by Katharine Hansen Ph.D.
“When you don’t keep a log of your accomplishments,” writes Peggy Klaus author of Brag! The Art of Tooting Your Horn Without Blowing It “you’re more apt to forget the specifics that speak volumes about your value.” If you’re ready to begin mining for your accomplishments you’ll find here an array of methods and means for doing so. Many of these tools straddle two purposes; some are merely repositories for you to record the accomplishments you’ve brainstormed through your own devices. Others are tools that assist with the brainstorming. Some provide both functions. You’ll want to use what you’re most comfortable with and you may find that using multiple tools in combination works best for you.
Don’t decide which tool to use until you’ve reviewed our 200+ Prompts for Brainstorming Accomplishments a tool in itself to prompt you to recall your successes; you may want to combine its prompting technique with one or more of the recording tools in this article.
Many people begin to achieve success in this process by taking a half a day to a full day of quiet time to brainstorm and reflect on accomplishments. Then they can begin to add to those baseline accomplishments by tracking new achievements regularly whether daily weekly or at a frequency that works for the individual.
This article covers these tools and techniques for brainstorming and tracking accomplishments:
- Journaling techniques
- Techniques using Web apps software and cloud apps
- Low-tech techniques
- Techniques that integrate feedback from others
- Mining documents including e-documents for accomplishments
Accomplishment Journaling Techniques
Calendar or Daytimer: I still have pages from desk-pad (“blotter” style) calendars with notes of all my work project deadlines and meetings which serve as memory prompts for accomplishments. I liked this style of calendar when I had office jobs because it was right in front of me where I could see it at all times. I didn’t have to open up a notebook-style calendar to jot down notes. To better remember and translate deadlines and meetings into achievements I could have gone even further by jotting down actual accomplishments on these calendars as Denise P. Kalm of DPK Coaching notes:
“The trick is to note [accomplishments] down every day that you have one in whatever method makes sense” Kalm says. “But after you have a few noted go back and amend them. Note the business value of what you have done. A month or year later you may not remember that and the raw accomplishment may not mean much then.”
Whatever style of calendar works for you – desk pad wall calendar page-a-day or a notebook style such as a Daytimer you can use it to record accomplishments.
Work/job diary: A diary of your work life which can be kept in any sort of journal blank book composition book or notebook is an effective venue for recording and reflecting on accomplishments. Researchers Teresa Amabile and Steve Kramer had study participants spend just 5-10 minutes a day keeping a work diary. Not only did participants track their progress but many gained “a new perspective on themselves as professionals and what they needed to improve.” For the study participants reflection on progress seemed to be a highly positive aspect of keeping the diaries. Amabile referenced a former student who enjoyed using Levenger’s 5-Year Diary. Each page in the diary represents a day of the year with space to write a short entry over five years. An added advantage is the ability to look at what you accomplished on the same day up to five years ago.
Journaling daily accomplishments has other benefits. “Focusing on what we have done — the wins — in our day rejuvenates” Glen Stansberry writes. “Going to bed looking at what was accomplished can be a massive motivator to help start the next day and can keep us from closing the day on a sour note.”
“One thing that I recommend to all of my clients” writes Liz Handlin in a blog post “is to keep a diary or journal about what is going on at work. Did your boss tell you what a great job you are doing? Write it down. Were you just named Employee of the Month? Write it down. Date each entry in your journal and keep your records at home rather than at work.”
You can set aside a few minutes a day for this journaling perhaps during your lunch hour on your commute home from work right after you get home or before you go to bed.
If “work diary” or “job diary” sound dull to you call it whatever you want – such as Results Journal Victory Journal Success Diary or Journal of Awesomeness as “George P.H.” of The Man-Up Blog calls it. “You’ll be amazed at how much better focusing on your positive achievements makes you feel! And once you start reinforcing good choices by writing them down your subconscious will encourage you to make them more often.”
Write case studies about your projects: Essentially a case study is a story with added details and analysis. You describe in detail the problem your organization faced that motivated the project the action you took to resolve the problem and your results. If you were writing a case study about an external situation in which you were not involved (say for a class assignment) you would interview the people involved about how the problem developed how they feel about it and so forth. Since you were in the thick of it you don’t need to interview others although you could. After telling the problem -> action -> result story of the project in detail your analysis could include what you learned from it what you would do differently if faced with the same situation again why you felt the project succeeded.
Accomplishment Techniques Using Web Apps Software and Cloud Apps
- Use LinkedIn Skills to remind you of the skills you possess with which you may be able to connect accomplishments. “I typed in ‘writing’ and clicked on Search” explains Maura Over of Aurega Communication. “This gave me a list of writing skills. I realized that I have done technical writing manual writing and creative writing. This process enabled me to write more about my accomplishments.”
- Consider a spreadsheet. “I use an Excel spreadsheet” says Darlene Zambruski. With a spreadsheet she notes “you can sort info more quickly especially when you need it for a performance review or if you’re refreshing your resume for a new job search.” An accomplishments spreadsheet can be set up in many ways. You can enter accomplishments according to date and then later broken them into categories.
- Try iDoneThis.com,an online app that according its Website “makes it easy to track and celebrate the progress that you make at work every day.” The service emails you at day’s end to ask “What’d you get done today?” After you reply you can go to your page on the site and see a calendar. You can click on any date and see that day’s accomplishments. The next day’s email also contains the previous day’s accomplishments. You can export an accomplishments file that you can open in Google Spreadsheets Microsoft Excel and as a plain text file. The service is free for individuals. (For teams the service costs $5 monthly.)
- Experiment with online or mobile-device journaling apps. You can find tons of journaling and diary apps both Web-based and for mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets. Most are free or have a free version. Search terms to try include: “journaling app” “journaling app iphone” “journaling app Android.”
Just a few examples:
- Integrate JibberJobber’s Job Journal feature. JibberJobber is an online personal relationship manager that helps users keep track of job searches networking contacts and other career-management information. The Job Journal feature enables users to record accomplishments. Users can list up to 25 accomplishments using the free level of JibberJobber more in the paid version (see pricing levels).
- Use a cloud-based app such as Evernote. Evernote touts the ability for users to “have instant access to their memories.” Users can type notes to-dos and clip entire Web pages and save all the links and contents. They can also snap photos of anything from business cards to whiteboards to wine labels write handwritten notes in digital ink record audio clips. The variety of media and content that can be integrated into an Evernote “notebook” adds to the richness of tracking accomplishments. The app also has versions for mobile devices.
- Voice-record your accomplishments. Most mobile devices enable you to record voice memos. This technique provides a quick and easy way to capture your achievements as they happen. Just remember that transcribing them into written form is very time-consuming. But wait … you can get free voice-recognition apps such as Dragon for the iPad that do the transcribing for you. Conduct a search for “voice recognition” on your mobile device.
- Try an accomplishment site. Web sites that enable users to construct accomplishments have sprung up in abundance in recent years. While you may not need anything as elaborate as this kind of platform you might at times appreciate the ability to add photos and video to your accomplishments stories.
- Set up a Google search alert on your name: This technique should supplement not substitute for other brainstorming and tracking techniques. If you have any kind of significant online presence — in articles videos podcasts blog posts comments for example — your name will come up in a Google search. If you set up an alert you may be reminded of forgotten content you’ve produced as well as see what people are saying about you in reviews and comments.
Low-Tech Accomplishment Techniques
List everything you’ve done in each job
Paula Sanders of Hunt4Staff.com suggests thinking about the tasks or instances where something has gone well what skills you utilized what the outcomes were and whether those outcomes were over and above what was expected of you within the role. Also list what you’ve done through personal interests and hobbies. “An individual who runs a kids club Brownies or Scouts group for example” Sanders says. “generally will [forget to list] the skills and accomplishments in this part of their life but these are just as important [as those listed for jobs]!”
Keep physical evidence and artifacts of your accomplishments in a container.
Whether a file folder a box or portfolio you can store photos memos letters certificates and any other physical objects that will help you remember your achievements. Some of these artifacts can then be transferred to a portfolio or “Brag Book” that you can use to present your accomplishments to others.
“I encourage my clients to create an “Accomplishment” file in their desk drawer” notes Career Coach Mary Jeanne Vincent “and drop something in it every week. When it is time to update their resume or prepare for their annual performance evaluation they can pull out the file and remember all of the achievements they have forgotten. Not everything will be a pearl of wisdom but there will be plenty of achievements to highlight.”
In your container full of artifacts tied to your accomplishments you can keep letters and notes about your performance from supervisors colleagues customers and vendors; performance reviews; sales ranking reports; your college transcript; letters of recommendation; certificates from training courses; photos of yourself working on various projects or showing deliverables; samples of your work; award certificates and more.
Create a Brag Book or Portfolio.
This technique takes those containers full of evidence of your achievements a step further. Brag Books and portfolios are physical manifestations of your accomplishments. “Brag Books” are commonly used in the sales field especially pharmaceutical sales. They are binders that aspiring sales reps take to job interviews and they are filled with tangible evidence of achievements.
A portfolio is virtually the same thing as a Brag Book; it too is used in job interviews by job-seekers in any field to illustrate accomplishments. Although these binders are typically used to communicate about accomplishments they can also be used as tools to help brainstorm and track accomplishments. Research I conducted with my partner revealed that individuals gain confidence from simply preparing the portfolio or Brag Book.
By organizing your artifacts in your binder you will refresh your memory about your accomplishments and gain confidence as you review all the evidence of your success.
Keep a “Best Experiences” notebook.
This technique suggested by the Dependable Strengths Articulation Process begins with writing down your best experiences every week — things you enjoyed doing felt you did well and were proud of. After a month of recording these experiences choose those you felt were the Best Experiences. Describe them in g eater detail with ou omes. The ev ry quarter choose two or more top experiences of the quarter. At the end of a year review your top quarterly experiences. Reflect on how they could have been changed or improved. Set goals for the next year based on what you’ve learned.
Employ Ford Myers’ Accomplishment Stories.
Go to Myers’ site Career Potential enter your name and email address and later receive a link to a Job Search Survival Toolkit from career coach and author Ford Myers. Click on “Accomplishment Stories” to get a downloadable Word document a worksheet emphasizing skills.
Utilize Allan Hay’s Memory Mining technique.
In his book Memory Mining Allan Hay recommends using job descriptions as jumping-off places for accomplishments discovery. To deploy this technique find a job posting that contains a detailed job description for a position that typifies what you seek. Read the description over carefully perhaps several times. Identify the job functions listed in the posting. Break each function into smaller elements essentially by picking out all nouns and noun phrases. Now brainstorm your accomplishments that exemplify how well you can perform each function. Hay provides a detailed list of questions to ask yourself about each function but for our purposes here focus on accomplishments.
Describing mind-mapping as a great tool for dealing with a vast amount of interrelated information my partner Dr. Randall S. Hansen defines mind-mapping this way in our book The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Study Skills:
“Mind maps allow you to see … the way in which the concepts relate to one another. Mind maps are created around a central word idea or theme. From this central word you create branches to other major concepts related to the central word. From there you continue to create branches from every word or concept you add to the map — and keep doing so until you have all the material on your map. By focusing on key concepts that you discover and define and then looking for branches and connections among all the concepts you are mapping knowledge in a way that will help you better understand and remember the information. This approach is sometimes referred to as concept mapping.”
You can use mind-mapping in a number of ways in brainstorming/tracking accomplishments. You could begin with values such as these listed in 200+ Prompts for Brainstorming Accomplishments and flesh out accomplishment stories about them. You could do the same with the skills prompts. Let’s take “persuasiveness” for example and the accomplishment story below about that skill:
Recently my company asked for bids on a phone system for our new college campus. Two companies came in very close with their bids and most of my department wanted to go with a vendor that we have used in the past. After I looked over the proposals it was clear that this was the wrong decision. So I talked individually with each member of our staff and changed their minds and got the best product that would save money and provide the highest quality.
Other targets for mind-mapping accomplishments include the prompts in 200+ Prompts for Brainstorming Accomplishments and your own resume. While mind-mapping can be quite informal and hand-drawn you can also find mind-mapping software much of it at no cost. Find a huge listing of mind-mapping software tools and information at 99 Mind Mapping Resources Tools and Tips. See also Andrew Makar’s article Mind Map Your Business Interview and What is Mind Mapping? (and How to Get Started Immediately).
Construct status reports.
Many organizations require workers to keep regular status reports usually weekly or monthly. But you can track your accomplishments on your own in a status-report format even if your organization doesn’t require them. One option is to conduct a search of “status report template” online. Because most forms however are task-oriented rather than results-oriented you may want to develop your own form.
Accomplishment Techniques that Integrate Feedback from Others
Query your colleagues. “Ask colleagues and especially past supervisors what they see as your top accomplishments,” advises Mary E. Hayward, principal at Career Options. “It is often difficult for us to remember and claim our accomplishments and strengths but it is much easier for others to do so.” Consider also talking to people with whom you’ve served as a volunteer or any capacity in which you’ve made meaningful contributions.
Questions that Vickie Elmer, a freelance writer who writes about career and consumer issues and blogs at WorkingKind.com, suggests include: “What did I accomplish when we worked together?” and “What did I lead/create/develop that had a big impact on you and on our employer?”
Resume writer Laura Smith-Proulx suggests asking former supervisors, “What were the key reasons for [my] past promotions?”
“I also suggest that [clients] keep track of others who may have helped with each activity,” says Todd Rhoad, director of BT Consulting an Atlanta career-consulting firm. “We also like to track activities that impact teams divisions and companies.”
New grads and other young people may especially benefit from asking others about what successes they observed, notes author Rick Gillis.
Ask professors coaches advisers and others about what impact you had in the capacity in which they knew you and how you made a difference.
Show colleagues and former bosses your resume. Do they feel it accurately reflects your contributions? Also consider asking family members including your spouse. In most cases they don’t work with you but chances are they are the people you are most likely to boast to about your successes. If you’re having difficulty dredging accomplishments out of your memory family members may recall wins you’ve told them about.
You may also find yourself remembering other accomplishments when those around you start giving you input.Enlist a partner to help you “drill down.” To truly get at the meat of your accomplishments — the results that distinguish you recruit a spouse friend colleague or family member to ask you questions. Your current resume or the list of prompts in our 200+ Prompts for Brainstorming Accomplishments are good starting places. Your partner will not only ask you about what you did in each job but also what it meant what resulted why it mattered and how it distinguished you. In other words he or she will ask “so what?” about each item.
Mining Documents Including E-Documents for Accomplishments
Annual performance reviews. Because a significant part of many performances reviews includes a discussion of your performance against the goals your employer set for you the paperwork you get at the end of a performance evaluation can help you identify achievements you may have overlooked. Your review document may also detail your most significant accomplishments and their impact on the organization.
Emails.Recruiter Todd Rogers suggests “going as far back in your “sent” and “deleted” emails as possible and scrolling forward in time paying attention to the subject lines as you scroll.” When you see an email that is possibly affiliated with an accomplishment he says flag that email for further reading. “After you’ve assembled a year or so of such emails start to go through them and where applicable write a one-sentence summary of what you did that was exceptional.” For the future start an email folder of accomplishments so you don’t have to sift through as many emails.
Recommendation/referral letters from current/previous employers: These letters actually have limited value when presented to an external audience such as prospective employers; they aren’t considered very credible since no one who would write such a letter about you would say anything negative. But they can be valuable in helping you brainstorm and track your accomplishments especially as seen through the eyes of others. Consider also letters from customers clients vendors and co-workers.
Your resume. If you read the content of our Accomplishments Section you’ll probably want to beef up your resume with accomplishments but before you do that use the document as a tool to prompt reflection and brainstorming on your accomplishments. Review each item on your resume and think about the extent to which it could be better stated as an accomplishment. Also consider additional accomplishments you may have had in each job or educational experience.
Final Thoughts on Tools for Brainstorming Tracking Accomplishments
Read more about brainstorming tracking and leveraging career accomplishments in Katharine Hansen’s book You Are More Accomplished Than You Think: How to Brainstorm Your Achievements for Career and Life Success
Career and Work Accomplishments Section of Quintessential Careers
Find expert job-seeker accomplishments tools resources samples — free expert advice about maximizing career accomplishments in this section of Quintessential Careers: Career-Job-Work Accomplishments Resources for Job-Seekers.
Questions about some of the terminology used in this article? Get more information (definitions and links) on key college career and job-search terms by going to our Job-Seeker’s Glossary of Job-Hunting Terms.
Katharine Hansen Ph.D. creative director and associate publisher of Quintessential Careers is an educator author and blogger who provides content for Quintessential Careers edits QuintZine an electronic newsletter for jobseekers and blogs about storytelling in the job search at A Storied Career. Katharine who earned her PhD in organizational behavior from Union Institute & University Cincinnati OH is author of Dynamic Cover Letters for New Graduates and A Foot in the Door: Networking Your Way into the Hidden Job Market (both published by Ten Speed Press) as well as Top Notch Executive Resumes (Career Press); and with Randall S. Hansen Ph.D. Dynamic Cover Letters Write Your Way to a Higher GPA (Ten Speed) and The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Study Skills (Alpha).