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Document Yourself: A Framework for Career Advancement

michellelynneb profile image Michelle 🐍 Updated on ・7 min read

Update: I created interactive versions of the worksheet. Tell me your awesome achievements so I can brag about them!

As an engineer, the dream work situation would be to be given increasingly complex projects, raises, and promotions that match exactly with my career goals without having to discuss it with anyone. Sadly, our managers cannot read our minds and sometimes don’t even understand what we’re working on. Luckily for me, I have had some amazing mentors who have helped me create this framework. It has been used successfully by my peers and mentees to get the career advancement and compensation they were looking for.

ROI

If a product costs $5 to make and you can only sell it for $4, you’ve got a business problem. If you are selling it for $15 you’ve got a winner. Most business managers think in these terms because that’s how they have to justify themselves to their bosses, stockholders, and investors. You should be thinking of yourself as in the same terms, to make it easier for them. If you can prove that your ROI, or return on investment, is much higher than your salary then you can justify that raise. It’s also important to frame what you want in how it is helping them, not to you. Both of these are asking for the same thing, but one of them is going to sell better. Which one do you think it is?

It is important that the company invests in my growth, so I deserve to lead the new project.

I increased sales 10% by creating this feature, if I was given this other project to lead, I can do even better.

Success Statements

In order to have a successful meeting where you can say that to your boss, you need the receipts. So what is a success statement?

A success statement is a short, easy-to-read sentence that describes an accomplishment. It can be a cost savings or a profit increase. It is ~100-200 characters, written at a high level and easy to comprehend for someone who might not understand what you do. It is best if it can be quantified in money, but you can also use time since salary can be one of the biggest corporate costs, time can be translated into cost savings.

Here’s the basic format:

I "improved this thing" by "this measurable amount" using "this method".

And examples:

I added a new way for customers to find us, increasing sales 15%, by connecting with a 3rd party API.

I reduced storage costs by $500 monthly by switching to a different storage system.

I reduced the time spent doing manual tests 60 minutes weekly by creating automated tests.

Writing Exercise

Now I want you to take a moment and think of at least one success from the last month and write it down. When you have more time, go through your emails, chats, and tickets to figure out your success statements for the last 6 months. The first few can feel awkward, but you will get the hang of it. Ideally, you will write one every time you finish something new.

Further Reading

For even more on Success Statements and an app you can use to track and summarize them, you can read the article I wrote for OpenSource.com

Brag Sheets

Brag sheets are where you are summarizing your accomplishments with the goal of advancement. This should ideally be one page, like a resume. You should always have the goal of making it easy for your manager to say yes and sponsor you.

Next Goal

It should start with what you are looking to achieve. Team lead? Moving to another team? A specific technology you want to work on?

Here are some examples:

I would like to expand my knowledge of AWS with the goal of being able to build and deploy a microservice.

I would like to be a team lead on the next project with the goal of getting more mentoring and managerial experience.

I would like to move from design to UX development with the goal of spending more time engineering.

Remember to include how that will help your boss and not just you.

This will decrease the workload of the DevOps team while letting us create cutting edge technology that will increase our ability to source and retain talent.

This will give me more time to use my domain knowledge and skills to level up the other engineers in order to increase our collective output.

This will help us bridge the gap between design and UX and increase the number of features put into production.

Record of Achievement

This is where you put your success statements to prove your record of achievement at the company. I recommend adding them up, then including the best ones. Fixing one bug is not impressive, fixing 20 bugs and increasing sales 10% is.

Example:

In the last 2 quarters I have:

  • Increased client signup 20% by automating the majority of the onboarding process.
    • Supporting success statement #1
    • Supporting success statement #2, etc
  • Decreased client churn 10% by creating new, helpful features.
    • Supporting success statement #1
    • Supporting success statement #2, etc

Readiness for Goal

This is where you put the evidence that you will be successful if you are given the responsibility you are looking for. This can include:

  • Training and professional development
    • Classes, Articles, Videos, Certifications, Workshops, Conference Talks, etc.
  • Projects where you have done the job
    • Proof of concepts using the new technology
    • Taking on leadership tasks without being the lead.

If you don’t think you are ready yet, these can be tasks you want to accomplish. You can work with your manager to see if these would be the right things for you to do, and if not, what you can do.

When To Use

Your brag sheet can be brought to a performance review meeting or a 1-on-1. It’s also great when you get a brand new manager and want to catch them up on your role and career goals.

Writing Exercise

Writing a whole brag sheet can take a while, but I want you to get started by writing out a single career goal and how it can help your current company. Then, write out some examples of how you are ready for can get ready to accomplish that goal.

Further Reading

Here is another great breakdown and example of brag sheets by Julia Evans

Elevator Pitch

Your elevator pitch is the story you have in your back pocket whenever anyone says, “Tell me about yourself”. Some places you can use this are an interview, networking event or client/investor meeting. I have worked with many people on their pitches and they either don’t know what to say because they’re new or changing careers, or have 20 years experience and aren’t sure what to include. Here are the strategies I use.

Audience First

I want you to think about your favorite movie. Did you learn everything there was to learn about a character? Or just the parts that were germane to the plot? Creating an elevator pitch is all about telling the right version of your story for the audience. Who is your audience? What is their goal for this meeting? How you can demonstrate you have what they’re looking for?

This project started for me when I was trying to get a job as a backend engineer but didn’t have a computer science degree. So my audience was recruiters who only had a basic knowledge of technology and I wanted them to hear the story of how I was an experienced technologist that could solve their problems, without being able to use formal education as a shortcut.

Pattern of Growth

You are smarter, more skilled and a better employee today than you were at 17. It does not matter what your job duties were or the industry that you were in. At every job, you learned something, even if technically you moved laterally or even down. You just have to find what it is that you learned. If you worked as a barista, you learned customer service, multi-tasking and problem-solving. If you worked as a freelancer alone in your basement you learned communication and time management. These are all valuable and transferable skills.

Skills vs Task

Your skills are more important than how you used them. You just need to learn how to take the task (e.g. folding clothes at a retail store), and turn it into the skill (in that example, attention to detail and quality control). A stay-at-home parent getting back into the workforce? I’m sure you can tell me stories about time and project management and finding creative solutions. Dealing with demanding clients can require a similar skillset to pacifying toddlers at times.

Positive Attitude

We all make compromises in our careers. No job is perfect and sometimes you just need a paycheck. Two jobs ago I was a manager but went back to being an individual contributor. When I talk about it, I say that I wanted to get more technical experience. I would have been ecstatic to get a job as a manager and continue on the leadership track. However, those opportunities weren’t as readily available. And it is not a lie because I saw that gaining more technical skills could only help me get more opportunities. So I made a shift that did not meet my preferences exactly but framed it in a positive way.

Writing Exercise

You can download my worksheet on elevator pitches.

Final Thoughts

The best way to improve your documentation is to share with others. Ask a friend or coworker to read over your work. You can also find help on social media like Twitter or Slack. If you feel uncomfortable bragging about yourself, I recommend asking a current or recent teammate, since they know your work and it can be easier to praise someone else rather than yourself. Finally, feel free to share your successes in the comments below. I especially want to hear if this helped you achieve your goals! If you got a raise I can always use a Starbucks gift card. 😎

Posted on by:

michellelynneb profile

Michelle 🐍

@michellelynneb

Michelle loves to build things to make our lives better. She is the hype machine that wants everyone to believe in themselves.

Discussion

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This seems like a wonderful tool and I believe could help in CV building too :). Thanks for sharing it.