By Madeleine Burry
The Balance Careers, Updated June 25, 2019.
One of the reasons it’s difficult to update your resume is because as time passes, your memory of accomplishments and day-to-day responsibilities can fade. If you struggle to remember your plans from last Friday, how will you recall the highlights from your year-end performance review?
The trick is to write things down now, so that making updates to job descriptions on your resume is easy later on. Here’s what you need to know.
Why Track Your Work
Making resume updates easier is just one reason to keep track of what you do, learn, and accomplish at work. Other reasons include acing your performance reviews and making powerful arguments for promotions and raises. It can also be helpful if you have to write a bio of yourself, whether for an event you’re attending or another professional moment.
Finally, these notes may make it easier to prepare for interviews, and ace common questions, such as “What are your biggest accomplishments?” and Describe a difficult work situation and how you overcame it?”
What Should You Track?
Since you are not directly updating your resume, be expansive in what you log, however you choose to do so (more on that later). Here are some things to track:
- New skills: If you attend classes or workshops, note it down. Training sessions at work are also worth noting. Did you learn a new software program? Write that down, too.
- Awards and praise: Did your boss send around an email to the team touting your work? Did you win salesperson of the year from your organization or get acknowledged by an outside group? Write down the date and substance of accolades and compliments.
- Projects and tasks: Think of this as the day-to-day. Like doing the laundry each week, it’s both essential and infinitely forgettable. Write down at least the what (“budget analysis for year-over-year projections”), and consider including how you accomplished a task, from obstacles to successes. As well as being helpful when you update your resume, this can be valuable as you think through answers to common interview questions.
- Interactions with co-workers, managers, and people you supervise: If you manage people yourself, you’ll definitely want to include that on your resume. Other interactions with colleagues won’t necessarily make it onto this document, but can still be quite helpful during interviews. (For instance, if you’re asked questions about teamwork.)
- Challenges: Again, you may not want to include this information on your resume, but many interview questions will center on how you’ve dealt with difficult co-workers, projects gone awry, and other workplace challenges. If you have notes on that time your team missed the deadline for a big project, and how you recalibrated for the next one, you’ll be halfway to a sharp interview answer if you’re asked about a time you hit a speedbump on a task.
- Accomplishments and results: Whether it’s organizing an event, exceeding a sales quota, closing a deal, or saving money, write down the big things you get done at work. Include as many specific, quantifiable details as possible, so you won’t have to go into your email archive later for the information.
How to Track Your Work
This task is deceptively difficult. When you receive a compliment, you might think at the moment, “I’ll never forget this!” But if you don’t write it down, you might. Here are some ideas for where to write down information:
- Draft email or document: Keep a running log in a draft email or a word processing document.
- Journal: Or, perhaps you want to track your work using old fashioned pen and paper.
- Voice recorder: If writing’s a chore, you could use the voice recorder on your phone or another device to track your work. (Note: This might be easy at the time, but potentially harder when updating your resume, since it’s difficult to skim through recordings.)
- List: Do you have an app on your phone with your grocery list or another list? Use that to track your work, too.
- Draft of your resume: Create a version of your resume where you add informal bullet points as things happen. When you’re ready to update your resume, the information will already be there — you’ll just need to polish the language.
- Paper or digital calendar: It may be helpful to use a calendar to jot down notes.
- Digital folder: Consider keeping a folder where you save emails, performance evaluations, and other documents that provide helpful background.
Wherever you track your work, make sure it’ll be accessible even if you lose your ability to log-in to your work computer. So, if it’s a draft email, save it in your personal email account, not your work one. And put your digital folder in the cloud, not on your work computer desktop.
Timing is also critical here.
While it’s good to track events when they happen, that may not always be feasible. Consider setting a quarterly (or monthly or weekly) reminder to jot down some notes.
Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good. Get down notes as often as you can, with as much detail as you can. A typo-ridden sentence that doesn’t contain the full picture (but will jog your brain later when you’re updating your resume) is better than nothing. Even if your notes are fragmented or sporadic, they’ll be helpful down the line.