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New Year’s Resolution: Create a “Me File”
By Valerie Fontaine –
Like most people, you probably made New Year’s resolutions to lose weight, eat healthier, and exercise more. But did you make some resolutions to get your professional life in shape as well? January is a good time to take stock and plot some moves to advance your career.
To thrive in good economic times, or survive slow ones, you must demonstrate your value to your organization’s bottom line. It’s 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 documenting your accomplishments, contributions, and capabilities.
If you don’t have one already, the New Year is a good time to start.
When called upon to describe your professional assets, you can’t respond if you can’t remember. A quick scan through a continuously updated Me File gives you plenty of information at a moment’s notice. It can help you survive the ax when times are tough or, in better times, supply the basis for a well-deserved promotion or raise.
A review of your Me File in preparation for your annual job performance or compensation review helps you describe your accomplishments and growth over the past year. And, if necessary, it may provide evidence to protect you against negative reviews and feedback. You can either attach copies of your Me File materials to your annual self-evaluation, send such an attachment in advance to your reviewers to refresh their recollection about your contributions to the firm, or bring it with you to discuss during your evaluation meeting.
Go through your personal portfolio when you revise your resume or prepare for an interview. There is no need to be at a loss when asked to provide examples of your skills and accomplishments. Your portfolio should provide the anecdotes and accolades you need to bolster your argument for employment or advancement.
Last, but not least, your Me File can provide encouragement. It’s your private collection of triumphs to lift your spirits and remind you why you do what you do.
When deciding what to add to your personal portfolio, it’s best to be overly inclusive; it’s more than just a form file. You want extensive records so you can select material to document your value depending upon the circumstances.
A good Me File should include:
- Work Samples/Summary of Accomplishments
Upon completion of a major project, summarize the details and work involved. Include your role and unique contributions. Note the number of people you managed, time constraints, what did and didn’t work well and why (skills and lessons learned). Describe duties that demonstrate your enhanced skills and experience.
Record quantifiable results of your efforts while they’re fresh in your mind. Include any forms you created or significant writing samples. Be careful when using this material in the future, however, to protect privileged or proprietary information.
- Performance Evaluations
Keep copies of formal or informal written evaluations of your work. Include notes of any conversations relating to your performance, noting the date and participants. Document specific steps you take to overcome any weaknesses identified. Add ideas for goals to pursue in the coming year and steps to accomplish them, noting when you take those actions.
- Training and Continuing Education
Collect brochures for educational events, workshops, and webinars you attend throughout the year to build a record of your efforts to expand and hone your skills. Keep documentation of any certifications you earn. If you participate in a leadership program, note selectivity and qualifications of participants, or whether it’s an accelerated or “honors” program. Be prepared to explain how your new level of expertise directly contributes to the firm’s success.
- Business Development Activities
Maintain a list of clients you serve and your role in originating business or expanding client relationships. 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 involvement in internal firm management or committees. Monitor your monthly events and participation in high-profile activities with industry leaders and potential clients.
- Teamwork Summary
Every organization wants its lawyers to be team players as well as successful individual contributors. Regularly note who you collaborate with and the success of those relationships, to demonstrate how your efforts blend with those of others to fuel the overall success of the firm.
Deposit all forms of grateful or complimentary feedback into your personal portfolio, including notes, letters, and positive performance reviews. Include emails from colleagues or clients thanking you for a job well done, especially if they’re 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 your file about the matter or task that prompted the kudos for context when you refer to it in the future.
Testimonials are tangible and credible evidence of support. Don’t worry that individual entries aren’t substantial; they’re cumulative. Since the Me File is for your eyes only, drop in even the most trivial bits of applause. Taken together, it’s impressive!
If you’re just getting started with your Me File, check recent emails on your computer and copy appropriate ones into a new folder. As new positive emails come in, move copies to your folder immediately. Also go through your computer and paper files to find material on recent major projects, speeches, articles, writing samples, and the like, and add them to your portfolio. Going forward, move copies of appropriate new items to your Me File as they come up. Type in or cut and paste additional context, backup and documentation. Don’t forget to include dates on everything.
If you prefer, you can keep your personal portfolio in paper format by printing out copies of everything and putting them in an actual file. While it might be easier to keep your Me File at the office, you might want to at least have a copy at home so you don’t lose access to it should you ever need to make a quick exit from your current position.
The best time to collect your thoughts and materials is NOW. Once you’ve created your personal portfolio, add notes as close to contemporaneously with events as possible. This year, resolve to regularly review and capture what you did 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.” Thus, you build time into your schedule to reflect on what you’ve done before your memory grows dim.
Periodically, perhaps annually, 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.
Your second career-related New Year’s resolution, of course, is to do the kinds of things that will fill your Me File.
Valerie Fontaine is a partner in Seltzer Fontaine Beckwith, a legal search firm based in Los Angeles (www.sfbsearch.com). She can be reached at email@example.com or (310) 842-6985. The second edition of her book, “The Right Moves: Job Search and Career Development Strategies for Lawyers,” was published in 2013 by NALP.