Career Confusion? Start a Career Journal.

By Brad Waters

Right after high school, I did a short stint in a culinary arts school. It was a quirky little place that ultimately wasn’t a good fit, but it planted the seed of an idea that I would come to revisit over 15 years later. In our first semester, each student was given a rigid, blue plastic box—about the size of a 3-ring binder—filled with blank pages like a scrapbook. It was designed to be a professional development portfolio where we could store our resume, certificates of achievement, and anything else that would highlight our career accomplishments. In theory, it was a great concept to encourage us to develop a career mindset. But ultimately its high dork factor—the expectation that we would carry the blue box into job interviews—relegated mine to the thrift store donation bin.

Now that I’m in the position of helping people navigate their career exploration, I’ve tweaked the concept of the blue box into a comprehensive career journal. Valuable at every stage in one’s career, it’s a personalized notebook or binder where we store and explore all things career and personal-professional development. Below are some of the general framework components of the career journal. While one might add folders for resumes and certificates of achievement, the primary goal is to conduct introspective writing and brainstorming on career-related themes. I suggest dividing a section of the notebook/binder into each of the following headings:

Core Values – Write about what really matters and what guides you. How can the work you do day in and day out align with your values?

Skills/Strengths – Go ahead, toot your own horn! What are you good at? What do people commend you on or come to you for? Keep a running list of your soft skills, hard skills, and character strengths. These lists come in very handy when it’s time to pull together a job application or prepare for an interview.

Interests/Hobbies – All of them. Jot down everything you can think of that ignites a spark within you. This list will contain important threads of information that speak to your personality, your character, and what themes you’re drawn to in life.

The ROPES (Roadblocks, Obligations, Pressures, and Excuses) – What are the things that seem to get in the way of growth and change? These may be self-imposed limitations, inner-critic voices, patterns that have developed over time, or the realities of your situation that make change feel difficult. Identifying them helps you work through them.

Mission, Meaning, and Focus – What propels you forward and why do you do what you do? What would feel rewarding to contribute to the world? What is the legacy you want to leave behind? What are some distracting pieces you might need to set aside in order to focus on your greater professional mission?

Keywords – When you come across a job-related keyword or job title that piques your interest, record it here. These lists come in handy when you’re writing your resume and cover letter, or when you’re inputting search terms into job boards. Knowing exactly which keywords you will explore on a job search site can make your process more efficient and reduce overwhelming feelings.

Testimonials and References – When people praise your abilities, ask if you can “quote them on that” or use them as a future reference. You will need these and you don’t want to be scrambling to find them at the last minute. After all, it’s Murphy’s Law that the application deadline for the amazing job you discovered today expires tomorrow morning.

Future Planning – What are your long-term goals and how will you achieve them? What is your plan? What are the action steps that will get you there? Who can serve as a resource or mentor? Identify your goals, research the requirements, and break those down into action steps. By writing them in your career journal, an overwhelming process can seem much more manageable.

Rainmakers and Resources – Make a comprehensive list of everyone you know in your extended network: your friends, teachers, mentors, ex co-workers… anybody to whom you might someday reach out for advice or job leads. This is an incredibly valuable networking tool.

Resume and Cover Letter – Know where they are when you need them. Tweak them and update them regularly—your professional voice and writing skills develop over a lifetime and your materials should reflect the progression of your skills.

Continuing Education – What skills do you eventually want added to your toolkit? Keep a list of the what, when, where, and how you can grow as a professional. Many careers require continuing education and this will keep you organized and on top of those requirements.

Remember to keep your journal alive. Come back to these sections whenever inspiration strikes or you have a career update. Make an effort to sit undistracted with your journal and brainstorm what truly matters to you. We don’t know where our professional life will ultimately lead, but we can develop a sense for what we want it to contain. We can weigh new opportunities against all of the information in our notebook in order to make informed decisions. This is the kind of attention few of us are encouraged to give to our career exploration, yet I believe it would greatly decrease the amount of job dissatisfaction. The encouragement to explore what each of us wants and needs from a fulfilled life seems revolutionary in its possibility. Could it be part of the antidote to an under-stimulated and overstressed workforce?


Brad Waters, MSW provides career coaching and consultation to clients by phone nationwide. He specializes in working with non-traditional career seekers, entrepreneurs, creatives, and introverts. He is LGBTQI+ affirming and values diversity in the workplace.”. He also writes for PsychologyToday.com

Request a free coaching consultation at BradWatersCoaching.com.

Twitter: @BradWatersMSW

Facebook: facebook.com/bradwatersmsw

LinkedIn: linkedin.com/in/bradwaters

Email: BradWatersMSW@gmail.com

Phone:  773-789-9330

Copyright Brad Waters, 2015.


Leave a reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: