Reviewing Your Way to a Better Career

Make it a habit to ask questions, and you'll open yourself to improvement.

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Curt Rosengren
Whether you’re in a job you love or a job you loathe, there’s always room for improvement. And to open the door to that improvement, you need awareness.

Unfortunately, most people sail through their work days on autopilot. They do what needs to be done to meet the job requirements, but don’t step back to examine the good, the bad, and the ugly as it unfolds. And that’s unfortunate, because they wind up missing countless opportunities to improve their career for the better.

If you want to improve your career on an ongoing basis, review questions are a great place to start. They’ll help you turn your workdays into learning laboratories.

[See 21 Secrets to Getting the Job.]

Here are several questions to get you started:

What did I love about this day or week or month? Why?

Asking this question regularly gives you more insight on what you find most appealing, which you can use to find opportunities to bring more of that into your work. Adding the question “why?” gives you a deeper perspective on where the enjoyment comes from.

For example, if you really enjoyed a brainstorming session, you might realize that the fun came from both idea generation and collaborative energy. Then, instead of “How can I do more brainstorming?” you might ask, “What kinds of things would allow me to generate ideas?” and, “How can I build more collaboration into what I do?”

What did I do well today? What skills and abilities helped me do it well?

The more you know about what you do well and why, the better equipped you are to build on that. This review helps you take the things you do well and break them down to identify the skills and abilities where you shine. Ultimately it lets you build a picture of what you do well and why you do it well.

[See Feeling Stuck in Your Career? Tips to Get Moving.]

You can use that picture to identify projects that would take advantage of those skills and abilities. You can share what you learn with your boss to help him or her steer work your way that takes maximum advantage of what you have to offer. And if you’re looking for something new, the deep understanding of what you have to offer helps you communicate that to potential employers.

When did I mess up today? How could I have done it differently?

Of course, it’s not all sunshine and daisies. The power of review questions can also be aimed at changes to limiting behavior or habits. When my clients work on changing a negative behavior (for example, being overly self-critical), an end-of-day review is always a great tool.

When something is such a habitual part of how you do things that you don’t even notice it as it happens, it’s hard to make a change. Taking time at the end of the day to look back and reflect trains your brain to notice when it happened. It also gives you the opportunity to explore more productive options at your leisure, rather than trying to come up with them on the fly. Eventually, the idea is to make that change in real time. An end-of-day review gives you an incremental way to get there.

[For more career advice, visit U.S. News Careers, or find us on Facebook or Twitter.]

What did I appreciate today?

Finally, take a regular look at what you appreciate. If your energy and attention is focused on what you don’t like, what drives you nuts, and what you’re unhappy about, that’s going to be what you continue to notice. On the other hand, if you make a concerted effort to notice the good, even if nothing actually changes in your situation, you will find more opportunities to see what’s good.

The choice is yours. Either focus on what you don’t like, or choose to make the effort to focus on what’s good. Doing the latter may not change a less-than-preferable situation, but it has the potential to change how you experience it.

The more you make it a habit to ask questions, the more awareness you will have. And the more awareness you have, the more potential you have to put that awareness to use to make changes for the better.

What questions can you start asking in your career?

After years as a professional malcontent, Curt Rosengren discovered the power of passion. As speaker, author, and coach, Rosengren helps people create careers that energize and inspire them. His book, 101 Ways to Get Wild About, and his E-book, The Occupational Adventure Guide, offer people tools for turning dreams into reality. Rosengren's blog, The M.A.P. Maker, explores how to craft a life of meaning, abundance, and passion.