Job search tips and strategies come from any number of resources. I often find mine in music, film, and even life’s everyday moments. With Christmas closing in on us fast, I found this week’s lesson in a box of old photographs and one of my favorite songs from Jim Croce.
In his song, Photographs and Memories, Jim Croce reminds us, sadly, that time is like a giant eraser, often leaving us with little to remember of the good times long since passed.
Photographs and memories
Christmas cards you sent to me
All that I have are these
To remember you
I recently spent a snowy Upstate NY weekend sorting and categorizing old photographs retrieved from my mother’s home in Cincinnati. She died earlier this year, and it was up to my brother and me to clean out the condo and prepare it for sale. I picked up the task of converting 90+ years of photographs from albums and cardboard boxes into a new age digital archive. As an aside, I highly recommend ScanCafe as a service to consider if you are ever faced with a similar task.
In any event, as I moved through over 1,000 photographs, I was flooded by memories of good times past but long forgotten. The evidence of a life well lived was incontrovertible. But if you had asked me to recall many of these events, I would have been hard-pressed to create the list without the support of the photographs. And that is where this old brain made a connection to the job search process. In truth, it hit me a few hours later as I was walking the dog, but you get the point!
Often, I am working with a client or prospect whose initial resume is heavy on both duties and responsibilities, but way too light on accomplishments and results. I recommend that we swap out most of the duties and responsibilities language for specific achievements and metrics for current and former positions. But a common refrain I hear from the client is “I can’t remember” or “I don’t think I have any to include on the resume.” In other words, we are missing the photographs and the memories.
If this hits close to home for you, here are a few thoughts on how to avoid, or remedy, this situation in your job search process.
No matter where you are in your career, beginning, middle, or late, build your own box of photographs and memories. I like to call it an Accomplishments Journal, a familiar name for a results database. Start by selecting your journaling method. It can be as simple as a Word or Excel file. However, I recommend one of the digital notebook platforms (Evernote, OneNote, or Keep) because you can easily access them from desktop or mobile immediately at the point of need.
Whenever you initiate and subsequently complete a significant activity, take a few minutes to document your work. You can choose to capture the activity description in basic free form text. But I recommend a more structured approach to your journaling. Set up your journal or database to record each activity using the STAR structure (Situation, Task, Action, and Result). With the journal set up as a STAR database, you will be well-positioned down the road to easily incorporate these STAR stories into future job search assets and tools (resumes, cover letters, LinkedIn profile, and interviews). And if you are using Evernote or OneNote, take advantage of the file attachment function. Include any documents (presentations, reports, etc.) as attachments to each respective journal entry.
The process described above works well from today going forward, but what about recreating your memories from past positions? Your digital and paper archives are typically excellent resources capable of jogging your memories of past accomplishments. Look for old performance appraisals, quarterly presentations, project reports, and even your corporate email archives. Focus on bullet points containing result metrics. It is much easier to rebuild historical STAR stories from your archives working in reverse. Start with the qualitative result. Then ask what action(s) I completed to get that number. Move backward from that point to recall what broad task(s) drove you to complete these actions. Finally, ask yourself what overall problem you were trying to address with this activity. Put it all down in your journal along with any of the related attachments.
Lastly, supplement your journal with networking. Reach out to former colleagues, managers, and mentors. Explain your journaling project and ask them for their perspective on a particular project. See if they can help fill in any memory gap on the resulting metric(s). Then, as above, work together backward through the STAR structure. And never forget to make that networking meeting a two-way street. Always ask at the end of the discussion if there is anything you can do to help your contact.
Building an Accomplishments Journal takes time. You will not complete it overnight. It is an ongoing and perhaps even never-ending project. But as you create the journal, page by page, you will be amazed at all that you have accomplished in your short or long career. And as Jim Croce tells us in his song lyrics: “But we sure had a good time when we started way back when.”
Happy holidays. Here is to a better year in 2021!
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Dan Troup is the Managing Director of the AdvantEdge Careers coaching service. If you are interested in learning more about how a job search expert and certified career coach can assist you, please contact AdvantEdge Careers for a free initial consultation.