handling conflict."

4. Threats: Negative external conditions you can't control but can minimize.
There are threats we all face at our workplaces, but we need to know how to survive with them. While talking about 'threats', try to foresee the ones you may face at your prospective job.

Examples of threats:a. Competition for the job I want.
b. Overworking myself by taking on so many responsibilities.
c. Changing job requirements of the field.

Also suggest certain ways you may minimise these threats. For example:
a. Getting trained on certain skills to survive competition for the job.
b. Trying time management to avoid getting overworked.
c. Upgrading my technical skills and proficiencies and keeping abreast of industry changes to cope up with job requirements.

Take away points
. Map your STRENGTHS to your prospective job.

. Avoid hinting at WEAKNESSES that may have a negative impact on your prospective job. Also try to present an improvement plan that you have to overcome these weaknesses.

. Identify OPPORTUNITIES in the prospective job and mention how these can be advantageous to you and help in performing the job better.

. Detect THREATS and present ways to minimise them.

Above all, do your homework well. Analyse yourself properly and you can convert a SWOT analysis discussion in the interview into a positive conversation.
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