Why I Started Keeping a Career Reflection Journal

Starting a new job is always intimidating. At Atomic, we are regularly switching onto new projects. This means we need to learn new business domains, new languages and technologies, and how to work with new people. When I started on my first project out of college, I met a lot of new people and asked a lot of questions to try to keep up. Those questions lead me to start a career reflection journal.

Some questions I asked based on the person’s background or role, but there was one question I asked every single person I talked to:

If you could go back in time, what advice would you give yourself when you started working?

I liked this question for a couple of reasons. First, the answer requires them to evaluate both what they’ve learned since they started and also how they felt when they started. This means that the advice can be logistical information (like what technologies would have made work easier, etc.), emotional information (like ways to build confidence and overcome imposter syndrome early, etc.), or a combination of both.

When I asked this question, I got lots of good answers. They ranged from time management tips to specific software apps I should use to attitudes I should have. After learning so much from talking to others, I knew that I wanted to try keeping some kind of notes about my own growth, learning, and feedback. Then for the next nine months, I started working and completely forgot to write down anything.

Criteria for a Career Reflection Journal

It’s difficult to take time to reflect on my work experience on top of a full work schedule. For me to get into a routine, I had to create a simple template that would guide me in reflecting and taking notes. Three main criteria guided the creation of the template. I wanted to:

  1. Track my career growth and how I felt at different times to be able to relate to others wherever they are in their own career
  2. Keep documentation of feedback received from coworkers to understand possible areas of growth
  3. Record any helpful resources discovered during that time to share with others in the future

Example Career Reflection Journal Entry

I’ve started filling out the following template monthly. It only takes about 20-30 minutes but has been very helpful in reflecting and understanding how far I’ve come in such a short amount of time. I usually add more detail for each of my answers, but these examples display the general idea.

Skills you wish you had developed more before this point?
Example: Better understanding of Infrastructure as Code

Are there any resources that would have helped develop that skill?
Example: This tutorial about Infrastructure as Code with Terraform

What has been a fulfilling moment of the job recently?
Example: Working with a stakeholder to review a story and understand the changes in requirements that need to be made to help the future end user

What has been the hardest moment of the job recently?
Example: Context switching between multiple stories

What is one piece of positive feedback I have received?
Example: Pair appreciated my ability to work through a story independently and quickly get into the review process

What is one piece of negative feedback I have received?
Example: Need to take advantage of keystrokes for moving through codebase quicker

What is one thing you’d learn if you had more free time?
Example: I’d like to get better at fixing complicated git issues (rebasing, etc.)

What advice would you give yourself a month ago knowing what you know now?
Example: Start timeboxing stories on my schedule to protect time for focused work to reduce interruptions

Building the Habit of Documentation with a Career Reflection Journal

This template has been valuable in building a habit of reflection and documentation. Long term, I hope that these notes will display my growth and the influence of others through their feedback, as well as help me provide relevant guidance and advice to others.