Using a SWOT Analysis in Your Life Science Career Planning and Marketing

Thinking at work

The SWOT Analysis is a key tool in the strategic planning process that life science professionals can apply not only to career planning, but to career marketing. A SWOT analysis examines strengths and weaknesses in the internal environment and opportunities and threats in the external environment. “Life sciences require a myriad of skills and strengths,” said Sharoni Billik, CEO and founder of SBHC, a medical affairs professional services firm. “So a SWOT analysis is a strong way to highlight your strengths and opportunities and try and buffer your weaknesses and threats.”

It’s also a way to focus your job search so you are targeting jobs that best fit your strengths.

Structure your SWOT analysis like the table below:

SWOT Analysis

Strengths (internal)

Weaknesses (internal)


Your strengths


Your weaknesses

Opportunities (external)

Threats (external)


Opportunities in your career field


Threats in your career field


Next, examine your current situation. What are your strengths and weaknesses? How can you capitalize on your strengths and overcome your weaknesses? What are the external opportunities and threats in your chosen life sciences sector?

SWOT Analysis

Strengths (internal)

Weaknesses (internal)

Internal positive aspects that are under your control and upon which you may capitalize in planning and marketing:

  • Work experience
  • Education, including value-added features
  • Strong technical knowledge within your life-science sector
  • Specific life-science-related transferable skills
  • Personal characteristics (e.g., strong work ethic, a high energy level)
  • Good contacts/successful networking
  • Interaction with life-science professional organizations

Internal negative aspects that are under your control and that you may plan to improve

  • Lack of work experience
  • Lack of goals, lack of self-knowledge, lack of specific job knowledge
  • Weak technical knowledge
  • Weak life science skills
  • Weak job hunting skills
  • Negative personal characteristics


Opportunities (external)

Threats (external)

Positive external conditions that you do not control but of which you can plan to take advantage

  • Positive trends in your life-science sector that will create more jobs (e.g., digitalization, transformative technologies, and emphasis on customer engagement)
  • Opportunities you could have in your life-science sector by enhancing your education
  • Your life-science sector is particularly in need of your set of skills
  • Opportunities for advancement in your life-science sector
  • Opportunities for professional development in your life-science sector, such as through the California Life Sciences Institute or MIT
  • Career path you’ve chosen provides unique opportunities. For example, in life science, more than 250 startups are developing gene-based therapeutic solutions, according to a 2019 trend report from Deloitte.
  • Geography: See the Best Cities for Life-Science Jobs

Negative external conditions that you do not control but the effect of which you may be able to lessen

  • Negative trends in your field that diminish jobs (such as the declining return on investment for R&D in life science)
  • Competitors with superior skills, experience, knowledge
  • Competitors with better job-hunting skills than you
  • Limited advancement in your life-science sector or advancement is cut-throat and competitive
  • Limited professional development in your life-science sector, so it’s hard to stay marketable
  • Companies are not hiring people with your major/degree.

To further refine your list of strengths, put yourself inside a prospective employer’s head as you consider your strong points. Avoid false modesty, but also be brutally honest and realistic with yourself. Start out by simply making a list of words that describe you; chances are many of these characteristics comprise your strengths. Consider assessments, such as the CliftonStrengths assessment or the Dependable Strengths Articulation Process.

As humans, we find it relatively difficult to identify the areas where we are weak. In assessing your weaknesses, think about what prospective employers might consider to be the areas you could improve upon. Facing your frailties now can give you a huge head start in career planning and tell you what you need to mitigate in your career marketing. Past performance appraisals provide valuable feedback.

Delving into your own strengths and weaknesses isn’t always easy, but at least you are close to the source – yourself. It’s a bit more daunting to research external opportunities and threats. Most opportunities and threats spring from trends. Search for “life science trends,” inserting the current year into your search terms. Threats also come from competition, so think about how you can bring yourself up to speed with competitors for the same kinds of jobs. Think about opportunities you might have if you enhanced your skills or training.

To gauge opportunities, also check out job postings here on BioSpace to get a feel for the relative number of openings in the life sciences sector. From this analysis, you will have a road map that shows you how to capitalize on your strengths and minimize or eliminate your weaknesses. Then use this map to take advantage of opportunities and avoid or lessen threats. Use your SWOT information to plan how to market yourself.


Kristin Johnson, career consultant at Kristin Johnson Consulting, frequently helps her clients work through SWOT Analyses. Here’s how one client described the value of the process: ““Using the SWOT method was very helpful in my job search. Before using it, I was just applying for almost any job opportunity with no real focus or purpose. While going through learning the process and applying it to my resume, I was able to find three opportunities that best fit my skills that resulted into all three companies giving me an offer.”

Back to news