Useful tools to assess your capabilities and expertise

ToolboxEmployers are likely to ask candidates to talk about themselves, their strengths and areas for development. It can be easier to focus on areas for development than on your strengths; this difficulty can be more prevalent in some cultures than others. Having an accurate picture of how others perceive you and an understanding of yourself is vital to be able to talk with confidence and to sell yourself and the value you could add to a team, organisation or project.

Of the many thinking tools available that can help with managing career planning and development, the following are those we think are especially useful.

Vitae Researcher Development Framework

The Vitae Researcher Development Framework (RDF) has been created to articulate the knowledge, behaviours and attributes of successful researchers.

The Framework, accompanied by a suite of lenses are helpful tools to start identifying the knowledge, behaviour and attributes gained from a research project and other experience.

Our lenses on the RDF may be useful as a starting point as they can help to focus on knowledge, behaviours and attributes that are developed, acquired through, or used in, particular areas. For example, looking at your professional development through a lens could help you to strengthen your academic profile or prepare for transition into a new area of work.

The Employability lens  on the RDF may be a useful place to start as it provides an overview of the key knowledge, behaviours and attributes typically developed by researchers that are most frequently desired by employers.

The RDF Planner is an online application designed for researchers. Use it to store evidence of your knowledge, experience and competencies.

See how other researchers have used the RDF.


Seeking feedback from colleagues, friends and family can help in understanding how others perceive you and your strengths.

There are some simple rules to follow when asking for feedback:

  • Ask people when they have the time and space to give your request some thought
  • Be specific on what you want feedback on – is it a piece of work you have completed, a technique, a specific skill or an attitude?
  • Make sure you are ready to hear their comments and views – even if they are negative
  • Ask for examples to illustrate their feedback
  • Remember, any feedback given is their perception/opinion.  It is up to you to decide whether it is accurate or if you are willing to accept it.

Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats analysis (SWOT)

A SWOT analysis is a simple framework for analysis. It can help you to think about your skills and areas for development and to organise key information into an overview on a single page.

Divide a blank page into four quarters. In each quarter, consider one of the following:

  • your strengths
  • your weaknesses, potential areas for personal development
  • opportunities for career development in the external environment that you could take advantage of
  • threats to your career development in the external environment

The areas identified in the Vitae Researcher Development Framework may provide a starting point  for this analysis.

Your strengths set you apart from your peers and are the features that will help influence your future career. Balance your self-perceptions with feedback from others, such as your supervisor, line manager, friends or relatives.


  • Relevant work experience
  • Strong communicator – presented x times
  • Public engagement experience, eg. active in school scheme
  • Experience and qualifications in using specific techniques, software packages etc
  • Expertise, eg. a PhD in 19th century literature
  • Organisational skills, eg. organised annual conference for department
  • Your network, eg. built up a strong network in the field of xxx
  • Leadership skills, eg. run a youth group, chaired a committee etc

Weaknesses are areas for development within your control. Balance your self-perceptions with feedback from others. A development plan can help you make improvements in areas that will help you to reach your career goals. Insight into weaknesses can also help rule out areas of work for which you may not be suited.


  • Skills (look at technical, research, general transferable and career management skills).
  • Gaps in experience
  • Gaps in knowledge
  • Personal characteristics (eg. poor motivation).

Opportunities for your career development are positive economic, social, scientific and technological trends impacting on the labour market that provide opportunities for you to exploit. These might include:

  • Advances or growth in your discipline that provide opportunities to use your specialist research skills
  • Opportunities for research funding
  • Opportunities for training and development
  • Opportunities for advancement or promotion
  • Opportunities to collaborate with others in your own or a different discipline
  • Opportunities to transfer your research skills to another research area or employment sector
  • Opportunities for self-employment
  • Networking opportunities

Threats to your career development are negative external conditions that may inhibit the availability of opportunities. While these are beyond your control, awareness of them allows you to plan to reduce their effect by, for example, developing yourself in preparation for a work area that is thriving. Examples include:

  • Obsolescence of your specialism as new developments in technology or changes in commercial interest occur
  • Competitors - better qualified, more experienced, more skilled, better able to market themselves
  • Economic tightening leading to fewer jobs or development resources
  • Obstacles, eg. lack of flexible working opportunities, discrimination, lack of childcare
  • Globalisation leading to geographical redistribution of work away from your current base.

A SWOT analysis can help you decide where to focus your career development efforts. It can also help you determine what information you need to support career decisions and give you pointers to areas that you can address in your career development planning.