Growing your career requires a combination of a more sophisticated skill set and getting increasingly good at building your personal brand. Being able to confidently speak to our work successes and achievements is a huge part of marketing ourselves. Whether we’re working on improving credibility in our current role or positioning ourselves for future opportunities, pointing to concrete achievements in our career is essential for success.
Being methodical and structured about how we capture those achievements is an important habit to start building, and as our careers become longer and more complex, an email folder tagged “Kudos” just won’t do. To really put your achievements to work for you, they need to be thoughtfully captured, catalogued, and translated into the larger arc of what you’re trying to achieve in the working world.
Enter the “brag sheet.” Think of a brag sheet as the sub-levels of your resume. It’s the achievements—of all sizes—you’ve accomplished along the way in your job that tally up to the results and success you can demonstrate in your role. A brag sheet isn’t meant to be a run-down of uncomfortable self-congratulating. Instead, it can be a record we carry throughout our careers that help us highlight our achievements, skill set, and the meaningful results we create in our work.
Why should I have a brag sheet?
Somewhere between the high-level career story that is our resume and our day-to-day work selves, we can lose track of our achievements. When it comes time to ask for that promotion or big raise, you want to be able to point to a concrete list of the ways you’re excellent. Building a brag sheet along the way in our career showcases evidence-based results, which is the backdrop for increasing responsibility and advancing professionally.
It’s also easy to let tiny achievements slide over time. This is especially true when they may not be incredibly relevant to us until further down the line in our job hunt. For example, in an earlier stage of my career, I spent time helping build a client relationship management database. It wasn’t a core part of my role at the time, but I meticulously tracked our results and the partners I worked with. Years later, it is a story I trot out at interviews to highlight my technical experience and ability to work across a variety of business lines.
What does it look like?
A brag sheet can take any form. It can be a running word doc, or for the ultra-organized, even an excel file. Those of us with creative portfolios, data visualization projects, or any work that displays better visually might want to connect it with a running portfolio of projects.
However, one thing that brings a brag sheet to life is the fact that you created it and transformed these ideas into your own words. A brag sheet can be built off a pile of emails of “wins” that you save, but it must be built. You’re looking to capture a running narrative of your successes, and are knitting them together in a meaningful way for your career.
How do I build it?
Start with a blank page and brainstorm your successes since the beginning of the year. Take a weekend and think through past positions. Comb over your emails, key client, or internal partner meetings for any prompts. Your brag sheet can include stories and examples from any of the following:
Did another team send a note to you and your boss on something you knocked out of the park? Capture that exact language and build out a few data points on why the project or success was meaningful to the firm.
Quotes from senior leaders
If a senior leader in the company sent you a congratulatory note or included you in a key project, it’s worth capturing the exposure and the results.
Any of your successes with metrics tied to it is a brag sheet gold standard. Do your client surveys reflect a 20 percent increase in satisfaction year over year? Capture that. Are there dozens of new users on an internal collaboration board you built? That’s a metric too—you’re furthering inter-company connectivity.
Corporate “extracurricular” activities
Any time you’re serving the wider good beyond your immediate role, be sure to document those activities. Often times, these contributions set you apart for promotion and new leadership opportunities. Sometimes when we’re mentoring or supporting a company volunteer event, we feel like that shouldn’t be “brag sheet” worthy, and that it diminishes our contribution unless we do it unseen.
If you’re taking on those tasks only to put them on the brag sheet, that’s another thing. But often times, women are loaded up with invisible contributions in this area, often requiring extensive time and emotional labor without recognition for a meaningful contribution.
We can tend to discount peer feedback, thinking that kudos are not helpful to our careers unless they come from someone above us in the pecking order. Not true at all! Keeping track of peer feedback is essential. It shows that you are a great team mate, and can also help you get a different perspective on how people see where your skills and talents lie.
Qualitative “interview responses”
Start to train your mind to think of work successes as future answers in an interview. This can look like more qualitative milestones where you’re learning about your work and leadership style. For example, I was part of a team project where we were working for months on a new product, without a named leader. I challenged myself to take on certain tasks that were outside of my comfort zone, and they felt like new achievements in my career. It would be hard for anyone but me to have identified that, so jotting a little “diary entry” on my brag sheet ensures I’ll never forget that perspective on my own growth.
How do I use a brag sheet?
A brag sheet serves short-term and long-term goals. Use it to get yourself ready for annual reviews or check-ins with your boss. Add to it over time to be sure you capture all the success milestones of your career. We’re likely to have a number of different careers over our lifetimes that use many different skills. You never know when an earlier success will prove relevant in a future job hunt.
What’s the first thing you’re putting on your brag sheet?