Taking stock of your career

Looking back on your achievements can help you move forward


By Girish Chandra Ananthanarayana 

There’s an old Indian saying: “He who is industrious becomes the expert.” In their respective bestsellers, Malcolm Gladwell (Outliers) and Cal Newport (So Good They Can’t Ignore You) provide great examples of how work ethic trumps talent or ability when it comes to professional excellence. We are valued for the results we can create. But given the competitive nature of today’s workplace, it’s also important to be able to talk about our achievements. That means we need to take stock of and document our accomplishments, however small they may appear to us.

This becomes even more critical when you’re looking for opportunities outside your current role. You should be able to project your achievements (skills, projects, results, etc.) on your résumé. But what employers really care about are your stories of accomplishments and results—because past behaviour is the best indicator of future potential. So, whatever capacity you’re working in, it’s critical to take stock of your career and measure your outcomes.

How to get started

Begin by documenting your accomplishments because it’s easy to forget them over a period of time or take them for granted; “accomplishments” can be key milestones (and occasional breakthroughs) in your work life. There are many ways to assess your career, but my approach is to ask myself the following key questions (some of these may require research or feedback from colleagues, supervisors and managers):

Accomplishments: What have I accomplished in the past two weeks/months/years (depending on the length of your experience) that made a difference in the workplace? What are the most significant results I have produced? What recognition, appreciation or promotions have I received? What have I done outside my job description?

Improvement: What are the top three areas where I have shown significant improvement in the past two to three months/years (depending on the length of your experience)? Where have I not done well? What are the top three focus areas where I need to show improvement? Why is it important for me to improve in these areas? What level of commitment (time, effort and money) is required from me to improve?

Value at work: How important and valuable is my role in the organization? Am I or will I be replaceable? Why or why not? What unique values do I bring? Why should the company continue to retain and pay me? How may my work evolve in the future? What could make me replaceable—in the next one, two or three years?

Growth readiness: What growth options do I have? How does my past experience enable me to take greater responsibilities? Am I prepared to take on more? What are the top skills required for my growth? What three or four key examples indicate I deserve a promotion? What courses or programs can help me upgrade?

Challenges: Where are my three biggest challenges? How might they stop me from growing further? What am I doing about them and what else can I do?

What you’ll discover

This exercise will provide insights into where you are, where you want to be, and what you need to do to get to where you need to be. Answering the above questions will also help you in many other ways. For example, reflecting on your accomplishments can:

  • Improve your motivation, self-awareness and confidence
  • Help you clarify your strengths and limitations
  • Assist in future job interviews or performance appraisals
  • Provide a good starting point to develop and manage your goals
  • Help you identify and challenge your comfort zone (current competencies and skills) and realize your potential.

How you want to use this exercise depends on you. It’s not easy at first, but it gets better with time. Do it as often as you can, and at least once a year.

As the saying goes: Life is short; make it meaningful

About the author

Girish Chandra Ananthanarayana, MBA, is a graduate of the Career Development Practitioner Certificate program at SFU Continuing Studies. He is currently a co-op coordinator at UBC where he helps computer science students secure relevant IT co-op positions. Previously, he served as an adjunct professor at the Sauder School of Business. He has more than five years of experience in career coaching and corporate training, as well as more than 10 years’ experience in consulting and software engineering.