Bullet Journal for Career Planning

I have always wanted to be a career coach. The conversations about what you’re interested in doing and what vocations or jobs that could look like were super interesting to me.  One of the big components is the job search – and how can you use the bullet journal to track your career plans.  I’ve learned a lot from my undergraduate institution, my graduate work, and general reading because I’m a career-and-purpose nerd. Strap in friends, because today I’ll share a few of my ideas, combining my love for career planning and practical bullet journal spreads to track your development.  As ALWAYS – use what want, adapt what you need! This is not the ONLY way to do this work, it is just what has worked for me.

First, there are things you need to know about yourself and what matters to you, your why, or what you bring.  So a lot of these ideas I’m sharing actually should be things you do all the time – not just when you’re seeking a job.  This is the work you cannot skip, and it will influence the rest of your path.

I do a lot of one to ones with students, and I will never forget this conversation I had with one first-year man:

“So what are you thinking of doing beyond graduation?”

“I don’t really know, but I know for sure it’ll be in business.”

“Oh that’s cool – so what is it about business that appeals to you?”

“………….. I…. I don’t know.”

“Well, that’s worth thinking about – you are a smart guy. You have to be smart to be here. And whenever someone asked you what you wanted to do, you probably said business and they just patted you on the back and said you’d be great and that was fine.  But if you don’t know why you want to go down this path you might not be on it for long.”

He told me later that this question haunted him for a long long time – and ultimately he didn’t choose that path.  It’s such a representation of what happens to us all the time – we wander down paths that feel like we chose them but we did not. So that’s why I am very passionate about these reflections for your bullet journal.

Today I combine 2 interests of mine - bullet journal and career development/job searching. See how you can use your bujo to get to your career goals!

Your Skills

Make a list of the things you can do – these are things you might perform.  Some examples are things like software, teaching, operating certain machinery, assessments you can run, analyses you can do, facilitation, so on.  Be honest with yourself – which means you’re not overstating your competency but also that you embrace what you ARE good at.  My fellow women especially, it’s critical that we can honestly say, “Yes, I can do that, and I can do that well.”

Sometimes we don’t think what we can do is a big deal, when in reality that’s exactly what makes it a strength – we find it no problem to do these things but for others it’s unfathomable.  For me, I find it extremely easy to break projects down into manageable parts and arrange them on a timeline when others can create massively complex spreadsheets to get at the right outputs.  If you don’t think you know what your skills are, ask the people around you! It’s amazing what gets revealed to us when others can fill in the gaps.

Your Gifts

Unlike your skills, your gifts are a little different and more subjective. Your skills are more like “What can you do?” and Gifts are more like “What do you bring to a space?”  This is just as important as what you can do, because it’s more like your spirit and how you affect your teams.  If that still sounds a little squishy, here are some examples:

  • You are approachable, and make it easy for people ask questions
  • You easily collaborate and think about how to partner with people
  • You are able to quickly prioritize many different tasks
  • You give meaningful feedback to your peers and supervisors
  • You thrive in ambiguous problems and can identify the parts to solve the problem
  • You are the critical first follower and can make projects better through your assistance
  • You can identify individuals’ strengths and edges

Hopefully that gives you a better sense of what I mean by “gifts” – but they are just as critical to a workspace as your competency.  These are “level-ups” to a team that can be the difference between being the right fit in a job/workplace or not.  Knowing these things may also make you feel more confident, and able to demonstrate your self-awareness to potential new teams.

Your Interests

Your interests are different from the others because this can help you figure out where you’d want to lend those skills and gifts.  For example one of my skills is teaching, and depending on my interest I can teach in different areas – I could teach in higher education (what I do now), I could teach creative workshops across town, I could teach career skills for social service organizations.  If you have a finance background, you can use that skill for a place like Disney, or a small boutique, or a snowboarding company – whatever suits your interest!

Your Values

Job searching is like dating, y’all. You are more likely to stay at a place where your personal values line up with the values of the job.  This is a huge trial and error – the more experience you have, the more you are able to identify what is important to you (which unfortunately might mean you have crappy jobs).  For example in the work place I really value variety in my job tasks, that I can be friends with my co-workers, that the work is purpose-driven, that I can be creative and have ownership over my projects, that we focus on students above everything else… and when I look for a workplace, I try to figure out if they also value that as best I can.

Your Dealbreakers

Although you will probably have a job that doesn’t value everything you do, there are likely things about a job that you will NEVER compromise for. What are those things? For some it’s a certain kind of boss, it’s a place that supports or rejects certain causes, a certain work load or expectations of hours, or a certain amount of travel.  It’s good to know what these red flags are so you can act accordingly if you come across them.

Today I combine 2 interests of mine - bullet journal and career development/job searching. See how you can use your bujo to get to your career goals!

Your Areas of Growth

As with all humans, there are things you are not good at.  What are those areas that you want to improve, or usually have talented teammates fill in the gaps for? This spread helps you meaningfully answer the question about weakness without being fake-weak (“Oh I just spread myself so thin…” “I’m a perfectionist…” blah blah blah).  You can use this list to help you find opportunities to develop further, or know that you need a counterpart that exemplifies those skills.  Either way, useful to know.

Today I combine 2 interests of mine - bullet journal and career development/job searching. See how you can use your bujo to get to your career goals!

Your Story Bank

One of the most crucial collections I think anyone could ever start is a story bank.  I will dare say all interviews will ask you to tell them stories about a time where XYZ happened – and you’ll need to know what they are.  The story bank can help log these examples as they come, instead of prepping just when you have an interview.  These don’t have to be BIG DEAL things – just things that you find noteworthy, demonstrate who you are at your best at an organization, things you’re proud of.  Log them all!

This is especially true for people who have gifts and strengths that our larger society is not trained to notice.  If you are quieter, more collaborative than ‘lone wolf’, more discussion-based than the super assertive decision-maker, more of a ‘settler’ than a ‘pioneer’, more of a Dennis Rodman (the assist) than Michael Jordan (the scorer)… sometimes we have to work harder to remind people those stories and skills are just as important to a team.

Each of your stories should highlight a few important pieces:

  • What role were you in/which job?
  • The scenario you were in.  Give the lay of the land in as few details as possible.
  • Problem at hand.
  • Your specific role or action. What did you personally do in this situation to address the problem?
  • Most important – what resulted from your action? Be specific about what happened because of your actions – did you save a lot of money for the organization? Was the team able to launch a new product?

After you write out the stories, look for the gifts and skills it highlights about you – NOT the other way around.  It’s common to take a list of “common job interview questions” and then create stories from there. Don’t do that.  Take the stories you already have and make the questions work for you – one solid story can be a great example for questions team work, making a tough decision, strategic thinking, and providing feedback.  But you should start with the meaningful stories and then find many entry points into that story.

Try to aim to have a diversity of stories from different roles and jobs as well.

Today I combine 2 interests of mine - bullet journal and career development/job searching. See how you can use your bujo to get to your career goals!

Your People

One of my wise colleagues will tell people, “It’s not about what you know. It’s not even about who you know – it’s about who knows YOU.” And that could not be more true about my job search.  When I was job searching, it was a few months of uncertainty, battered self-esteem, and pulling it together to talk to people.  So, I started having coffee with people which led to more coffee with people which led to my 26th informational interview, which connected me to my first job out of graduate school. TWENTY SIX.  This may not be your situation, but it was for me.  Here’s why these one-to-ones/informational interviews were so important:

  • For people who get nervous in formal, high-stakes interviews, this is a more casual and perhaps authentic conversation. (Which is why you should be doing them when you aren’t necessarily job searching!)
  • It’s a great way for them to get to know your interests and skill sets before the scrutiny of a job application
  • You can get insight into the culture of a place which may determine whether or not you even want to work there

So, you can keep an index of the people you want to talk to.  This can be as complex or simple as you want – I would keep track of who they are, who connected me to them, quick notes, perhaps if I’ve met with them yet, and then the page number where I’ve created a profile for our conversation.

You will always be surprised at how willing people are to sit and chat with you – especially if you are specific and kind in your request.  I usually say something like, “Hey I was talking to _____ about xyz and your name came up as someone I should connect with because of your interest/experience in _____.  Would you have 30-45 minutes in the next few weeks to chat with me about your journey? I’d be happy to come to you if you are able and willing!

Preparing for an Informational Interview/One to One

Beyond asking for the time, one of the most important things in a one to one is coming with some intention about what you want to get out of it.  Here are a few things I end up including in my profiles:

  • Highlights of their journey – and specific questions regarding that journey.  This information is usually Google-able, word of mouth, or on their LinkedIn.  If you can take the time to create questions based on this information, it will go a LONG way.  So instead of saying “tell me about your journey to your job now,” you could ask, “I noticed that you worked in a huge range of fields before you got to your job now – how did that help you, or what was challenging about those transitions?”
  • Other interests outside of work – hobbies and pastimes are easier to connect with on a human level, so if you know of any, build some time or questions to chat about these as well
  • Questions.  Have a few anchoring questions that you can rely on for the conversation.  This does not have to be a formal Q&A kind of conversation, but know that you can pull these out when you need.  I usually have questions regarding their personal journey, an industry/field current events question, question seeking specific advice on an area I want to develop, and insights related to working with their specific audience and office culture. (again, it’s like dating, y’all!)
  • Potential referrals. “Based on our conversation and my interests, are there are a few folks you think I should chat with?” This helps build relationships on relationships and gives you meaningful next steps
  • Potential Follow-Ups.  Jot a few notes down about topics or questions that came up in your conversation as touch-points for you to stay connected in the future.  If there was an interesting question you were talking about, you could follow up with an article about it.

Lastly, reflect on how your conversation went! Did you get what you needed out of the conversation? Were you asking the right questions? What did you learn about the field or the company?

Pro tip: Send a thank you note! I love sending paper notes, but I try to highlight some of my key takeaways from the conversation and an open invitation for a follow-up coffee.

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So you can see why this post has taken me a while to develop!! I have so many things I want to share and I hope this was more helpful than overwhelming. Please let me know if this was useful in the comments below!




22 thoughts on “Bullet Journal for Career Planning

  1. Truly a brilliant article, Jessica. You’ve shared ideas which I would never have thought of, that sound incredibly useful. I will definitely be implementing these in the near future. Many thanks.


  2. fabulous summary. cogent, simple, doable. thank you!!!! i really appreciate the way you have analyzed and problem solved common roadblocks that exist for many people, like, er, me for example. i’m happily going to implement some of your ideas right away. I esp liked the stories page. that concept really speaks to me; it has so many uses in tracking the many kinds and types of everyday life occurrences and meetings that I always want to remember later but never seem to be able to do properly. a great detail catcher!


  3. Well done, Kim! You shared some excellent points in this presentation and I personally thank you. This is the type of personal work that is so helpful to both job seeker and employer. My hubby calls this “grass roots marketing of self,” which is a life-long process. Loved your spot-on statement, “It’s like dating!” Thank you for sharing your words of wisdom! Your gifts truly shine!


  4. I watched your video on this last night, it was excellent. I actually took snapshots of my tv for reference so I’m very glad there’s a blog post to go along with it. Thank you SO much for sharing.


  5. What a great article – I wish I could have read it much earlier in my career (I’m in my sixties and semi-retired) but it still has great value to me as I try to figure out what I want to do in the next chapter of my life.


  6. I love this SO much! I’m currently in my last semester of undergrad, and I’ve just started doing work/research for grad school in higher education and student affairs!🙂 This was all really helpful. thank you so much!


  7. Great blog post, thank you so much! I’m equal parts grateful and intimidated. Two questions came to mind, and for your reference, I graduated college five years ago and have been floundering off and on ever since. :< (I worked in my field briefly, and now I work out of it, but none of the interviews aren't coming up fruitful because my year of experience pales in comparison to other applicants. My mind's a little more open now, and I'd be up for anything if I just knew what I wanted!)

    -How do you find people to talk to when you're so far from your field of choice that you don't have anyone who can recommend someone? For example, all the people I work with now are chest-deep in things that I really don't want to continue working in, and they don't know anyone in my field of interest. (Also talking to coworkers about how I want to work somewhere else seems like a really bad idea.)

    -How do you know what sorts of jobs are out there that you might like? Knowing my skills and values and such are really important for how I can market outward, but I'm not sure where to start looking for a good fit for me. The obvious jobs don't sound good (everyone knows about firefighters, doctors etc.) and the stuff I can envision doing doesn't sound like a real job anymore. (Are there any more carpenters?!) I know there are so many careers out there that I won't hear about until I get there, but the options are overwhelming.

    I am not sociable and this networking stuff overwhelms me, but I suppose if you are outgoing then redirecting that advice would be difficult for you, haha. Thank you very much for these posts! If there's anything like this you can touch on in future posts, I would love to hear it.


  8. This is incredibly helpful. I always struggle with coming up with a relevant,precise and telling story when I am asked questions about my past experiences beacause, as you said, I think about the question first and try to come up with a story that fits, – when I should do it the other way around.
    Can’t wait for the article about application follow-up and preparing interviews !


  9. I am job searching after a long-time of doing full time child care and only part-time work. It’s been discouraging to say the least. This post is so helpful and has given me focus. I think this is applicable for people of all ages/experience/background. Thank you so much for doing this. I can’t wait to get stated!


  10. This has been my favourite post so far, probably because it speaks to me as well. I am inspired and encouraged that I’m doing something right, I just need more study, practice and skill development. Keep providing these gems and good luck with your stories too!


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