Posted by: Tom Ross | January 19, 2012

Visual Thinking Strategies for Career Coaching Presented by the Career Cafe


The Career Café is presenting a webinar series on how to use visual thinking strategies to help students think about careers and then create a strategy for the job search as well as prepare for the interviews. The series began last Friday, but you’ve only missed one, and I’ll summarize it here. Sign up now for the presentations that follow in this series—each on the next three Fridays from noon to 1pm. All you need is a way to connect to the website and a way to listen (your computer’s internal speakers should do the trick). And you might want a pen and paper.

Dr. Katharine Brooks is the lead. You may recognize her name: she’s the author of “You Majored in What? Mapping Your Path from Chaos to Career.” Her writing has also appeared in Psychology Today (among other publications) and she is the creator of Wise Wanderings TM, a career coaching system which is at the heart of “You Majored in What?” She is the author also of the “Hot Tips” section of the Career Café, and she writes a blog on the site as well.

Last Friday Dr. Brooks showed us a surprisingly simple way to help guide students along their career path—a technique some of you may recognize but few may have thought to use in this context (it may have been part of a warm-up exercise in a workshop). Its simplicity is surprising because it is so effective and easy to use with limited time and no preparation—say a student walks in cold and needs help during lunch. You don’t need to prepare; the process blooms before you. It’s called the SWOT strategy.

SWOT stands for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats. (Think of strengths and weaknesses as internal issues and opportunities and threats as external; weaknesses and strengths are issues for the student at a personal level, and threats and opportunities are the things he has no control over but which he needs to consider.) It is often used in the rest of the world to evaluate a project or a business opportunity. In the context of career coaching, you can quickly help a student evaluate the pros and cons of a career choice or job opportunity, and then use what you’ve found to prepare a strategy, ranging from the training and education the student will need to writing the cover letter and preparing for the job interview–especially if you have the job requirements in hand.

For those of us new to the SWOT strategy, Dr. Brooks walked us through it:

First draw a square and divide it into four parts; each part represents one of the four elements of the strategy.  You can use index cards, a prepared blank form, or whatever is easiest for you and your student to work with. Then let’s try an example:


A student asks for help applying for a job in fashion design and merchandising. He has the job description in hand. He likes fashion, keeps up with all the latest trends and designers, and frequents local boutiques close to home. But he has no experience in retail, hasn’t done a resume yet, no car, and doesn’t really know anyone personally in the field. He feels overwhelmed by his weaknesses.

The job description makes it clear they are looking for someone who is passionate about fashion and design, a team player, someone with specific computer and drawing skills, and experience or a degree (or working toward one) in design.

This is what you might create together:

ImageThis clears the way because the student has a plan:

  • research the neighborhood for part-time work opportunities and for fashion events
  • get to know local people in this industry
  • check out local public transportation
  • create a resume

For this job opportunity, the student can tailor his resume and cover letter to realistically represent his passion for the industry, his team player skills, and his willingness to learn new computer skills. As you are doing this he adds, “I’m great at sketching!” So you add that to the list of strengths and plan to include it in your cover letter, perhaps with an example. And then together you work out his possible career path: the degrees he will be pursuing, the experience he is seeking locally. Despite the weaknesses and outside threats–the Ws and the Ts–it’s a project full of optimism. And it’s about motivation.

Jenn Burleson, General/ Athletic Counselor Student Athletes Support Program Coordinator Mt. San Jacinto College, participated in the webinar and shared a great example of how a SWOT strategy can be used.  Join the Career Café Ning today to see this dynamic PowerPoint presentation, and so that you don’t miss Dr. Brooks’ blog or other upcoming events. And those of you who haven’t yet explored the resources available to students in the Career Café, check it out. It is a journey well worth taking and recommending.

If you have any examples of similar or equally effective career coaching strategies, this is your forum. Send them to We’ll build a blog here together.

See you at the Career Café webinar tomorrow.


  1. There’s some excellent advice in this post.

    With so many candidates applying for available positions, standing out from the pack is more important than ever before. A top notch C.V (tailored specifically to each role) is a great place to start.

    When not in work, it’s important to stay productive. Volunteering or internships with relevant organisations are an excellent way to gain experience; whilst ensuring the are no gaps in your CV. If in doubt, why not consult a professional career coach who can help you to explore your options further?

    Best wishes, Alex.

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