When it comes to advancing your career, it helps to be self-centered. To survive slow economic times or thrive in good ones, you must demonstrate your value to your organization’s bottom line. It is your responsibility to document your work; you can’t expect others to remember and recognize all that you do. An essential career development tool, therefore, is the personal portfolio, or “Me File”, a computer and/or paper file into which you continuously drop material evidencing your accomplishments, contributions, and capabilities.
You must protect and promote your brand throughout your career. When called upon to describe your professional assets, you can’t respond if you can’t remember. A quick flip through your continuously updated Me File should give you plenty of information at a moment’s notice.
Portfolios are useful especially in times of budget cuts or downsizing. The material in your Me File can help you survive the ax when times are tough. Conversely, in better times, it can supply the basis for a well-deserved raise.
Review your Me File in preparation for your annual job review. It will help you describe your accomplishments and development over the past year. When necessary, it may contain evidence to protect you against negative reviews and feedback. You can either attach materials to your annual self-evaluation, send it in advance to your reviewers to refresh their recollection about your contributions to the firm, or bring it with you to discuss during the evaluation.
Go through your Me File when you revise your resume or prepare for an interview. This provides anecdotes and accolades in support of your advancement. There is no need to be at a loss when asked to provide examples of your skills and accomplishments.
Last, but not least, your Me File can be your best friend when you are feeling down and need encouragement. It’s your private collection of triumphs to gratify you and reconnect you with why you do what you do. It can remind you how far you’ve come and where you want to go.
It is better to be overly inclusive so you can select material to document your value depending upon the circumstances. A good Me File should include:
- work samples/accomplishments
Upon completion of every major project, summarize the details and work involved. Include your role and unique contributions. Note the number of people you managed, time constraints, what worked well or didn’t work so well and why (skills and lessons learned). Describe duties that demonstrate your enhanced skills and experience.
Record quantifiable results of your efforts while they are fresh in your mind. Include any forms you created or significant writing samples. Beware, however, when using this information in the future, to be sensitive about protecting privileged or proprietary information.
- performance evaluations
Keep copies of written evaluations of your work—formal or informal. Take notes on any conversations relating to your performance, including the date and participants. Also include documentation of specific steps you have taken to overcome any weaknesses identified. Add ideas for goals that you’d like to pursue in the coming year and steps to accomplish them, noting when those actions have been taken.
- training and continuing education
Collect brochures on all educational events, workshops, and webinars you attend throughout the year. This builds a record of your efforts to expand and hone your skills. Keep documentation of any certifications you’ve achieved. If you participate in a leadership program, note selectivity and qualifications of participants, or whether it’s an accelerated or “honors” program. More importantly, be prepared to explain how your new level of expertise can directly contribute to the firm’s success.
- business development activities
Maintain a list of clients you serve and your role in originating business. Note in your Me File new contacts made and actions taken to develop them. Add copies of your speeches and panel participation, and articles and client alerts you publish. List new committees you join, professional or civic activities, and participation in internal firm management or committees. Monitor your monthly events and participation in high-profile activities with key industry leaders and potential client contacts.
Every organization wants its lawyers to be team players as well as successful individual contributors. Regularly note whom you have been collaborating with and how it has been working to demonstrate how your efforts blend with those of others to fuel the overall success of the firm and its mission.
Deposit all forms of grateful or complimentary feedback into your Me File, including cards, notes, letters, and positive performance reviews. Include e-mails from colleagues or clients thanking you for a job well done, especially if they are unsolicited and heartfelt; those words speak for themselves. If you receive compliments in person or over the phone, don’t hesitate to ask whether they would put them in a letter or email to you. Jot brief notes in the file about the matter or task that prompted the testimonial, for context when you refer to it in the future.
Testimonials can become tangible and credible evidence of support. Don’t worry that individual entries are not substantial; little things add up. Since the Me File is for your eyes only, drop in even the most trivial bits good cheer. Taken together, it’s impressive!
If you’re just getting started with your Me File, check recent emails on your computer and start copying appropriate ones into a new folder, or print them out and put them in a paper file. As new, positive emails come in, move them to your folder right away.
Once you’ve read and responded to such well-deserved email, save it! Cut and paste additional context, backup and documentation and don’t forget to include dates on everything.
Although it may be convenient to keep your file at work, home probably is a better choice. Otherwise, in today’s volatile employment climate, you could lose access these documents if you need to make a hasty exit.
The best time to collect your thoughts and materials is NOW. Once you have created your Me File, add notes as close to contemporaneously with events as possible. Make it a regular task to review and capture what you have done over the past few days, weeks or – at most – month. You can enter a recurring task in Outlook, or whatever reminder/tickler system you use, to “record/update recent accomplishments.” This way, you build time into your schedule to reflect on what you have done before your memory grows dim.
Periodically, perhaps annually, you should organize your Me File. Keep the old file and start a new one, labeled by year. Creating and maintaining a Me File is simple to do and takes very little time. It costs nothing yet provides great value for your career advancement.
The next step, of course, is to be sure you’re spending time doing the kinds of things that will fill your Me File.