Career Corner: Don't throw away that thank you note!

Amy Potthast served as Idealist’s Director of Service and Graduate Education Programs until 2011. Read more of her work at

From Flickr user stopnlook (Creative Commons)

I know you probably didn’t enter mission-driven work so that you could tally up your good deeds, but collecting and tracking information and evidence will help you in your current job and during your next career transition.

Documenting your work can help you quantify and illustrate your work to your current employer; evaluate the success of your projects, programs, and performance; increase the likelihood of success for the people coming after you; and help hiring and admissions teams evaluate your potential.

Let’s think about that last point. Imagine you’re on a hiring team and sizing up candidates. Whose application will be stronger — the person who tells you she has achieved many things but ultimately wants you to take her word for it, or the one who shows examples of her past work so you can see for yourself?

Here are seven things to collect:

  • Numbers — anything from clients served and volunteers recruited, to social media impact. If you can quantify it, do!
  • Media attention — press clippings, audio and video interviews with you, screen shots of blog posts, list of media mentions.
  • Kudos to you — thank you notes, recommendation letters, positive comment cards and performance evaluations.
  • Work samples — writing, curriculum units, screen shots, event materials, volunteer position descriptions — whatever makes sense for your job.
  • Project management evidence — agendas and planning.
  • Photographs — of you in action, of people engaged in your programs.
  • Communications — emails, promotional materials (social media releases, flyers, public service announcements), volunteer recruitment ads, newsletters, or blog posts you authored.

…But don’t save them to your work computer!

Many people work on their organization’s computer and when they leave their job, don’t take the time to save work samples and other important documentation. Don’t let this happen to you. Here are some alternatives:

  • Save documents to your own computer if you have one.
  • Send documents to your personal email account (try something like Gmail, which has a lot of storage capacity and is free and accessible from anywhere).
  • Upload to a flash drive or burn to a CD.
  • Upload to a document server like Google Docs,, Dropbox, or
  • Upload photos to Flickr or Picasa.
  • Upload video to Youtube or Vimeo.

When posting things online, choose to set privacy options where possible, and/or password protect your documentation.

Have you put together portfolios of your work? Or do you have a horror story to share about what happened when you didn’t save your work? Share your experiences by leaving a comment!

Browse all of the Career Corner archives here.

[This blog entry appeared on an older version of Idealist; any broken links are a result of having re-launched our site in Fall 2010.]

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