by Dr. Paul Guise (originally published in 2005)

is an arts consultant, conductor and music educator living in Winnipeg, MB, Canada.
Check out his website at

Last month’s article gave the basics of looking at your strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats, something we called a SWOT Analysis. As you recall, this analysis helps us to find our niche in the music business by identifying those things we do exceptionally well, or similarly to everyone else, or so poorly even our mothers would be embarrassed. This month we’ll focus on strengths and weaknesses.

So, you ask yourself, what types of strengths are worth mentioning when conducting an analysis (if you didn’t ask yourself that, now’s the time)? The answer is, “well, it depends.” Remember from the previous articles that what may be a strength in one career can become a weakness in another. For example, if you prefer to work in groups, that counts as a strength if you’re hoping to play in an orchestra, but it’s likely to be a weakness if you’re planning to become the only alphorn teacher in Labrador. Thus, one individual is “a team player”, while the other is “comfortable in self-motivating environments.” Both are strengths, given the appropriate context.

Other attributes that could be strengths or weaknesses, depending on the career, include the ability to play a piece of music exactly the same every time (essential in theatre, dangerous in jazz), the ability to write music in the style of a particular composer/artist/group (the basis of much pop music, the bane of much classical music), or the ability to lead an ensemble musically (great if you’re supposed to be the leader, but…). Your strengths and weaknesses will help determine your career choices, and vice versa. This means you can’t simply write down your friends’ lists and pass them off as your own (although you can read them to get ideas).

There are some strengths that can help your career in less obvious ways. Don’t ignore attributes that are important to you as an individual, but not central to music. For example, your ability to speak four languages (and read seven) may not seem important to your future as a cello teacher, but it substantially broadens the range of places where you might work. Your excellent marks in biology might have seemed irrelevant to your composition studies, and yet they could prove the key to success as a music therapist. And your habit of scribbling pictures during boring history lectures (which might have offended the teacher) could be of interest to the organizers of a music festival, perhaps leading to a job in marketing and promotion.

An important note: there are some behaviours that are more than just weaknesses: showing up late, mouthing off, and breaking promises are a few examples. Sure, there are rock stars who exhibit all these behaviours (indeed, some even cultivate such behaviours), but for mere mortals there’s simply no excuse. A weakness is something positive that needs time and effort to develop into a strength. Showing up late (and such) is not a weakness: it’s inexcusable. If you suffer from such deficiencies, you can either take immediate steps to eliminate them or suffer the consequences (ranging from bad feelings and poor recommendations to getting fired or even blacklisted). Now, back on track…

The key to this process is to narrow down your list of careers to those that emphasize your strengths and downplay your weaknesses. This advice also holds in other situations, from performances to job interviews. We all have areas in which we excel, and others in which we clearly do not. By making sure the focus of others’ attention is on your strengths, you won’t just appear to excel, you will excel. Of course, the same holds true for the ways in which you view other people. If you focus on someone’s weaknesses, they may appear ill-prepared, or unintelligent, or incompetent. By focusing on their strengths, the same person may seem to be studious, clever, or wise. The difference is often one of perspective, and by knowing your strengths and weaknesses, you can find a career that presents you in the best possible light.

Next month, we’ll have a look at opportunities and threats that may arise as you’re planning your business. Enjoy the last few days of summer – see you in September!