Marketing Your Career Center... Using a S.W.O.T. Analysis

By Mark Danaher

Working in a middle or high school career center can be a blurry experience with a fast-paced schedule and little time to reflect on what we do and how to improve it. SWOT analysis is a tool for auditing a program, department or company and its environment. SWOT stands for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats. It is the first stage of planning and helps marketers (or in this case, "us") to focus on key issues. Don't be scared, you don't have to be a marketing major to use this valuable tool. Let's look at our programs together in terms of each component, starting with my online worksheet .

Rules of SWOT

As we begin to look at our programs, let us consider some simple rules for using SWOT. The rules are the following: be realistic about your program, distinguish where you are today and where you want to be in the future. A SWOT analysis should always be specific, short and simple, subjective and most importantly, honest.


Brainstorming may be the best place to begin. This may take sometime, but be honest in what you do. Some questions to consider might include:

  • What does your career program or center do well?
  • What makes your program stand out for students, parents, or faculty? What is outstanding --the programs or events we run like a career fair, mock interviewing days, etc…? Or maybe the resources or knowledge we provide such as the books on job skills or our expertise on the career decision making process?
  • What advantages does the program offer students, parents and faculty through services such as lesson development or job placement?


Looking at weaknesses of your career program, what comments or complaints do you hear from faculty, parents or students? My number one complaint I hear from students is that we are not open when they stop by. I explain that I have other commitments in the building like teaching lessons and meetings, then I have them set up an appointment. Are there things that you would like to do, but can't, due to time, money or other obstacles? You may want to survey some people and find out their perceptions. I have created a survey online that students, parents and faculty can provide feedback anytime that helps me see the good and bad of the career programs and center. Once you have identified some weaknesses, you can begin to address them in your plan for improvement.


The third step in SWOT is to consider potential opportunities in our schools that we may have not previously considered. Sometimes we need to think out of the box to find ways that may not be apparent. Have you ever thought of having a table in the lunchroom or even a table outside a popular sporting event to share your services and make yourself a known commodity? Do you have a local community channel where you can produce a brief program on what you do, interview students who have used your services to have others hear their success stories? Have you thought about putting together a flyer or brochure to include in the school mailings like progress report or report cards? Take some time and begin to think of what opportunities are being missed. Ask other people in your building what they use or better yet asked other schools how they get their word out.


Finally, let us look at our threats. Yes, we do have threats to our services like study hall, clubs, work, etc... We need to look inside and outside the school to see what may be taking the attention or focus away from your program or center. This one may be the hardest, but if you can identify what may be pulling students, parents or faculty away from your program or center, then you can begin to start addressing ways to attract them back. Some questions to ask:

  • What is your competition in the school like student activities, study halls, band, etc…?
  • Do you see threats outside of school that affect your program or center success like sports, work, no late bus, etc…?
  • How do key stakeholders (students, teachers, parents, administrators) view your program?
  • What is the work climate in your office?

Pulling it all together

Having completed your SWOT analysis with information on your strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats on your program or center, the next step is to put this information into a worksheet such as the one linked to above. As you review the information, new insights about your program or center may begin to come to light. Use these insights to begin to form your plan to increase your presence and success in the school and community. It may take some time and asking of some hard questions, but the end results will be well worth it as you begin to see your need for services grow within the school.

Mark Danaher is the Career Center Counselor/Educator for Manchester High School in Manchester, Connecticut. He has been involved in Career Development and counseling for the past fifteen years. Mark has been challenging teachers to change the way they use employability and technology skills in the classroom. Mark empowers all students to succeed and challenge their limits and beyond. He is currently the President for the Connecticut Career Counseling Development Association. Mark was recognized as the Teacher of The Year 2006-2007 for the Manchester School District and as a Finalist for Connecticut Teacher of the Year 2007. He can be reached via email mdanaher@gmail.com

The following is Mark Danaher's NCDA Conference Roundtable in Washington DC:

Title: Marketing Your Program
Description: Have all these great programs & services and yet no one is accessing them? What is a counselor to do - MARKET YOUR PROGRAM. Learn about a variety of ways to reach students and parents. Where to begin - no budget, low budget initiatives to get the good word out on what is happening in the counseling services office at your school. Process Ideas Implement a measured increased utilization of what your office has to offer. Come to the big top and see the show.
Presenter(s): Mark Danaher, Manchester High School
Date: Wednesday, July 9, 2008Time: 2:50 - 4:00 pm
Meeting Room: Columbia B

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