Keep a Career Journal

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I recommend that professionals keep a career journal as a way to remember your accomplishments and outcomes over the year. You can also use it to record goals and measure your progress on them. Why write these things down, you might ask? Surely I can remember the big things I accomplished.

You’d be surprised at how faulty your memory is for the current year, let alone three years ago. The serial position effect is the tendency to recall the first and last items in a series best, and the middle items worst. (June may be lost in the shuffle.) The term was coined by Hermann Ebbinghaus, who discovered that recall accuracy varies as a function of an item’s position within a study list. When asked to recall a list of items in any order (free recall), people tend to begin recall with the end of the list, recalling those items best (which is called the recency effect.) Among earlier list items, the first few items are recalled more frequently than the middle items (called the primacy effect.) So you may have trouble recalling, and your manager will certainly have trouble recalling on your behalf.

Keeping a career journal will help you understand why you feel what you do about your job. Keeping track of your good days and bad days can be helpful in making career decisions. If the majority of your entries are about projects being delayed, discord among team members, or funding cuts, you may be justified in consider a move to another company.

Not sure what to write? Randall S. Hansen, Ph.D., writing for, suggests these entries:

  • Analyzing your current situation
  • Brainstorming about your future career goals; seeing yourself in 5 years, in 10 years
  • Establishing daily or weekly career-related objectives or tasks
  • Developing action plans to achieve your objectives and tasks
  • Keeping track of your daily career-related achievements, progress
  • Making checklists to keep your progress moving forward
  • Discovering and exploring your workplace values
  • Writing a personal mission statement
  • Preparing a SWOT (strengths-weakness-opportunities-threats) analysis
  • Recording key information, such as network contacts, informational interviews, accomplishments, job interview results, etc.
  • Expressing your reactions to job and career success and failures
  • Writing and polishing your key job correspondence material — cover letters, resumes, thank you letters, etc.
  • Practicing job interview questions – and answers
  • Gathering salary information; conducting salary research
    Developing plans for achieving promotions
    Strategizing methods to get a larger raise, bonus, other compensation or benefits
  • Preparing for job performance reviews
  • Marketing yourself within the company
  • Exploring whether further education or training will fast-track your career

Your journal will be a great way to build your case for a raise. There are really only two reasons for a manager to justify a pay raise: increased value to the company (a bigger role or more valuable skill set) or an adjustment to meet current market value for your role. Either way, it’s your job to collect the data and package it for your boss to consider. It’s important to make your case on data and not personal needs or wants.

You can certainly use pen and paper for your journal, but I recommend an online tool such as Evernote or a document stored in Dropbox for easy anywhere access. Having your entries stored digitally allows you to cut and paste them into email or your resume.

Your journal can also be a place to explore ideas for the future: articles you want to write, future career plans, even starting your own business. Researchers have found that people who write down their goals accomplish significantly more than those who do not write down their goals.

2017 could be your biggest year yet – write that down!

2 thoughts on “Keep a Career Journal

  1. ablackgirlabouttown

    I think this is a great idea! Thank you!
    ~ Zeena


  2. Excellent! Thank you! Made my day.

    I once kept a Happiness Journal, writing down whatever made me happy. The reason? I had no trouble remembering the negatives (unhappy) events in my life. They velcro-ed themselves to my memory. I wondered, is my life as negative (unhappy), as it seems? “If so, why is my life relatively happy?” I discovered we take positive (happy) events for granted. Positives are expected. Major positive events will register in long term memory. Not so much, “everyday” positives. Noting daily positives in a Happiness Journal, not only helped me recognize the things that made me happy, daily and weekly; reading them, weeks or months later, gave positive meaning to my life. No doubt this made me a better employee too!

    I’ve had the most experience in keeping notes for Job Performance Reviews. You will get a much better picture of your work accomplishments by keeping an on-going Journal listing Projects and Accomplishments. You remember more details also. A Career Journal will be worth the time and effort you put into it. Also, as noted, by Candace Moody, your boss isn’t going to remember all your accomplishments. He or she is busy trying to remember his / her own accomplishments for their Performance Review. Your Journal notes may help you, while reminding your boss of your boss’ accomplishments worth promoting.

    One other reason to keep a Career Journal. If you decide to write your personal Memoir, your Career Journal is a great source of information. A Career Journal, points you to resource materials to document your life / career, also. An uncle wrote his personal memoir, published in 2016. Because he is retired Navy, serving two terms as a mechanic, for the Blue Angels, among other Navy adventures, much of his career is documented, thanks to Navy paperwork. He is an accomplished Life Insurance salesman (retired) and for a time, a successful candy store owner, also doing mailorders. Much of his life is documented in one form or another. He wrote of his humble beginnings, as a small town poor boy, through his Navy years, and later successes. I always wanted him to write his life story, for he led a fascinating life, given his humble beginnings. I never figured he would. A lot is left out of his book, which is always the case. Even so, I learned much about his life, I never knew! A Career Journal, would have been useful to him, I’m sure. Start keeping a Career Journal today! Even if you never write a Memoir, your descendants will have a better idea of who you are—and when gone, who you were. I hope I’ve encouraged someone to start your own Career Journal today. Candace Moody has given you many fine reasons to keep one and ways to keep a Career Journal. I love to write, but also love to procrastinate. Don’t be like me! Start now!

    Thanks again for this post Candace Moody. 🙂


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