The work diary: your best career investment

If you don’t already keep a work diary, what’s stopping you? Could this career-enhancing tool help you to take that next step up the ladder?


At a glance:

  • Without adequate preparation, recalling valuable career examples can be difficult during interviews.
  • Keeping a work diary can help to track your experience and improve your interview outcomes.
  • The earlier you begin to keep a work diary, the more useful it will be – but it’s never too late to start.

Keeping a work diary may seem like a simple idea, but according to Jennifer Grove, a Partner at Gerard Daniels, it is a career-enhancing tool, that not nearly enough people utilise.

“We tend to think that we will remember all of our work experiences, but without recording them in some way, we are unlikely to remember many of the situations that make good interview examples,” Jennifer explains. “For senior level roles, it’s often the more complex and nuanced situations that determine whether a candidate is successful, and a work diary provides a great way to track these examples.”

Sitting in on interview panels for more than 20 years has given Jennifer extensive exposure to candidates that have forgotten great examples from their career – examples that would have allowed them to nail difficult interview questions had they been used. This experience initially led Jennifer to suggest unsuccessful candidates begin keeping a work diary, but she is now convinced that this is something that anyone looking to progress their career should do.

“Keeping a work diary is advice that I regularly give to candidates when their background has been strong enough to get them shortlisted for a role, but they then struggle to prepare for and sell themselves during the interview,” she says. “I’ve received positive feedback from many candidates who now keep a work diary, but many more could benefit from this advice.”

Here we explore how a work diary can improve your preparation for and performance during interviews, and how you can get the most out of the time you invest into keeping one.

How to use your work diary

While some aspects of our prior work performance are well suited to written job applications, it’s important to have some additional ‘back pocket’ examples to draw on during interviews, describing the type of experience that can’t be neatly articulated on paper.

“We are generally quite good at maintaining our CV with relevant achievements, but we don’t always keep track of the messier situations that go beyond the day-to-day,” says Jennifer. “During interviews, we need examples that show how we can influence the more complex work dynamics, which can be hard to recall under pressure, especially when records of these situations have not been kept.”

“For example, if you are looking to take on the role of CEO you might use your work diary to keep track of situations that show your leadership style, your ability to self-reflect and learn, and how you navigate problematic peer relationships,” says Jennifer. “Your back pocket examples can also demonstrate your approach to managing and resolving conflict, or how you gain the support of critical external stakeholders.”

As well as providing relevant interview examples, work diaries can help you to:

  • Maintain the relevance work experience and examples in your CV
  • Create compelling written applications
  • Prepare for interviews and performance reviews
  • Maintain reliable records to assist with conflict resolution.

“If you are an exceptionally driven individual that wants to continually better yourself towards a certain role or career stage, your work diary can also help you in that journey by tracking your progress against the goals that you set,” Jennifer continues.

What should your work diary look like?

Some examples of useful situations to record in your work diary, include where you have:

  • Resolved or overcome conflict
  • Managed complex team dynamics
  • Managed under-performance or enabled the performance of peers
  • Affected and/or guided others through change
  • Learned from your own mistakes or from those of others
  • Acknowledged areas for self-improvement and worked to lift your own performance.

While these situations make compelling interview examples, there is no set formula for how to keep a work diary, or for what it should include.

“You might contribute monthly, quarterly, or whenever you find the time. You might choose to keep a physical diary, or a digital one. And you might record names, dates, challenges, achievements, peer feedback, your own observations, or all of the above,” Jennifer says. “Your work diary will be as useful as you choose to make it, but there’s no need to overthink it. It doesn’t have to be exceptionally detailed or time consuming, it just needs to exist.”

Haven’t kept a diary? Is it too late to start?

When the time comes to rely on your work diary, it helps if you’ve made a start. But in the event that you haven’t kept great records, there are ways to fill in the gaps. “If you’ve been shortlisted for a role and need to prepare some interview examples, try consulting with a trusted colleague or someone else who knows you well,” says Jennifer. “Often these connections will remember things that you don’t, and can help you to reflect on and draw value from your past experiences.”

If you don’t already keep a work diary, what’s holding you back? For help finding or preparing for your next appointment, connect with Jennifer or reach out to your local Gerard Daniels team.

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