By the time you sit down to update your resume or finally hire a professional to write it for you it’s already too late — too late to clarify your brand, achievements, and goals in the time available before you complete the project. The time to start all of these activities is long before you need them. In other words, now.
A career journal can help you to jumpstart the process in a gentle way. Unlike a regular journal, a career journal doesn’t require an intense commitment; rather a once-weekly entry is more than enough to help you begin to revitalize your career and prepare for your next transition. And let’s face it, there will be a next transition.
I’ve been journaling for more than 40 years and have been teaching an online journaling class for the last 10. More than 3,900 participants have taken my comprehensive online class which includes an overview of career journaling, journaling basics, how-tos, and critical themes such as journaling thoughts and feelings and journaling through life changes and transitions. But for today, let’s just focus on the Top 10 reasons you need a career journal:
#10: To Maximize Your Transferable Skills
Skills come in 3 varieties (self-management, work-related, and transferable), but it’s the latter kind that are key to career success. Your transferable skills are nearly universal, which means that they translate easily into different professions, levels of jobs, industries, and cultures. In short, transferable skills are your bread and butter (literally – they pay your bills). Use your career journal to:
- Capture your strongest skills in a master list.
- Analyze which ones you are most motivated to keep using in future roles.
- Track action steps you need to take to develop each transferable skill to the fullest.
#9: To Plan Your Academic & Professional Credentials
On average, each of us is heading back to school for fresh credentials or degrees every 3 to 5 years. That frequency requires careful planning so you don’t spend your probably limited resources unwisely. Enter journaling, which can help you to decide which credentials, degrees, or coursework to pursue next. Use your career journal to:
- Note degree programs, certifications, skills training, and professional development courses of potential interest.
- Jot down executive leadership programs you’d like to be able to participate in.
- Weigh which options best align with your future career goals.
#8: To Catalogue Company & Industry Insights
Recession-proofing your career means staying alert to shifting circumstances in your company and your industry, not to mention prospective new companies or industries of interest to you. Use your career journal to:
- Record insights into current shifts and emerging trends which may impact your future employability.
- Track metrics which reveal long-term patterns that may influence your career decision making down the road.
- Expand your awareness of the best-fit work environments for you and your career brand.
#7: To Record & Analyze Your Career Achievements
Career achievements drive career growth. Whether as an exercise leading up to resume design or updating or a step in the career branding process, you need to be recording and analyzing your career achievements on an ongoing basis. Use your career journal to:
- Capture your achievements as they happen along with key evidence of success.
- Unearth evidence of your career brand within each achievement.
- Determine which transferable skills each success story documents and how it relates.
#6: To Monitor Shifts in Your Career Interests & Passions
Your interests and passions are constantly evolving; hence it makes good sense to track them periodically to see what speaks to you and how it’s changing. Your interests and passions can serve as a barometer to help you respond proactively to inner shifts that portend major changes in the long run. Use your career journal to:
- Prioritize your career interests and passions with a snapshot of how they stand today.
- Explore your interests and passions and look for small and large shifts that reveal areas of growth and decline.
- Examine your interests and passions for interconnections between them – such interconnections tend to coalesce as new career directions begin to emerge.
#5: To Explore Your Evolving Career Values
Career values play are instrumental in determining which professions and industries will provide the best work environment for you. And since they evolve over time, you need to know both what your values are today and in which direction they are moving. Use your career journal to:
- Describe your current career values and note why each is important to you.
- Capture year-by-year shifts in your values, especially as you move through your 40s, 50s, 60s, and 70s.
- Unmask false values masquerading as something else. Money, for example, isn’t a career value. It’s a tool used to access something else that you value, such as a certain kind of lifestyle, travel, or financial independence.
#4: To Fully Develop Your Gifts
Gifts are different than skills in that they either are not learned or they give you an uncanny head start in learning or doing something. My father was a walking human calculator with a gift for analyzing numbers. He was taught math in school, of course, but this gift eased his studies and streamlined his performance in his engineering profession. Use your career journal to:
- List and explore your gifts one by one. This is one of the most important brand exercises you can do, because your gifts nearly always contribute significantly to your career brand.
- Create an action plan for each gift so you can develop it to the fullest.
- Explore interactions between your gifts and your transferable skills, values, personality traits, career brand, purpose, and long-term goals.
#3: To Deepen Your Awareness & Expression of Your Career Brand
As I’ve hinted above, your career brand is woven throughout your work life (and your personal life as well), so you should see evidence of it everywhere you look – in your achievements, your interests and passions, your skills, your values, and your gifts. Use your career journal to:
- Jot down reflections, comments, and compliments made by others which suggest your brand attributes.
- Record and reflect on performance evaluations, personality or leadership assessments, and 360-degree assessments which can yield fresh insights into what sets you apart from others in your profession.
- Explore discussions of your career brand with your peers, your manager(s), or your career coach and capture key insights into your uniqueness.
#2: To Clarify Your Career or Life Purpose
This is a huge issue that takes considerable time to explore – for many folks this process takes years. One thing’s for sure, it takes you less time to clarify your purpose if you write about it repeatedly. Use your journal to:
- Discover what “career or life purpose” means to you and if or why it matters.
- Find evidence of your purpose in each decade of your life to date.
- Look for patterns that persist over time and “connect the dots” with different situations and life events you’ve experienced. Your purpose is like an echo that is reflected throughout your life; once you find evidence of it in one quarter you’ll usually find more evidence elsewhere to substantiate it.
#1: To Strategize Your Mid- & Long-Term Career Path
The end purpose for all of the above is to facilitate and drive career planning. Every adult needs a career plan, though it is more important than ever before that your plan remain flexible. The idea is not to carve out a rigid path forward, but to create a decision-making framework that will help you to navigate your career journey from day to day, week to week, month to month, and year to year. Use your career journal to:
- Determine what you want from your career and how you plan to achieve it.
- Establish realistic mid-term and long-term goals broken down into achievable steps.
- Assess your career evolution so you know when to alter directions or change your plan.
Trigger journaling sessions weekly, monthly, or quarterly by logging them in your calendar or planner. Keep your career journaling simple – use a notebook that fits in your pocket, briefcase, or purse, a phone or iPad app, journaling software, a Word file, or sheets of paper in a physical folder. However you write, make sure you start today.