Updated Thu, Jun 26, 2014 8:37 am
What if a headhunter calls today with an interesting job possibility? Can you quickly show that you're an ideal candidate? Or what if a new boss or client has questions about how you've been using your time?
Sometimes new opportunities or unexpected challenges pop up fast. But when you're asked to quickly explain what you've been doing on the job, you might not be prepared to gracefully describe your achievements. Some people even go blank when asked to talk about what they've done lately.
To keep moving ahead in your career, there are times when you must know how to describe where you've been. Even if you're happily entrenched in a job that feels secure, on occasion you'll need to demonstrate your worth. Perhaps you'll want to go after a raise or promotion, or to show that you're ready to take on a juicy assignment.
Even if other people aren't inquiring about how you're doing, to keep growing on the job you need to have a realistic sense of your current productivity. On occasion it's good to gauge your progress simply to reduce self-doubt. You're less likely to question the value of your contribution if you somehow measure it as you go along. And if you routinely keep track of which activities bring the most results, you'll know how to prioritize your time in the future.
So that you're always prepared to demonstrate your accomplishments, consider these strategies:
Keep a "love me" file. This is a handy place – also known as a "brag file" – where you immediately store a copy of any document that says something nice about you. I've seen a few "love me" files that are full of handwritten "thank you" notes and letters of praise from grateful clients. It's more likely that your file – whether it's in your desk drawer or the Cloud – will be a mixed bag. Include anything that commemorates good work or a positive evaluation, from casual "thanks" messages to press clips or training course certificates. If your file is empty, you might think about rounding up letters of reference or testimonials, just in case.
Get real about "performance management." Your organization may have an annual performance appraisal process. Typically it begins with the establishment of goals, and ends when your progress towards those goals is evaluated in the context of a discussion about compensation. Often the process is pro forma, and nobody pays much attention to it. But that's a missed opportunity. Take charge of the process, and use it to get buy-in for things you actually want to do. Propose meaningful goals and routinely document your progress. Your records will help you create a specific picture of your most important contributions.
Count activities and results. Your resume, activity reports and project summaries will be more useful and impressive if you include relevant numbers. Let's say you're a PR manager and a prolific writer. You can tell a prospective employer that you blog frequently and write lots of press releases. But wouldn't it be more effective to say that in the last six months you've posted 60 blog items, averaging 20,000 views each, and you've sent out 83 releases resulting in at least 327 media clips? If you keep a running log of frequent and important activities, you'll always be able to show off what you've done in a powerful, streamlined way.
Note problems and solutions. Not everything you deal with generates good fodder for your "love me" file. At times you may have to address controversies or complaints, or even clean up a mess after you make the wrong call. Smart professionals face up to tough issues and find a way to remedy errors. As time goes by, however, other people may remember the problem but not what was done to manage it. So you may need another file as well, for matters you've successfully handled. When the road gets bumpy, put a note in the "handled" file describing the problem and documenting how you dealt with it.
If you keep track of "thank you's" and record your activity as you go along, you'll always be able to produce a quick summary of your career highlights. Even more important, your files will bring insights into how you do your best work and reassure you when you feel discouraged. Read more about how and why to measure your progress.
Beverly Jones is an alum of Ohio University. Her column appears at Clearways Consulting LLC. Republshed with permission. For archives and additional content, visit the Clearways Consulting website.