How do we keep track of our careers?

This was the topic of a breakfast session that I ran almost a year ago for the Fair Museum Jobs Summit.

The following top tips were gathered from the #FMJSummit ‘Keeping Track of your Career’, the Museums & Resilient Leadership fellows & faculty and Group for Education in Museum Mentors. All of whom are at different stages within their career. Many I wish I’d known about or started doing at the start of my career.

It is very easy to go from task to task, project to project, without taking the time to reflect, record and share our successes and learnings.

So how can we keep track of our careers?

1 Acknowledge and Reflect on what you have done

Who recognises these phrases? “it was a team effort”, “my team achieved this”?

They are phrases that I’ve used throughout my career. It wasn’t until a one to one with my then line manager, when she said to me “you led your team to do that. Be proud of and acknowledge your own role in this success” that I started to verbalise my role within an activity or project. This in no way took away from the success of the team, it recognised mine and each team members individual part within that teamwork.

So how exactly do we acknowledge and reflect on our own role? The dictionary defines reflection as ‘serious and careful thought’; which can make this process seem daunting.

The easiest way to reflect is to ask yourself three questions:

  1. What have you contributed to a project?
  2. What skills does that show?
  3. How did you step outside your comfort zone and try something new to you?


If you want to reflect more deeply Prof. Graham Gibbs published his Reflective Cycle in 1988.

This has six stages: Description; Feelings; Evaluation; Analysis; Conclusion; Action Plan.

It provides a framework to help you think about an action or project in more depth while breaking it down into smaller, achievable steps.

More detail about the Reflective Cycle can be found at www.mindtools.com/pages/article/reflective-cycle.htm

2 Record specifics – visitor numbers & increases, feedback, budget planning, impact, etc.

When deciding what you should record, think about potential interview questions – what evidence will you need to answer them?

By recording specifics, you provide evidence to back up your claims and, if you’re looking for a new job, it helps you to stand out.

Don’t just say you’re good at engaging audiences, say you increased audiences by x% by initiating that new programme and y% were new to the organisation.

Did it support development in someone else’s department as well?  For example, a programme that you might have developed that demonstrably increased secondary spend in the café or shop. Or how your facilities department supported the installation of the new exhibition by coming up with and implementing a solution to improve physical visitor access.

Consider the following:

  • capture impact; record and evaluate meaningfully from the start
  • take photographs
  • keep a scrap book of cuttings, marketing materials, etc.
  • use infographics from work for that concise recording of figures/info
  • de-brief everything; the successes and the failures
  • Speak with colleagues. It can really help as they notice and point out the skills you sometimes don’t consider you’re gaining/showing.

You might also look at assessment criteria from vocational museum qualifications or professional membership competency frameworks. Many are available online whether the Group for Education in Museum’s Competency Framework (gem_competency-framework_(Sep15).xlsx) or the National Occupational Standards (www.ukstandards.org.uk).

3 Find a way of recording that works for you

There is no right or wrong way to keep track of your career, everyone has their own way of working.

Some suggestions are:

  • Using different notebooks or have a few pages at the back of a notebook for sudden moments of inspiration or questions that pop up.
  • Jot down bullet points as you go along, you can always come back to reflect later. There is no rule to say that you must do that part straight away.
  • Journaling / blogging
  • Memory books / scrap books – articles, feedback quotes, photographs, etc.
  • Digital note taking – examples provided include:
  • Create a folder (physical or digital) with ‘useful resources’ in it.
  • CPD logs, training and conferences notes, good practice visits – follow up on those notes and action/organise
  • Organise those photos – dates/project/themes
  • Have archive folders in your emails – so you can readily read them!
  • Use your regular 1:1s with your manager as a prompt for reflecting; regularly go through and review these notes and appraisal documents
  • Use a template with guided questions for reflection – either for a piece of work or CPD and keep it in a little binder book.
  • Keep feedback quotes from colleagues, clients and visitors
  • Create a ta-da list of successes big and small

Whether its writing, sketching, collaging, methodical or creative, what matters is that it represents you and your work.

4 Keep updating your CV

Even when you’re not looking for a job it’s worth keeping your CV up to date as it’s much easier to be able to remember your experience, dates, etc. if you keep adding to it. Have a MASTER CV which you can then draw from/adapt for different uses so that each time you send one it is tailored to the role.

As a supporting document keep a list of transferable and technical skills and update this with experiences as bullet points. You will have a list of demonstrable examples of when you learned and used the skills.

Most importantly be honest about what your role really entails, for example an Education Officer in a small independent museum can be part of the senior leadership team with multiple (non-education) roles and responsibilities compared to an EO in a larger museum where they are in more of a specialist role. We all bring our own experiences and meanings to a job title, so showcase what it is you really do.

Remember, this can be roles in other sectors, volunteering, internships … your experience and skills count wherever you gained them.

5 Shout out loud!

Share your successes and learnings widely, whether that is publishing case studies, submitting articles, writing blogs, sharing via LinkedIn, Twitter or Facebook, proposing papers or workshops for conferences.

You might find this difficult, that you fear coming across as arrogant. If you’re worried about that then you won’t, trust us.

Please remember there are plenty of us who really enjoy seeing other’s successes and celebrating with them as well as learning about what is happening in a sector that we are all passionate about.

Using social media has other benefits as well – Facebook might choose one of your heritage projects as that ‘5 years ago …’ reminder that pops up in your feed every now and again. LinkedIn can act as your Master CV and highlight projects, Twitter allows you to network and share through initiatives like #museumhour, #heritagechat or #mused.

Guest blogs, articles and case studies through membership organisations’ platforms and publications can help reach a wider audience, increase your profile and provide evidence of your work.

How you share is a personal choice, the one thing I do know is that the heritage sector is, on the whole, a very sharing and supportive sector. The more we share our successes and potentially those things that might not have gone as well the more we learn and develop our practice.

6 Give yourself the time and permission to do this work

Reflection and recording take time, takes a conscious decision to start this practice, and time is not usually on our side.

The pressure to move from one task to another, from one project to another, from one goal to another is constant.

When asked ‘what do I want to do?’ in breakout rooms in the #FMJSummit workshop the following terms kept coming up:

  • Record more regularly
  • Build it into my routine more
  • Update more regularly
  • Do more … blog writing, thinking, reflection
  • Be more methodical
  • Make time

To help you get started with this process, give yourself permission to reflect. For example, you may look to others that you’re sitting having a coffee in the museum’s café doing nothing; know for yourself that this time is really important to you. It is thinking and processing time – it is reflection. It is time that will help your understanding about where you are, what it is that you’ve achieved, what the next steps are and it’s time that gives you the opportunity to stop and breathe.

Reflection and recording are a habit that you might want to develop. There are 5 simple steps that you can use to do this.

  1. Focus on one thing at a time, you are more likely to be able to make one thing a habit than attempting to turn 3 or 4 things into a habit at once.
  2. Start with one small thing that is easier for you to achieve
  3. Use a habit trigger. This could be a specific time, a place, or an action
  4. Be specific in your intent. You might say that you want to write a blog, it’s quite vague, whereas ‘I’m going to write a blog once a month’ is a more concrete action
  5. Track your progress. Hold yourself to account – record when you’ve done something, and be honest with yourself when you haven’t.

More information about these 5 steps can be found at How to Create a Habit: Your 5 Step Plan (with Bonus Worksheet) (theprudentprofessor.com)

And remember – it’s never too late to start!

Below are some templates that you might like to use to support your reflective practice.

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